Saturday, July 27, 2013

Sepia Saturday 187 : Strange Ancestral Flows

Family Bibles are odd things. Unlike full sets of china or suitcases full of pound notes, they can't be divided, they can't be equitably distributed between all surviving offspring. You can't pass the Old Testament on to Cousin Ronnie and keep the New Testament to pass on to your favourite grandson. Family Bibles tend to follow a strange ancestral flow : being swept clear of childless lines and being drawn towards the fecund tributaries, like leaves swept down a swift stream.




That strange ancestral flow meant that the Family Bible of Arthur Beanland (1867-1944) came into the possession of his niece, my mother. Although Arthur was married three times and had seven children, none of them went on to have children of their own - three died in their youth and the other four lived long, unmarried lives. The Bible was handed down by Arthur to his daughters - Ada, Ellen and Clara. These three girls - known as the Clayton Cousins (they lived in Clayton, near Bradford) - were legends in the family. They were supposed to be great misers (the walls of their Clayton cottage were whitewashed to avoid the expense of wallpaper) and were consequently courted by anyone with a wedding or a birthday due in the hope of a substantial gift. By the time Isobel and I got married only Ada survived and my mother was most insistent that she was invited to the wedding, in the hope of a substantial gift for the newly-weds. In the event, we got a candlewick bedspread, and a few months later, Ada, the last of Arthur's children, died. My Mother and her sister Amy, inherited the worldly possessions of the Clayton Cousins - but there was little more than a back-to-back house and a Family Bible. 


Auntie Amy had no children so that particular tributary dried up and consequently the Bible came into the possession of my Mother. When she died, the Bible went to my brother as the older of her two children. And so today, that Bible "presented by the Committee of the New Jerusalem Church Sunday School, Keighley" sits in the sun on some far-off Caribbean island. But the digital age means that the essence of that historic volume, the images of those names and anniversaries, can follow a variety of channels and live for ever more.

Sepia Saturday 187 has family bibles for its' theme. You can see how others have interpreted the theme by going to the Sepia Saturday Blog and following the various links.

24 comments:

  1. I think the only important consideration when deciding who such heirlooms go to is that the recipient should have the same respect for the preservation of such family histories as oneself. I'm sure it's a very difficult decision to make, though.

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    1. How right you are! Some years ago my brother was given my great grandfather's naval sword which he may or may not have actually used during the Civil War. He was stationed aboard several different vessels & I'm not sure how much sword action he might have seen nor how expert he was in using it? Recently, my brother emailed me to ask if I would like to have some things because he was moving. "I have this old sword that belonged to someone, but I don't know who." he said. He was going to donate it somewhere, but his new wife said maybe he ought to contact a family member first to see if they knew who it might have belonged to. Whew!!! :->

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  2. Look at all those lovely kisses !

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  3. I wonder if the aunts knew everyone thought they were wealthy and if they thought it sad or silly or laughted about it among themselves?

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  4. It would be interesting to know the origin of family bibles. Some were meticulously kept up. My grandfather's had only Grandma and Grandpa's names.

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  5. Love those Clayton Cousins, Alan! And here's hoping that ALL families have a like-minded group of relatives, if only to stir up intrigue...

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  6. Dividing heirlooms is a difficult decision. I agree that they should go to someone with a special connection or someone who will treasure & preserve them for future generations.

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  7. Great post. I was exceptionally drawn to that of the Clayton Cousins!

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  8. As I was saying to Kristin, on Facebook, I have no family bible to use as a reference - from either side of my family. I envy those of you who do!

    I truly enjoyed this post, Alan, but now I'm just green.

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  9. My Bible is really well used with lots of comments, references and underlinings. Many of the pages were curling and corners were missing. Finally the cover started coming away. So I decided to have it rebound last Christmas. It came back looking brand new, with all my personal comments and pages smoothed and still in tact. I was SO pleased. Well worth the $80 it cost.

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  10. The family bible that my step-father's mother gave to him, is now in the possession of my youngest brother. He has three daughters, so the bible will end up far from its North Carolina home and in a family that carries another name, different from the one that peopled its pages for 150 years. I am not sure howor if Bibles feel about leaving their ancestral homes, but it certainly does make me ponder the question.

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  11. Like a medieval monk, you've illuminated a page of family history with a fine brush, Alan. And now Arthur Beanland's bible has a beautifully decorated illustration preserved on the internet.

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  12. Neither my wife nor have family bibles handed down to them. I never saw a bible at all at home. There is so much history in volumes like your family's - now recorded 'for ever' on the net.

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  13. Sadly these old family heirlooms can cause problems in families. My husband has few things belonging to his family because he was far away when his parents died and the bothers took everything. Always a source of sadness and resentment. I am so glad your brother's wife had some common sense. Perhaps the bible will also come to you some day.

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  14. Oh how interesting. I have not been able to spend much time on the computer over the last week so I completely missed this SS theme. I must try and do a late post anyway because I just took home my great-grandfather's book of Luther's sermons, which served as family bible to them (the births of all his eleven children noted in it).

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  15. A family Bible helps trace the family's genealogy. You have traced the genealogy of the family Bible.

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  16. Mum is so pleased to be able to pass all her memorabilia on to me some day. I wonder who I will find that I will be able to pass it all on to! There's a nephew looking promising, and a cousin's daughter who is quite keen so here's hoping they still will be when the time comes.

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  17. At least you got a candlewick bedspread! I like the idea of the Clayton Cousins being courted for gifts and handouts, but I expect they were pretty wise to all this. That first entry in the Bible, for poor Clifford, is quite poignant.

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  18. Family Bibles tend to follow a strange ancestral flow : being swept clear of childless lines and being drawn towards the fecund tributaries, like leaves swept down a swift stream.
    You're getting very poetic Alan:) I'm going to make sure I use your wonderful phrase 'ancestral flow' in the future.

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  19. This bible has wandered around quite a bit, If only it could talk.

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  20. I like all those kisses! What an amazing treasure, and who knows, perhaps one day you shall be blessed to have it as well!

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  21. I absolutely love the name Beanland. It doesn't even sound real. I'm always drawn to books that have Bean somewhere in the title. Maybe a novel about the Beanland's should be written.
    Nancy

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  22. I was intrigued by the postcard. It looks like the picture was printed directly on the card, somewhat out of register and upside down. I also found the "back" address unusual--I never heard of back-to-back houses before.

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  23. You have scanned them for all eternity..lovely postcard to keep with the bible:)

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