Ways to Find Family Bibles

By Sharon DeBartolo Carmack Premium

Of course, assuming your ancestors kept a family Bible and it still exists, finding it is your biggest challenge. Here are some places and sources to check, but remember to also look for allied family lines-those who married into your family. Perhaps none of your ancestors kept a Bible, but a relative who married into the family did and recorded some of your family’s events.

1. Ask your relatives—all of ’em. Even though you may have already bugged Aunt Martha and cousin Joey for family information, go back to them and ask specifically if there is a family Bible somewhere. A relative may be harboring this treasure in an attic without realizing it’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for you. Non-genealogy folks don’t immediately think of the family Bible as a source of information.


2. Place queries in magazines and on genealogy Internet sites. After you’ve checked with your known relatives, you need to look for that fifth cousin twice removed who may have inherited the family Bible. When you place or post a query saying that you’re seeking the Bible for the Mulligan family (or whatever), make sure you put enough identifying information to help others help you, such as the locality and time period, as well as some family names. (See the April 2001 Family Tree Magazine for places to connect with distant cousins.)

3. Search the Internet. Here are several Web sites to check for family Bibles and links to Bible records. You can also type in the surname and family Bible into a search engine such as Google and see what you come up with. Bible Records Online is perhaps one of the best sites to check routinely. It’s run by Tracy St. Claire, who purchases family Bibles on eBay and at antique stores. There are currently 80 Bibles online and another 25 she’s working to get online. She not only transcribes the pages, including the title page and publication date of the Bible, but she also digitizes the family pages and makes those available on her site, too. “Transcription errors are a fact of the genealogy business,” says St. Claire, and that’s why she decided to post the actual pages. She will also reunite a family Bible with a descendant for whatever her cost was to obtain it. Since she started her Web site in March 2001, she’s had a “hit rate of nearly 25 percent” in getting a lost Bible back home. And if you want to make a donation of your family’s Bible to be put on her site, she’ll accept photocopies, image files (JPG) and text files.

4. Look on eBay. Although you might be bidding against Tracy St. Claire, you can expect to pay between $10 and $200 for a family Bible on this popular auction site “I often get comments from people stating that it isn’t fair for me to bid on eBay,” says St. Claire, “and that I might outbid a legitimate descendant. I think it is more important for the Bible to be available to all descendants, and secondarily important for a descendant to own the original. Also, my budget doesn’t permit me to pay too much for these Bibles, so I’m easily outbid.” Besides, you can still buy it from her after she transcribes and digitizes the pages.

5. Check research repositories in the locality where your ancestors lived. Many public libraries, historical societies and state libraries and archives have their catalogs online, but these may not include their manuscript holdings, where you’d find family Bibles. Still, it’s worth checking. For links to state archival and manuscript repositories go to The Library of Virginia has an extensive collection of family Bibles and covers areas outside of Virginia as well. You can search the collection at; you’ll even find digitized images of some Bible pages. Some repositories may have published an inventory of their family Bibles, such as the Library of Virginia’s A Guide to Bible Records in the Archives Branch, Virginia State Library compiled by Lyndon H. Hart (Virginia State Library, out of print).

A useful tool to find Bible records hidden in libraries and archives is the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections, also known as NUCMC. The Library of Congress, which requests repositories from all over the country to report their manuscript holdings, such as family Bibles, letters, diaries and other papers, has cataloged this information and published it in NUCMC annually since 1959. Catalogs since 1986 are searchable online; earlier volumes can be found in your local library’s reference section. You can also consult the two-volume reference Index to Personal Names in the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections 1959-1984, which indexes all the personal and family names appearing in the descriptions of manuscript collections that were cataloged in annual NUCMC volumes from 1959 to 1984, totaling about 200,000 names. It’s a quick and easy way to check your family surnames.

6. Check research repositories known for collecting Bible records. Some research repositories are known for their collection of Bible records, such as the library of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) in Washington, DC, and the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) in Boston. The DAR library catalog is online at In a word or phrase search, type in a surname and bible records and away you’ll go. If you get a hit, the Bible you want may be available on microfilm from your local Family History Center; otherwise, you’ll need to trek to our nation’s capital. The manuscript department of the NEHGS has been collecting family Bible records for more than 150 years. They’ve put the records on a CD-ROM, Bible Records from the Manuscript Collections of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, available for $39.99. (Visit or call 617-536-5740.) Also check the National Archives www.nara. gov/nara/ nail.html and the Library of Congress catalogs for family Bibles.

7. Try the Family History Library. The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has many family Bible records on microfilm. Check its catalog online at Do a place search and type in the state where your ancestors lived. Then look for the subject heading of Bible records. Narrow your search by typing in the county where they lived. If you’re working with the CD-ROM version of the catalog, which you can purchase from the FamilySearch Web site, you can do a keyword search of the catalog for the word bible, and you’ll come up with more than 9,200 entries to browse through. (Unfortunately, the online version of the catalog does not have this keyword search capability.)

8. Search for military pension files. Men and women who applied for military pensions from the Revolutionary or Civil wars had to prove births, marriages and deaths of immediate family members in order to receive their pensions. Often they tore out the pertinent pages from the family Bible because there was no way back then to make a photocopy. If they were submitted, you’ll find these Bible pages among military pension files. For details on obtaining these records, see James C. Neagles’ US Military Records: A Guide to Federal and State Sources, Colonial America to the Present (Ancestry, $39.95).


9. Consult genealogical periodicals. A good place to look for transcriptions of family Bible entries is state and national genealogical journals. To find these, check the Periodical Source Index (PERSI), which you can view on CD-ROM at the Family History Library, at one of its worldwide Family History Centers, or in the genealogical section of your public library. The PERSI CD-ROM is also available for purchase at for $99.95 (Call 800-ANCESTRY or see to order; subscribers can search PERSI online

If you find Bible entries have been published in a journal, ask your genealogical librarian if the library has the publication. If not, you can order the article on interlibrary loan from your public library or from the Allen County Public Library, which creates PERSI. Write to the library’s Genealogy Department, Box 2270, Fort Wayne, IN 46802, for the current fee and an order form, or download the form online by following the links at

10. Check the Genealogical Library Master Catalog. This three-CD-ROM set is available for purchase ($39.50 plus $3.50 shipping). It lists more than 300,000 family histories, local histories and genealogical sources, such as Bible records, at libraries across the United States. To learn more or order the master catalog, visit (For a review of this CD-ROM set, see page 62.)

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