Have you ever heard someone talking about their family Bible and how much it means to them? Or, have you read somewhere online that family Bibles are a valuable source of genealogical information? If your immediate family does not have a family Bible, you may not understand the true importance of these books to genealogical research, not to mention history. This is why family Bibles are such an important resource for genealogy, and how to find them if no one in your immediate family has one.
Family Bibles were extremely popular in the 1700s and 1800s, though you may occasionally find one that is a little older or a little younger. Some families even still keep them today and continue to update them, more as a family tradition than as a method of permanent record-keeping as it used to be. A family Bible is a standard Christian Bible (any denomination or translation will do), with pages in it for recording family births, deaths, and marriages. The pages may be at the front, middle or end of the Bible, depending on the particular publisher for each one.
In the days before recording vital statistics with the state became mandatory in every state (and complied with universally), family Bibles served as the official record keepers for Protestant Christian families. Catholic families still had their parish church registers, where the priests recorded this information. Protestants had Bibles. This makes family Bibles extremely valuable genealogical records, as they record information that might not have been (and usually wasn’t) recorded elsewhere.
You can discover previously unknown dates and names in family Bibles. They are particularly useful for revealing the names of all the children in a family, as well as their fates (died as children or grew up and got married or stayed single), especially at a time when the only mention of a child may be in a census. Since the census was only taken every ten years at the federal level, and sometimes in the five-year mark in between at the state level, many children in a family might have been missed being recorded if they also died as children (or were born, grew up, and married in the twenty years between the 1880 census and the missing 1890 census).
Often, family Bibles were passed down among the generations, so you will see different handwriting in the recording pages as time went on in the family. The important thing is that the information was usually recorded as it happened, or soon after by someone with first-hand knowledge of it, so it is usually quite accurate and trustworthy.
If your immediate family does not have a family Bible, you can query online genealogy websites to see if anyone has one. You can also look on eBay for old ones being sold (usually by people who got them at antique stores and don’t know the original family owners). Looking up and contacting distant relatives from collateral lines with a common ancestor to you several generations ago can also be a good way to find the family Bible — you never know which child and their heirs inherited it, especially in large families. Keep looking, and you may strike genealogical gold.