Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Spring - The Season of the Family Bible

With spring comes several holiday and celebration days - Easter, Passover and Mother’s Day, to name a few.  And, with all of the potential family gatherings coming up in the next few weeks, it seems the perfect time to discuss genealogy and the family bible historian.  One of the most important and often forgotten sources of information about relatives is the family bible or religious book. This may be the only place where general family life events were recorded early on.  Family bibles are wonderful resources for births, marriages and deaths, going back for generations - in your ancestors’ handwriting.

An ancestral bible can be full of information; birth dates, full names and birth locations, marriage dates, spouse’s names, officiating minister, witnesses to the marriage, and the wedding location, death dates, locations and burial spots may be listed, along with recent clippings of obits or funeral cards.

Dried leaves

Hand painted house drawings
But the family bible may also contain other treasurers.  Those I searched through for this post held old photos, souvenir programs, poems, dried leaves, flowers and ferns, water color paintings done on paper and lockets of hair, all items that had been cherished by family members for one reason or another.

Helen(e) Stout
In one old bible, I came across two very old photos.  One photo was of a woman, with a notation made on the back –“My Grandmother, Helen(e) Stout.” With this was another photo of a single story clapboard house and a couple standing on the front porch.  But no information was provided for this picture.  Is it Helen(e) and her husband?  Their home?  The occasion?  

Another paper, pulled from the same bible shows a hand written roll of family members listing their birth or death dates.  According to this listing it appears that Helen(e) died in November of 1907.  This could be the clue one of Helen(e)’s relatives has been looking for.  And all discovered because of a search in the family bible.

Wear and condition may also help indicate how much use the family bible received. Was it for show or was it read nightly?  You may find hand-marked passages, or leaves and ferns used as bookmarks to show that a special section held meaning for someone. 

German confirmation certificate
German Bible
Bibles printed in other languages such as this German bible can indicate where some family members came from, even what language may have been spoken at home.  

Although you may not know who kept the bible records, the spelling and penmanship can indicate whether they had much schooling.  A change in penmanship can show that the torch has been passed to another generation to record the family events. Even the date the bible was published can help you put some pieces of the family puzzle together in terms of what was happening in the world and what was important at that time in history.

Be advised that all bibles are not alike.  Each denomination is somewhat different. In fact, even each printer crafted a slightly different style of bible.  Some bibles place the family history pages – the birth, marriage and death sections, near the front, others place them between testaments and still others locate them in the back.  No matter where the family history pages are located, be sure to take time to page through the entire bible.  Many times hand written notes are recorded on pages with favorite passages. And other information may be written on the inside of the front or back covers.

Family bibles and religious books are generally passed down through the generations.  If you did not inherit a family bible but believe that one exists, there are several ways to go about trying to locate it.  If family members do not have any clues to its whereabouts, contact your local, regional or state genealogy societies.  Many times a lone relative will leave their bible and books to historical or genealogical groups.  Bibles may also be purchased at auctions. Check for family bibles on the Internet at eBay's site http://www.ebay.com, Cyndi's List also has a large section on bibles, http://www.cyndislist.com and the Daughters of the American Revolution, http://www.dar.org/ have transcribed hundreds of family bible records.

For many, bibles played a large part in our ancestors’ lives.  This explains why bibles were also used as symbols on gravestones.   An open book could indicate a bible and refer to someone who was pious, a believer, or whose occupation was that of a minister.

I found it thrilling and awe-inspiring to hold and page through these very old, revered books with their crumbling leather and dusty smell of another time.  While I do not have access to any of my family’s bibles, I hope one day to locate a family bible for my clan at a genealogy or historical society, or maybe waiting for me on eBay or at a local auction. Regardless of how its discovered, getting to see a long-gone ancestors handwriting, noting the important dates that occurred in her, and her families lives would, indeed, be a priceless delight.

~ Joy

A very special thank you to Richard King, Reference Librarian of the Lewis Historical Library in Vincennes, Indiana for the allowance to look through and photography these bibles from the early nineteenth and twentieth centuries of Knox County history.

Another thank you to Brian Spangle, Historical Collection Administrator of the McGrady-Brockman House (Knox County Genealogical Society) for a chance to go through the German bible and photograph it.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Daffodils in the Cemetery

It is spring – the season of the daffodil!  Known by many names including narcissus, jonquil, paperwhites, and Lenten lily – the daffodil is the harbinger of warmer weather. Daffodils come in a variety of colors, yellow, white, green, pink, red, orange and some interesting variations.  The small bulbs are planted in the autumn and are native to Europe, Asia and North Africa.  The daffodil is the national flower of Wales.

Daffodils are a favorite cemetery flower, etched on stones and found growing throughout graveyards.  One variety, known as Twin Sisters or Cemetery Ladies, can be found in many older cemeteries throughout the country, originally planted by family members as a living tribute to their loved ones.   

Old City Cemetery located in Lynchburg, Virginia, http://www.gravegarden.org/ is known as the oldest continuously operated public cemetery in that state, established in 1806.   This cemetery has a large collection of antique daffodils and is highly regarded for maintaining their daffodils collections throughout the years.

Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio, http://www.lakeviewcemetery.com is known for their ‘Daffodil Hill’ which includes over 100-thousand bulbs.  

Willowbrook Cemetery in Westport, Connecticut http://www.willowbrookcemetery.com is planting daffodils each year in order to create ‘Daffodil Mile.’  So far over 9-thousand bulbs have been planted from donor contributions.

Cemetery daffodils symbolize grace, beauty, deep regard, mortality, the death of a youth, new beginnings, innocence and unrequited love, making them very popular as part of the silent language depicted on stones.

Poet William Wordsworth wrote an ode to daffodils in 1804.  Known as one of his most famous poems, it was inspired by a walk he took with his sister in 1802.

