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Tennessee Offering Family Bibles Online

10 Jun 2024 7:03 AM | Anonymous

This announcement was made several years ago but I apparently missed it at the time:

The Tennessee State Public Library has put a database of family Bibles online and available for searching by the public.

State Librarian Chuck Sherrill told The Chattanooga Times Free Press early Bibles served as the place where families marked milestones such as weddings, births and deaths.

The database of 1,500 Bibles may serve as a treasure trove for genealogists and historians, a record of a time when Tennessee was wildly dangerous and human life seemed especially small and fragile.

Sherrill said among the Bibles in the database are one from 1538 and a book dating to 1753. In Tennessee, birth certificates were not required until 1908 and, to this day, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will accept a family Bible’s list of births as one proof of citizenship for those with no birth certificate.

“On the U.S. frontier, the family Bible might be the only book in existence for 100 miles,” Sherrill said. “Those early Bibles did not have lined pages inside where you could record births, deaths and weddings the way modern Bibles do. Families inserted pages or wrote on the flyleaves of their Bibles. When families recorded the important events in their lives in the sacred book, it gave them a sense of permanence. These were books that were meant to be handed down through the generations.”

Southern Adventist University history department head Lisa Diller said historians are often fascinated by comparisons of information in family Bibles to government data.

“(The Bible information) shows how people saw their family structure and what they thought was important to their identity and the family group,” Diller said.

Sherrill cautions that researchers using the family Bibles should know that the information was not fact-checked.

Historians have noted anomalies in the way different ethnicities and races use family Bibles. Some families altered wedding dates to protect the privacy of children born out of wedlock, for example, while Quaker families dispensed with that subterfuge.

Veteran genealogists observe that some Bibles offer more detailed family trees of the spouse with whose family owns the most land or the most widely respected name, she says. Some family Bibles offer a cause of death which differs from the one listed on the public record. Was the family hiding a secret or did the government want to avoid a panic about a possible flu epidemic?

“Those kinds of discrepancies are interesting; were there things that people didn’t want written down?” Diller said.

Page Goodman, floor manager at LifeWay Christian bookstore near Hamilton Place, found some family Bibles that had entries for “Blessings, Times of Hardship, Answered Prayers and a photo album.” One Bible had a place where the hair and eye color of newborns could be noted.

“I’d say this is a recent trend. Most Bibles focus on births, deaths and weddings in the pages for family history,” Goodman said.

An index to the Bibles may be found at:

Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter

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