Old Bible witnessed two decades of family history
by Ken Weyand
When my grandfather, a struggling grocer in Keokuk, IA, married a young milliner from neighboring Warsaw, IL, in 1880, their lives changed considerably.
No longer would William (called “Willy”) take a small packet boat (the “Ploughboy,” down the Mississippi River to court Mary, his fiancée (called “Molly,”) but the couple would settle in to two decades of marriage, becoming the parents of nine children as they struggled to keep the family grocery going at 12th and High streets in Keokuk.
One of their marriage gifts was a large and imposing Bible, leather-bound, measuring 10 by 12 ½ inches, three inches thick and weighing 10 pounds. In addition to its large print and numerous illustrations, a section between the New and Old Testaments included special pages for families to record marriages, births, and deaths.
The first recorded death was William, born in 1882 and named for his father. He barely survived infancy, succumbing in 1884 to one of many childhood diseases that ravaged families in those days. Births and marriages of their eight surviving children, including my father, would be recorded.
Willy and Molly didn’t get to see their family grow up. Molly died in 1897 of what her doctor called “consumption.” After marrying Lucy Cochran in 1899, Willy died the next year of what his doctor called “nervous prostration.” Their eight children were “farmed out” to relatives, with Lucy taking in the girls. All the siblings eventually were able to attend area colleges.
The Bible was published in 1880 by A.J. Holman in Philadelphia. The date and city persuades me that it was likely given to the couple as a wedding gift by Willy’s father, also named William, who lived in Philadelphia and served as a “missionary” in the German Methodist Church. William supplemented his meager earnings by buying and selling books, including the History of President Grant, published by Mark Twain.
Mary Frances Miller Weyand
The Weyand family Bible
The family Bible kept the record of births, deaths and marriages for decades. (Images courtesy of the author)
The A.J. Holman Co. survived for nine decades and was purchased by J.B. Lippincott in 1961, according to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The original Holman building still stands and is on the National Register of Historic Places
I’ve found an identical example of my Bible advertised online for $110. But this family keepsake is not for sale.