Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Family Bible, Part II

Earlier this year, we learned about the set of Bibles brought from the Netherlands by my maternal grandparents, Grandma and Grandpa VandenBergh. On the other side of the family, there are also two old Bibles in the family archives.

The American Bible Society, founded in 1816, has published Bibles since those early days, and two editions were purchased by a Van Slyke father and son. David D. Van Slyke (1813-1893), owned a copy of the 1851 edition. Here is the title page of the New Testament section, showing the publication date:

Cover page 1851 Bible
Note the old fashioned (and British) spelling of the word "Savior." David, who lived to be eighty years old, would have been 38 when he either purchased or was given this Bible. He lived in the town of Mindenville, in the central Mohawk Valley. I suppose that Bibles would have been shipped along the Erie Canal just as other goods were.

The cover itself is so blackened with age that it is impossible to determine the original color of the leather binding. Who knows how many hands held the book and smoothed its pages, perhaps in innumerable lengthy church services where a piano or organ thumped out the old tunes such as "Beautiful Savior" or "Amazing Grace"?

1851 Bible

It must have been the custom in those days for the owner of such a volume to sign his or her name not on the front page, but in the back of the book. At least, that is what David did, signing his name thus:

The daguerreotype below of David and his young son Jonas, was taken in the mid- to late 1840's, certainly before David acquired the Bible.

Jonas and David D. Van Slyke

It gives you an idea of what passed for high fashion in the mid-1840s in the Mohawk Valley. David appears to be wearing a striped waistcoat or vest, with pants with a checkered pattern, likely considered a fashion faux pas in our day and age. His cravat is fixed with a stickpin that seems almost three-dimensional. The tails of his frock coat fan out behind him, framing his hips. David's deep-set eyes gaze calmly at the camera, and thus directly at the viewer. I almost feel that I know him; the features are so clear in this image that dates from more than 150 years ago, that I would surely recognize David if I met him on the street tomorrow.

The young boy standing next to his father is his son Jonas, my great-great grandfather. He appears to be about five years old in this picture. But here he is at age 72, in 1912:

Jonas Van Slyke 1912

Jonas also had a Bible, published by the American Bible Society in 1872. Its leather cover is similar to that of his father's book, and similarly darkened with age:

1872 Bible

The cover page is similar as well:

Cover page 1872 Bible

And like father, like son, Jonas signed his Bible on the back page as well:

Some pages are missing from this volume, where following a long-standing custom, family members had written birth, marriage and death dates of several generations. The pages were later removed for safe-keeping. I'm sure they will turn up in a later search of the family archives.

In the meantime, searching digitized census records through Heritage Quest, I found the 1880 census at Mindenville, where Jonas is listed as the head of a multi-generational household of eight persons: Jonas himself is listed as a 39-year-old lock-tender; his wife Margaret, housekeeper, same as age her husband; their four children, Kittie (age 13, misspelled as "Caty" by the census taker), Minnie (age 9), Mary (age 6), Georgie (age 2); Jonas's father, David D. (age 67; laborer); and mother Sally (age 70, housekeeper). It must have been a lively household!

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