Friday, October 22, 2021

52 Ancestors - SPORTS: The Bookie

In March 2020, when COVID-19 was just taking hold here in Virginia, I received an email from the most recent owner of my grandparents’ house in Portsmouth. She was installing new insulation in the attic and discovered several boxes of STUFF that belonged to my parents and grandparents. One of the most confusing “treasures” is this order book.

Order Book

It is about 6” wide and 14” long with a soft cover. The pages are arranged with columns that probably allow for entries of debits and credits. However, the entries look nothing like what a storekeeper or other businessman might record. Flanking a mysterious series of numbers are on the left a date including day of the week and on the right a name.

I believe this is the record book of a Bookie. Soooo, who was the Bookie in the family?

Steve and Catherine 1936
I know of one for sure – Steve Barany, husband of my grandaunt Catherine Walsh Barany. However, this book probably was not his. For one thing, Steve and Cat divorced. When she moved in with her sister, it is not likely she brought Steve’s belongings with her. For another thing, most of the items in the attic were from my mother’s side of the family, not from my father’s side except for a few books and souvenirs of his college life.

There is nothing familiar in the handwriting to help eliminate someone or point to another. However, some of the names entered in the book point directly to my father’s father, Granddaddy Slade. There are MANY listings for Morrison, the same surname of Granddaddy’s mother Mary Morrison Slade. I searched several of the other names on Ancestry for clues connecting them to my grandfather. Many names came up as possible neighbors or at least people in the close geographical area.


My dad's parents: Julia and Fred Slade Sr

Could my sweet granddaddy have been taking illegal gambling bets on boxing matches, horseracing, baseball games, football games, cock fights and who knows what else?

Frankly, yes. He had been in prison for tax evasion and moonshining, so illegal gambling probably fit right into his wheelhouse. 

I have tried to make sense of the numbers, but knowing nothing about figuring the odds and placing bets prevents me from presenting anything intelligent here. This is what I see:

  • The left page is almost always marked “Day” while the right page is marked “Night.”
  • The wide column contains 3 sets of numbers, mostly 3-digit but some 2-digit numbers. In every instance the 3rd number is the difference when you subtract the 1st number from the 2nd number.
  • The last number is always 4 digits. The round numbers suggest maybe they represent money, dollars and cents without a decimal point.

Another point of interest is that the entries are in blocks of roughly a week with each day carefully dated. It occurred to me that maybe the last number is the payout; however, every person has a number in the column. If the last number was a payout, there were no losers. That seems illogical. The last number must mean something else.

I don’t know why, but I decided to divide the 3rd number by the last number. In every weekly group, the “answer” within that week is almost the same. For example, 111 divided by 2220 is .05, as is 154 divided by 3080, and 93 divided by 1860. Does that mean the payout was .05 percent? Was Granddaddy’s fee .05%? See – I’m not a gambler, much less a Bookie.

Suddenly I noticed a pattern in the Day and Night entries. Looking across the corresponding day from day to night, I noticed that the second number during the day became the first number at night. The night’s second number became the next day’s first number. And so the pattern repeated through the week.

Repeating pattern of numbers in the Day and Night sides of the book

 So just what am I looking at?


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.


© 2021, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. Very intriguing. Hope this mystery gets resolved!

  2. This is a curious and interesting book, Wendy. I hope you learn what its contents mean. I was hoping some reader had left a comment enlightening you and your readers. Can you find anything on the internet about gambling books/logs?

  3. Wow, Wendy, what a mystery. I hope someone comments with a possible explanation.

  4. Now this is surely a mystery. Perfect post for the prompt.

  5. I like how you readily admit that your grandfather was in jail. In my family, I am not sure I can openly tell about certain episodes of people's lives,since many are conservative Christians. Any ideas?

  6. I think it most certainly must be illegal gambling. Perhaps you'll find some clues here:

  7. He may have been running a numbers game or daily lottery for the neighborhood. Very interesting, hope you figure it out. Thanks for sharing!