Family Bibles for Genealogy Research: What to Look For

The Richmond Family Bible I bought on eBay recently arrived in the mail.

photo of the Richmond Family Bible

Photo: Richmond Family Bible. Source: Thomas Jay Kemp.

It was exactly as the seller had described it.

The eBay description had read:

Cover is well worn and torn.
A few pages are loose, most still intact.
Pages have spots throughout.
This is a family Bible which belonged to the William Richmond (1820-1871) family.
Bible has handwritten pages of marriages, births and deaths.
Also includes two typed pages detailing history written in the Bible as well as a brief family history dating back to 1040.

OK—I got what I paid for when I bought this family Bible. It was well packaged and arrived safely, so this eBay transaction worked very well. I have found and bought other long-lost family history items on eBay in the past and never had a problem with any of these online auctions.

Let’s get acquainted with this family Bible.

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The first thing you want to do is look at the title page and the verso (back) of the title page.

photo of the title page of the Richmond Family Bible

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

The title page clearly shows that this Bible was printed in New York in 1848 by the American Bible Society.

You need to also check the verso of the title page to see if there is additional copyright information printed there. Usually the verso repeats the year of publication, but sometimes there is different dating: imprint dates of publication or other clues as to when the book was actually printed.

The verso of the title page is blank in this Bible.

Your next step then is to examine the title page of the New Testament.

photo of the Richmond Family Bible, showing the title page of the New Testament

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

Looking at the title page for the New Testament we see that the publication information is the same as the Bible’s title page. And again in this case, the verso is blank.

You want to be sure to check the date of publication on both title pages. As publishers printed and assembled Bibles for distribution, they sometimes printed an extra supply of either the Old Testament or the New Testament—in order to bind and sell either part separately, or together as a large family Bible.

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Knowing the most recent publication date helps you to verify the information written in the Bible. Any information entered into the family registry pages for the decades before the Bible was printed would have been written in the Bible from memory, or perhaps copied from another family Bible or document. Entries made after the date of publication were likely made when the Bible was first purchased, or over time as each birth, marriage or death occurred.

photo of the Richmond Family Bible showing the family registry page

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

For example: looking at the deaths recorded in the family registry, we want to examine the date of each person’s death and look to see if the handwriting style or color of the ink varies from entry to entry. These clues suggest which entries were all made at the same time and which entries were made at different times—indicating that they might have been made contemporary to the event.

In this family registry none of the entries were dated before 1848, the date the Bible was printed, making it likely that the entries were made around the time each event occurred.

Do you have an old family Bible as one of your heirlooms? Take it out and examine it closely, using the tips in this article, to see what family clues you can discover.

Related Family Bible Articles:

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Finding Family Heirlooms & Artifacts with eBay

It’s been years since I looked at eBay to find family heirlooms and artifacts. In the past, I have made some spectacular family history finds.

For example, I once found an old family letter written by Jonathan Huse (1767-1853) to his mother, and an 1813 sampler created by his daughter Sarah Araline Huse (1807-1825) when she was only 6 years old.

photo of a sampler by Sarah Araline Huse, 1813

Photo: sampler by Sarah Araline Huse, 1813. Source: Huse Family Papers.

Wow—if the family has lost track of some of its treasured heirlooms, eBay is a good place to find them again.

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My Recent eBay Family Find

Looking at eBay last week, I spotted this old family Bible first owned by William Richmond (1820-1871).

photo of a family Bible first owned by William Richmond

Photo: family Bible first owned by William Richmond. Source: eBay.

The eBay seller described this Bible as:

Cover is well worn and torn.
A few pages are loose, most still intact.
Pages have spots throughout.
This is a family Bible which belonged to the William Richmond (1820-1871) family.
Bible has handwritten pages of marriages, births and deaths.
Also includes two typed pages detailing history written in the Bible as well as a brief family history dating back to 1040.

OK—these details, along with close-up photos of some of the Bible’s pages shown in the seller’s eBay posting, were encouraging. I didn’t have “William P. Richmond (1820-1871)” in my family tree, but there is a Richmond line there—and based on the evidence provided by this online auction, it sure looked like he is a relative.

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Did this Heirloom Belong to My Ancestor?

I dug a little further on the large family tree sites FamilySearch and Ancestry, to see what more information they had on William Richmond and the other family members that were named in the close-up photos that the eBay seller had included in his posting.

These people were not included in either family tree site.

That really got my attention.

So—I didn’t have this family in my tree and it was not in the two large online tree sites. Hmm…

I poked a little further and decided this could be a good find for us—the family Bible of a previously undocumented family—that could be part of my family tree.

I was for many years the editor of the Richmond Family News Journal (1972-), a family history publication. So I had more than a passing interest in this Bible and the family records it contains. Even if this was not part of my Richmond line, I wanted the information because I like to document all Richmond family lines to assist everyone working on their family history.

So—I decided to buy this Bible on eBay.

My bid won and I received the news that the family Bible had already been shipped and that I should receive it soon.

To Be Continued…

When I do, I will report on what genealogy gems I find in the Bible in my upcoming posts.

Have you ever found old family heirlooms, documents and papers on eBay? If so, what types of artifacts have you found?

Please let us know.