                          I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud

I wandered lonely as a Cloud

That floats on high o'er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd
A host of dancing Daffodils;

Along the Lake, beneath the trees,

Ten thousand dancing in the breeze.

The waves beside them danced, but they

Outdid the sparkling waves in glee: --

A poet could not but be gay

In such a laughing company:
I gazed -- and gazed -- but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the Daffodils.

Now off to ‘dance with the Daffodils’ in our tiny rural cemetery, just up the road.  Enjoy your weekend!

~ Joy

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Women's History in the Cemetery

March is Women’s History Month; time to explore how women in the cemetery are remembered.

Celebrating Women's Day
It was 100 years ago this month, on March 8, that the first International Women’s Day was celebrated in the U.S.  The Women’s Suffrage Movement was beginning, not only in this country but also throughout Europe.  Women had decided to band together to demand equal and fair treatment, including the right to vote.

Unfortunately, what those women fought so hard for was put by the wayside when our country tumbled headfirst into the Great Depression of the 1930’s.  Then war broke out in 1941. Women stepped up and finally came into their own, taking jobs that had only been held by men, prior to the war. It took World War Two to finally place women on a more fair footing with men, only to have it taken away in the 1950’s, as women were relegated back to the home, to raise the children and tend the home fires.

The upheaval of the sixties and the women’s movement of the seventies finally brought about the lasting changes that many of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers had started fighting for in the early 1900’s.

National Women's History Project
It was 1981 when the U.S. Congress proclaimed the week of March 8 (an acknowledgement to the original International Women’s Day celebration of 1911) as National Women’s History Week.  In 1987 Congress declared the month of March to be Women’s History Month with the purpose to be to honor women and remember their sacrifices and contributions to the world we live in.

Although times have changed, they still remain the same. You will find the women of the cemetery usually bear one of these descriptive names on their stones to describe their station in life; daughter, sister, aunt, wife, mother, grandmother, widow.  On older stones, the term consort or relict was used to describe the woman’s marital status.

From the 17th through 19th centuries, consort was usually used on the graves of women, although a man could also be a consort.  The word consort was normally used in this manner:

‘Nancy consort of John Clark.’  Consort meant that Nancy was John’s spouse and died before her husband did.  There is no other information listed. The fact that she was married to John is all that’s left as a reminder of her life and identity.

Mary LaPlant faired better in regard to information about her life. Mary was the consort, or spouse, of Lambert Barrots.  Both her birth and death dates were listed along with ‘LaPlant’, which was probably, her birth name possibly used as a middle name.

Relict was another term from the 17th and 18th centuries that meant the woman was the surviving spouse of the marriage and had not remarried.  Relict was used much as our term widow is used today to describe a woman whose spouse has died before her.

Most of the other relationship terms used to describe a woman remain the same.  They can give us more insight into the lives of our female ancestors, and yet, it seems, never quite enough.

Daughter describes any female descendent or offspring.

Charlotte Snyder was a daughter.  Unfortunately we do not know whose daughter, nor do we know the exact dates of her birth or death.

‘Mary dau. (daughter) of L.J. & M.E. Miles’ had a more detailed stone. Mary’s death date and age were listed, along with the symbol of a rosebud, used to indicate the lose of a young life.

Sister is a female who has both parents in common with another offspring.  Sister is not as prevalent on gravestones as other relationship terms.

Two sisters will share this marker.  Each has her married name on the stone. Unfortunately, for genealogy purposes, we do not know what their birth name was.

Aunt describes a female who is the sister or sister-in-law of your parent.

With this stone designation of Aunt, we may assume that Hannah never married.  Her birth and death dates were listed, along with her middle name.

Wife is the female partner in a marriage.

Catharine – wife of Samuel Thorn with a date of death listed, although covered up by years of soil buildup.  Samuel had a willow tree placed on the stone, a symbol of mourning.

Anna B. was the wife of John G. Frisz.  Anna’s birth and death years were listed and her stone was very substantial and ornate.

Then there are the stones that hint of plans gone awry –
This couple’s stone showed Edward’s birth and death years, but for Ella, only the year of her birth.  Did she move away, remarry or did someone just forget to have the date of her passing engraved in the stone?

Mother – a female, who has given birth to a child, adopted a child or raised a child.  The female parent.

Charlotte T. Engle’s stone showed her birth and death dates along with the simple inscription ‘Mother.’

Myrtle’s stone indicated that she was someone’s mother and the year of her birth and death.

There are also the poignant stones, such as ‘Hattie Clark and Daughter.’  No dates, no name for the child.

Grandmother – The mother of your mother or father.
Grandmother is another designation, which is seldom found on gravestones.

Naomi Graves Bray was honored with the term ‘Grandmother’ placed on her stone, along with her birth and death years and a religious symbol.

Other designations, or lack of, that can create a dilemma about who these women were:

This stone tells us only that Elizabeth was buried here, along with her birth and death years.  No last name, no relationship designation.
Here, a bit more detail, Flora's last name - Clement.  A birth year was given, but no death year.

This stone is intriguing.  The large marble marker was used for the grave of Jesse Cravens' wife who died in 1885.  A four-line epitaph was engraved at the bottom.  But I find the semicolon a mystery.  Was it used to indicate an omitted or unknown letter?  If so, then Jesse Cravens had nothing to do with this stone, as he should have known the spelling of his wife’s name.  So who had this stone erected?  And why use a semicolon instead of a question mark if the letter or letters were unknown?  Does any one have any ideas?

This stone tells of someone much beloved.

And it seems only fitting to close out with a stone that seems to sum up Women’s History Month.

“James Henry – Husband of Beatrice Steel”

Beatrice Steel – Touché’!

~ Joy