Wednesday, June 10, 2020

52 Ancestors - HANDED DOWN: Two Bibles

From the time I became interested in my mother’s family history, I heard there was a family Bible SOMEWHERE. No one seemed to know who had it. Maybe it was written in German. If so, then that would be from my 3X great-grandfather Fielding Jollett and his wife Mary Ann Armentrout. She was among the first generation born in the Shenandoah Valley to German immigrants. I began to imagine all the questions that could be answered if only I could find that Bible. However, none of the Jollett descendants seemed to know anything about it. I began to think maybe a Jollett Bible just did not exist. 

Many years later, my cousin Glenn passed away. As his widow Fran went through some of his things, she decided to return family memorabilia. Glenn had been in possession of 2 old Bibles. Fran sent them to my aunt. When I asked to borrow them, she said I could just have them. Woohoo!
2 Davis Bibles
Davis Bibles
Mitchell Davis's Bible on the left
Walter Davis's Bible on the right
It turns out they are not written in German at all. And they are not from the Jollett side of the family. They are Davis Bibles.

Mitchell and Martha Davis Bible from 1846
Mitchell and Martha Davis's Bible
Publication information

 This is clearly the older of the two Bibles. The publication information on a torn page indicates the Bible was printed in 1846. Perhaps the Bible was a wedding gift for my 2X great-grandparents Mitchell Davis and Martha Ann Willson who settled in Beldor, Rockingham County, Virginia following their marriage in 1846.

The condition is best described as POOR. Pages are crumpled and stained with mildew. 

But here is a sweet find: a dried flower. 

Dried flower in Davis Bible
Dried flower in the Davis Bible
Was it a wedding keepsake?
I wonder if it could be a flower Martha carried or wore in what appears to be a wedding portrait (IF indeed this is Mitchell and Martha – identities are not confirmed).
Possibly Mitchell Davis and Martha Ann Willson
Is this Mitchell and Martha?
Family Bibles are usually good sources for women seeking to join a lineage society like Daughters of the American Revolution because they confirm family relationships and dates. This Bible did not have the “built-in” pages to record births, marriages, and deaths, so someone sewed loose-leaf paper into the binding.
Pages sewn into the Bible
Old threads and loose leaf paper
The important dates all relate to Mitchell and Martha’s children, their births, their marriages, and their deaths. When I saw the page listing the deaths of members of the Davis family, I thought, “YES – my ticket to DAR” because there they were: 2 entries for Leonard Davis, who were Mitchell’s father and grandfather. Surely this would help prove my lineage to Revolutionary War soldier Leonard Davis of Albemarle County. Or so I thought.
Deaths in the Mitchell Davis Bible
include Leonard Sr and Jr,
Leonard Jr's wife Frances,
Mitchell and Martha
Unfortunately, the Davis Bible did not secure my membership. The DAR genealogist pointed out that even though the pages are old and the handwriting looks of the time, there is nothing to say that one Leonard was Mitchell’s father, or that one Leonard was father of the other Leonard. I would have to find something else to connect the genealogical dots.

Still I find this Bible fascinating. Written on the inside covers are notes one does not typically associate with a Bible. There are no references to favorite books, chapters, verses. Instead there are mathematical calculations and lists. Mitchell was a carpenter by trade. Was he estimating the costs of a building project, creating a bill perhaps? Did he have no scrap paper?

Inside cover of Mitchell Davis Bible
Chimney, Floors, Roof, Doors, Windows,
Mantle, Stairway

Math calculation:
26 times 2 is 52
52 divided by 3 is 17 1/3

Walter Davis Bible
Walter Davis Bible
printed before 1890
This Bible displays features of a high-quality publication. The cover is ornate tooled leather. A colorful map and gallery of illustrations of Biblical stories are printed on slick paper. The all-important fill-in-the-blank family records are included. There is even a page for family members to sign their names to the Temperance Pledge. (What does it say that no one signed?)
Page of the Walter Davis Bible 
Otherwise the condition is equally poor, and the back cover is missing.

I know this Bible belonged to my great-grandparents Walter Davis and Mary Frances Jollett because the dates begin with them. Their children are included. 
Births in the Walter Davis Bible

Marriages in Walter Davis Bible

Mary Frances also added pertinent dates about her parents, one grandfather, brothers and sisters, all neatly penned on loose leaf paper stapled onto the Temperance Pledge.
Stapled page of information about Mary Frances Jollett's family
Mary Frances included her parents' dates of birth
and death; her grandfather's date of death,
dates of death for her father and siblings
Scraps of paper in the Walter Davis Bible
Scraps of paper found in the Bible
The Walter Davis Bible, like that of his parents, includes some odd bits of ephemera: slice of cardboard with the name and address of one of Walter’s sisters, a scrap of paper containing incomplete addresses and phone numbers with mathematical calculations on the back. It appears someone was figuring out how old someone was at death – I recognize the dates. There is a transcription of births and deaths of the Davis children; apparently someone wanted a copy but failed to take it with them. Loose-leaf papers were inserted with “new information” as someone married or died.

While the Bibles do not answer all my questions, it is gratifying to be able to insert an exact date of birth or death in place of a broad estimate of “before 1830,” “circa 1800,” “after 1880,” and so on and so on. What I appreciate most about this Bible is that this is where Mary Frances saved the newspaper clippings of her sister’s obituaries.

Newspaper clippings of obituaries in the Walter Davis Bible
Collection of obituaries

Amy Johnson Crow continues to challenge genealogy bloggers and non-bloggers alike to think about our ancestors and share a story or photo about them. The challenge is “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. Wow, what a phenomenal find! It was so nice of Fran to give them to you. Great blog, I enjoyed reading it.

  2. You're so lucky to have these treasures! A great write-up about them.

  3. Wow, what a great gift you were given with the 2 Bibles! A wealth of information!!


  4. Well thank goodness the Bible ended up in your hands. It's great that not only did you get some dates from it, but the newspapers were certainly a bonus. Too b

  5. didn't finish! Too bad it wasn't enough for the DAR membership though.

  6. What a find (or gift)! My mother saved an orchid from her wedding bouquet from 1950 and it looks just like the one you have. As a kid, I loved thumbing through her wedding memory book and putting my hands on that orchid.