Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Analyzing Records from Family Bibles

The other week I received an Edwards Family Bible in the mail from a complete stranger.  What a wonderful gift!  Now that the excitement has waned it's time to get down to the task of analyzing the Bible.

"Analyzing the Bible?," you say.  "Yes!"  Bibles must be analyzed so that we can determine the accuracy of the family information that is included.

Check For an Inscription

This Bible does contain an inscription that let's us know who owned the Bible and who gave it to him and when.

Jacob Sanders Glen Edwards
              Glen, N.Y.
A present from My Mother

Jacob Sanders Glen Edwards is a known family member who was born 16 January 1847 in New York.  At the time he received this Bible he would have been 21 years old. Perhaps he received it for his birthday.

Check the Title Page for Publication Details

One of the most important parts about analyzing your family Bible is to check for the publication date.  That will give you a baseline against which to compare the handwritten dates.  Ideally all handwritten dates relating to family history should be later than the date of publication.  Also check the name and location of the publisher.  Was this a local publisher or did the Bible perhaps get brought over from the "old country?"

I don't know anything about this particular Bible publisher but it was printed in Philadelphia, PA.  It does not seem out of the ordinary for a New York family to have a Bible like this.

The Publication date of the Bible is 1867.  That is one year before the date of the inscription.  So we are off to a good start.

Where Will I Find the Family Information?

Mostly likely the family information will be on pre-printed form pages inserted between the Old Testament and the New Testament.  Check the Table of contents if you have trouble locating it.

Check the Dates in Each Section of Family Information

The first section that appears in this Bible is the page for Marriages.  One marriage is recorded.

J.S. Glen Edwards to Mary Putman Van Derveer
February 28th 1872 by Rev. F. V. Van

We are off to a good start.  The only marriage recorded is that of the owner of the Bible and it was recorded when he married Mary Van Derveer, four years after receiving the Bible .


There are two pages of births included with the Bible.  We run into a little bit of a hiccup on the first page.

J.S. Glen Edwards son of John V.S.
Edwards and Mary M. Edwards born
January 16" 1849.

Mary Putman Van Derveer daughter of
William and Elizabeth Putman Van Derveer
born June 1" 1848

These records are considered derivative (or secondary) evidence because they happened before the establishment of the family Bible and the two people were not consciously present at their own birth.  We can presume that they have it on good source that they know their own birthdays and parents.  So we will allow them the indulgence of including themselves in the Bible!  Indeed, if you didn't know who their parents were this could be just the place that you get that clue.

The second page of Births includes the two daughters of J.S.G. and Mary Edwards.  Interestingly enough it also includes two of their grandchildren, one born in 1907 and one born in 1908.  For people having difficulty tracing women an entry like this helps to reveal the names of the spouses and thus the daughers' married names.


Only one death is recorded in this Bible.  

Mary P. Edwards, wife of J.S.G. Edwards
died April 1" 1909 aged 60 years & 10 mos.

It is for J.S.G. Edwards' wife.  He did not die until 18 March 1917 so we can presume (though not verify) that it was written by he himself.  

Review All the Handwriting

Next, check all the handwriting for all the entries.  Does it look like it was written at various times over the years with different pens?  Handwriting changes at least slightly over the years and gets less steady with age.  In contrast the handwriting may all be identical, with the same ink, strokes and weight.  That could suggest that someone sat down and entered it all at one time.  Ideally the entries will vary slightly and suggest that they were written at the time of each event.

Compare the Information to What You Already Know

Lastly, compare the handwritten information to what you already know about the family.  Do the names, dates and location fit with what you know about your ancestors?  Does any of the new information conflict with what you already have?  Conflicts of information are not bad. They should encourage you to work harder to understand why you might have conflicts.

All in all this is a great Bible with mostly contemporary information and I'm so happy to have it.

Tell me your stories from finding Family Bibles!  What did your Family Bibles reveal to you?


  1. I carefully copied the information from my grandmother's bible when I was in college. Just one year later she died, and one of my uncles offered it to me, but I was shy and said he should take it. Well, he threw it away! At least I had copied the information! I also had found several family bibles in the manuscript section of NEHGS. I was horrified to find out that in each case it was only the family record pages, not the whole bible, in the files. However, the archivists have assured me that bibles are only of sentimental value, and are rarely of monetary or historical value. How fortunate you are to have the complete book in your possession.

  2. What a fabulous gift you received! I love family Bibles. I am blessed to have my grandmother's in my mother's possession. My grandmother listed every move that they ever made with date and address as well as comments about their "first house purchased," etc. She also listed the information on which funeral home held the remains of her still-born son, Stephen. We're using it to try to locate him. It was a treasure trove that we didn't even realize was there until after her death.