Monday, July 4, 2011

Heirlooms of the Week - The Bibles

I have an abnormal amount of Bibles in my possession. A few are mine, acquired down through the years. The rest of them once belonged to (mostly) relatives. As word got out that I was standing ready, willing and able to take on the caretaking of whatever family papers and objects that relatives, near and far, would like to pass into my care, the stack of Bibles began to grow. I would guess that I have 25 or 30 of them at this point.

Looking through a newly acquired Bible is always an adventure. You find all sorts of things tucked inside: obituaries of friends and relatives, old church bulletins, poetry cut out of magazines, birthday and Mother's day cards, pictures and the odd gum wrapper. I regret that in the early days I was not so good about keeping the Bibles in their original condition, removing the items inside and placing them in my family notebooks. Nowadays I scan what I find and put the original material back where I found it. That way, when I take a sudden notion to flip through one of the old Bibles, I am pleasantly surprised to feel the presence of the original owner, as if they are standing over my shoulder watching.

The two Bibles in the next photo were once used by my Hodge grandparents (the black one on the left) and my great aunt Fay Hodge Branton (the blue one on the right).

The next two Bibles belonged to my Wilcoxen grandparents. The tattered black one was my Grandpa's. The one lying open behind it belonged to Grandma and had a special treasure awaiting inside. Grandma had taken the time to fill out marriage dates, birth dates, death dates and military service data, as well as a capsule of her own family history. While it can't be used as an "official" source, it is wonderful to have all of this information in her own handwriting.

One day my grandmother Lucy Hodge gave me a very large Bible in horrible condition, missing both covers and the necessary page with the publication date that would have made this an official Family Bible. It had belonged to my great-grandmother Mary Caroline Morgan Sewell Mobley. In Mary Caroline's handwriting are a handful of dates, including the only record I have ever found giving the date of her marriage to Joseph Mobley and the only record I have ever seen concerning the child she had with her first husband G. W. Sewell, a little girl who died in infancy. It is bulky and tattered, but a treasure in my family archives.

The small Bible on the right, the cover spotted with some kind of decay, belonged to my great-grandmother Cora Mobley Hodge, Mary Caroline's youngest daughter.

I have the Bible my mother carried to church every Sunday (the black one in the middle of the photo below) as well as several of my father's Bibles. He wore them out quickly. The ragged black Bible on the left was given to him by Pleasant Hill Baptist Church when he was just starting out in the ministry. He carried his ordination papers inside until he gave them to me. The large Bible lying open behind has been literally read to pieces. It is held together by Scotch and duct tape and heavily annotated by my father in every shade of ink. The little book at upper right is not a Bible, but a Minister's handbook. I was pleasantly surprised to find it among his belongings after he died. Inside on the end papers, both front and back, is a meticulous record of funerals he conducted or assisted with over a period of more than 20 years. He began the record before we moved to Smiley and kept it for a number of years after we moved to Bastrop. The list includes many, many relatives.

The last little Bible on the far right was another of those unexpected surprises. My grandmother Hodge gave it to me along with several other Bibles and I don't recall her saying anything special about it. It is small, in pieces, and missing the back cover. I didn't immediately realize what I had. But one day I gave it a closer inspection and discovered that it had belonged to my great-grandmother Nettie McAfee Mason and on the loose pages at the end she had recorded the birth dates and death dates and marriage dates for herself, both husbands, and all of her children.

They are not the prettiest items in my collection, but they are treasures nonetheless. Not only do they come with odds and ends of items that can cause a genealogist to go giddy, they are imprinted with the personalities of those who carried them on many a Sunday and studied them for understanding or for comfort in bad times.

"The Bible is a good book that's even better when it's the worse for wear."


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