Family Bibles

The Bible was once regarded as more than just a holy scripture, they were sacred objects in themselves. Given the most important place in the house and filled with family records and memories, the "family Bible" served as the spiritual centre of the home.

Publishers catered to this market by producing ever-larger Bibles, complete with explanatory articles, colour illustrations, pages for recording births, marriages and deaths, and ornamental covers for wealthier families.

Family Bibles can be a superb resource for genealogy research. The births, marriages and deaths of generations are listed as the Bible is passed down through the family. Even if you already have this information, seeing it penned down in an ancestors handwriting will be much more thrilling!  

Family Bibles tend to have survived more in America than in Britain, much the same applies in Australia and New Zealand. This is not always the case so ensure to ask around, older relatives may have an old family Bible buried away in the loft, not realising it would be of help to your research. Family Bibles were such a commonplace during the Victorian era, that they can’t have all vanished in the UK!

The Family Bible below was sent to us by ‘The Episcopal Diocese of California’ last year. It was published in Cambridge in 1637 and belonged to the ‘Hardy’ family. It lists 13 births from 1710 – 1794 and is a bit of a mystery as to where the Hardy family came from and how their family Bible found its way to California. This would be a great project for a keen genealogists to work on.

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Pedigrees

The word Pedigree derives from the Old French phrase ‘Pied de grue’ meaning ‘Crane’s foot’ which refers to the appearance of the typical drop-line family tree with lines from an individual branching down to descendants or up to ancestors.

The Society holds over 7,000 Roll Pedigrees outlining the genealogical relationships of thousands of families. Most of these are unpublished and represent the hard work of our members. Some, such as these beautiful volumes of illustrated pedigrees from the Lucas Pedigrees and Connections by ‘Louise Cecilia Bazalgette Lucas’ are works of art in their own right.

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The Scattergood pedigree is another very attractive family tree compiled by John Scattergood of Madras who died in 1723. What’s most interesting about this particular pedigree is that it claims to trace the family back to Adam and Eve.

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Pre 1800’s Book Collection

The Society’s archives hold over 500 pre 1800 book titles. One of the oldest books within this collection is John Speed’s ‘Historie of Great Britaine under the Conquest of the Romans, Saxons, Danes and Normans’ Printed by John Dawson for George Humble, London, 1632. The third edition was published after Speed’s death in 1629. Although the binding, leather spine and marbled paper boards, are in advanced state of deterioration, it is a very valuable book which has some claim to being the first history of England, first published in 1611. See images below.

Pre 1800 books are always an interesting read as many of the spellings are different to how we spell them today. Until 1755 when Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary was published there was no set way of spelling and so it was up to the writer to decide how they thought the word should be spelt, leading to many variations of the same word.

Included within the collection are poll books (of which some are the only known copies), army lists and almanacs. Poll books from this period are particularly interesting as most list voters’ names, occupations, addresses and even whom they voted for. Our poll book collections have been researched and mentioned in many academic publications as one of the most extensive in the world.

It is the Society’s intention to individually enter each book on to the British Library’s English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) including a description of the content and any unique or unusual features i.e. original binding, extra pages, manuscript additions etc. The ESTC holds information on British printed material before 1801 held by the British Library and by over 2000 other institutions worldwide. This is a very time consuming project and will need the expertise of a qualified librarian. The Society is currently applying to trusts for a grant to employ a part time librarian for one year.

 

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Suggested lecture:

Saturday 9th October at 2pm. The Georgians: Sources for the 18th Century by Else Churchill.

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