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Your Family Bible as Your Family Story
“Ay, write it down in black and white—
The date, the age, the name;
For home has never seemed so dear
As since our baby came.”
(Sources: Poem Excerpted from “The Family Record,” Harper’s Bazaar, August 28, 1875, (562) and
Wood engraving, Winslow Homer, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Public Domain)
We are not certain when the practice of documenting births, marriages, and deaths in the Bible began. In 1856, Richard Sims, of the British Museum wrote: “Entries of births, deaths, and marriages, frequently occur in the calendars prefixed to missals and books of hours, as early as the middle of the fifteenth century . . .”1 Initially, Bibles did not include dedicated pages for recording family records; thus, inside covers, blank pages, and the backs of pages were often used. Isaiah Thomas (1749-1831), a Massachusetts printer often touted for his elaborately (and expensively) illustrated Bibles, is credited with printing the first Bible in 1791 that included dedicated family record pages.
Documenting family records in the Bible as well as attaching, or inserting between the pages, obituaries, poems, and other mementoes gained in popularity in the eighteenth century.
Bible historian Gutjahr discusses this act of “inserting oneself” into the Bible, not only as a demonstration of a life well lived but also as a means to become part of an “immortal narrative.”2
“Perhaps literally interpreting John’s exhortation that Christians should lead lives worthy of being recorded in God’s Book of Life, American Protestants meticulously used family pages to record not only names and dates, but places of birth, occupations, causes of death, and important personal characteristics—often supplemented with newspaper clippings or handwritten narrative accounts. Through such insertions, people quite literally fused their personal narratives to the biblical narrative. Consequently, the Bible served American Protestants not only as the Book of Life, but also as the book of their lives.”3
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