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Frakturs & Family Bibles Can Provide Proof of Marriage

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary writes about using family Bible records and an interesting folk art called “frakturs” to document early family history.

I was recently asked to be part of a “Brick Wall” genealogical panel, whereby researchers submit a series of questions regarding their seemingly unsolvable ancestral proofs.

Many family researchers get stuck at dead-ends due to the loss of church and civil records, and don’t know where to turn next in pursuing their family history.

So if you can’t find an official genealogical proof document, what should you do? One good solution is to look for a family record, such as notes recorded in family Bibles. Another good genealogical resource is a fraktur, a type of folk art, mostly created to commemorate births, baptisms, and marriages.

Frakturs (or Fraktur Schrift) was originally an early type of black letter printing (or calligraphy) found in Germany. Later it expanded into a delightful type of decorative pictorial or manuscript art, popularized by Pennsylvania Mennonites at Ephrata, as described in this 1955 article from GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives.

The Art of 'Fractur' Made Pennsylvania Walls Bright, Boston Herald newspaper article 9 October 1955

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 9 October 1955, page 38

Fraktur examples are often found in museums, and are advertised for high amounts on popular auction sites such as eBay. Numerous artifacts are in private collections, such as this framed fraktur which was given by one of my ancestors to her spouse in commemoration of their marriage.

photo of a marriage fraktur

Framed marriage fraktur

Beyond delving into family collections, how might one locate family Bibles and frakturs?

An easy method is to search military pension records. If a spouse survived her veteran husband and wished to collect a pension, proof of marriage was required.

Typically, a widow would submit a church record or a letter from a town clerk certifying a civil registration. In this example from 1840, James P. Terry of Somers, Tolland, Connecticut, certified the marriage of Stephen Chapel and Lucy Russel on 25 October 1795.

marriage certification for Stephen Chapel and Lucy Russel 25 October 1795

Revolutionary War Pension File W.1888, page 10

However, if a civil or court record was unavailable (perhaps lost to fire or other disaster), the surviving family member might resort to submitting original pages from the family Bible or a fraktur.

A few of these proof-of-marriage document submissions were returned to the families—but many were not, and numerous examples still exist within the National Archives. Most are digitized (generally in black and white) within pension files, such as this one for Revolutionary War soldier John Tomlin and his wife Jane Chamblin.

marriage fraktur for John Tomlin and Jane Chamblin

Fraktur commemorating the births and marriage of John Tomlin and Jane Chamblin. Revolutionary War Pension File W.6302, page 18.

As descendants find their ancestors’ frakturs, they are often posted on websites. You can find these posted frakturs using my “visual” method.

How to Find Your Family’s Fraktur

1)      Open your favorite search engine (mine is Google).

2)      Search for “fraktur” or “Bible” followed by a keyword such as a surname, or a phrase such as “Revolutionary War.”

3)      Click on the “Images” tab at the top of the resulting search results page—and voilà: pages and pages of images of frakturs appear. Some will be links to books and references, but most will direct you to digitized images. (Note: if using Google Chrome, you can explore additional searching options under the “More” or “Search Tools” options.)

4)      Bookmark the images you are interested in for later reference, or add them to a Pinterest.com board. Pinterest is a “content sharing service that allows members to ‘pin’ images, videos and other objects to their pinboard.”

Google Images search results for “fraktur” and the surname “Tomlin”:

screenshot of Google Images search results for “fraktur” and the surname “Tomlin”

screenshot of Google Images search results for “fraktur” and the surname “Tomlin”

Search results for family “Bible records”:

screenshot of Google Images search results for “Bible records"

screenshot of Google Images search results for “Bible records”

You can search Pinterest for genealogy links, such as GenealogyBank’s Pinterest boards at

http://pinterest.com/genealogybank/, or my recently established Frakturs and Family Bible Records Pinterest board at http://pinterest.com/compmary/frakturs-and-family-bible-records/.

For more information on frakturs, visit the Ephrata Cloister website.

Genealogy Serendipity: Ancestor’s Bible & Journals Returned to Family

Let me tell you about my cousin Ransom and the kindness of a stranger who returned his long-lost Bible and journals through a serendipitous chain of events.

photo of Ransom Smith's Bible and journals

Photo of Ransom Smith’s Bible and journals by the author

Ransom Ferdinand Smith (1864-1940) lived in Woodstock, New Hampshire. He was a first cousin of my great-grandmother Frances Lila (Sawyer) Huse (1863-1958).

On Monday (Sept. 10th) I entered the details of Ransom F. Smith’s life on my family’s online tree site.

On Tuesday (Sept. 11th) I received this e-mail: “My search for Ransom F. Smith, married to Carrie and living in/around Grafton, N.H., from 1812-1922 led me to your family’s online tree. I acquired his Bible and 4 daily journals (3 small, 1 large) at an auction in MA about 30 years ago. They were in the bottom of a box lot of linens! If you are interested in having them, would you please email me.”

Imagine that—I put the family’s genealogy information online Monday. The very next day a woman is cleaning her house and unpacks a linen box she hadn’t looked at for 30 years. At the bottom of the box she finds a Bible and four journals, and tries to return them to the original owner’s family.

She Googled Ransom’s name…

Bingo—she found my online family genealogy page, contacted us, and mailed these priceless family records to us. Serendipity!

It’s a great day for genealogy