Genealogy Stories: Lost – and Found – Family Bibles

Introduction: In this article, Mary Harrell-Sesniak searches old newspapers to find some interesting stories about family Bibles that were lost – and found. Mary is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background.

I recently wrote an article about some exciting genealogy finds, namely, family Bible records that have been quoted in newspapers. (See: Genealogy Tip: Find Family Bible Records Printed in Newspapers.) Most of those newspaper stories have to do with lineage and genealogy, but did you know there is another reason why a family Bible might be written about in a newspaper?

Photo: an old family Bible
Photo: an old family Bible. Credit: Thomas Jay Kemp.

It has to do with lost and found Bibles. Here are some examples you may enjoy reading.

Lost, but Now Found

During the Revolutionary War, the family Bible of the Reverend Mr. Caldwell of New Jersey was taken as an act of vengeance by a British soldier. Mrs. Caldwell was at prayer when she found a musket at her head and the Bible she relied on was taken away from her. More than 60 years later, in 1840, it was returned to one of her grandchildren, with an interesting twist: the soldier who stole the Bible had added his own family lineage to it, and subsequent possessors added their own notes!

An article about a family Bible, Public Ledger newspaper article 26 September 1840
Public Ledger (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 26 September 1840, page 1


A TV ad in my area reminds potential litigants to keep records and take photos, as records tend to go missing. Apparently, this is nothing new. In 1889, a reward of $75 was offered for a missing family Bible in order to prove a clandestine marriage. Without it, the heirs to a large property would miss out on their inheritance. It’s an interesting story, so I’ll leave it to the readers to garner all of the details from the article.

An article about a family Bible, New York Herald newspaper article 27 May 1889
New York Herald (New York, New York), 27 May 1889, page 3

Battlefield Find

During the Civil War, a Union soldier, Charles E. Miller, became wounded – and while trying to reach the “rear,” he threw away his knapsack which contained a Bible given to him by his brother.

The inscription read: “Charles E. Miller, born in the town of Acton, Me.” His knapsack was picked up by a Confederate soldier, Alexander R. Oliver. For many years after the war, Oliver was unable to find the Bible’s owner. Eventually, his daughter wrote to Acton, Maine, and was able to establish communication with Miller’s sister.

From that correspondence, they learned that Miller was now living and working in Boston. Faced with such a long and expensive journey, it took some time until Oliver was able to go to Boston to return Miller’s Bible to him. Almost 40 years to the day the Bible was lost, the two veterans met in 1904 for the “Grand Army” reunion, and this is what they had to say to each other:

The scene of the presentation was interesting. One lone rebel, surrounded by two score Union veterans, who more than a generation ago were thirsting for his blood, but were now treating him with the love of a brother, stood up and said:
“Yank,” he said, “I’ve brought back your Bible.”
“Reb,” responded Miller, “I’m much obliged.”

An article about a family Bible, Springfield Republican newspaper article 22 August 1904
Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 22 August 1904, page 4

The Bible Prank

This last story also has a happy ending, but it took 30 years for a prank to be resolved.

Some seniors at the University of Michigan locked a decrepit old horse in their school chapel. Not wanting the Bible to be damaged, they removed it. However, their prank aroused such a storm that none of the tricksters dared to admit their guilt and return the Bible – that is, until 30 years later when it was finally returned.

An article about a Bible, Omaha World-Herald newspaper article 21 June 1906
Omaha World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), 21 June 1906, page 6

Hope all was forgiven!

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6 thoughts on “Genealogy Stories: Lost – and Found – Family Bibles

  1. I am looking for a bible that belonged to the Addie Forney-John Frey family. Possibly someone from Anna Mary Frey – Johnson, or Bena Frey-Albert Curtin Hocker family, Rose Frey Calimer, Eleanor Frey, Jenny Frey families of Shippensburg, Carlisle, Newville, Chambersburg, Pa. area. Thank you for your help

    1. Deborah,

      Thank you for your comment. I recommend you post on social media and also network with other descendants. Don’t forget to check with historical societies in the locations where family and descendants lived. Good luck with your search.


  2. I am looking for a family bible that had been in the trunk of a car that was stolen. I am hoping for a miracle. It could have gotten lost in the Detroit area. The names in the bible may have been Mariah (Wells)Taylor, William Lewis Taylor (Bill), maybe George Stevens, Georgia Stevens, Ernestine (Wells) Bibbs, other assorted family members.

  3. I purchased a Bible on Easter Day while vacationing in Nashville, Tennessee. It drew me to it; when I was wanting to purchase a Bible for myself across the street, I came upon this beautiful thing. As I flipped through it I saw the Campbell name and immediately negotiated a price. This was like 15 years ago. I bought it at an antique store.

    1. Theresa,

      Thank you for sharing the story of how you found the Bible. A similar thing happened to me in a quick visit to a bookstore many years ago. It wasn’t a Bible, but I did find an interesting book on my Harrell ancestors.


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