Online and print publications on our Offutt line cite an 1840s family bible that was passed down to our grandmother’s cousin. I’d like to locate the bible — for several reasons. It’s a very special family artifact. To actually see it would be as thrilling as our visit to the Offutt property in Montgomery County (described on May 5). But I’d also like the chance to look at the entries and evaluate them as evidence — to look at the content, examine the handwriting, the ink, and check the publication date of the bible itself.Because they were kept by interested parties well-positioned to know the facts and before most vital records were kept, family bibles can be critically important original sources. That’s more likely if entries were made contemporaneously with life events (possibly in different hands and in different inks), not filled in afterward — or all at one time. The bible publication date is an important element of the evaluation, although it is not a determining factor of credibility. On the other hand, there may be reasons for less-than-truthful entries; backdating a marriage to legitimize a pregnancy is just one. (1) A bible may also have served as a repository for other keepsakes such as obituaries, memorial cards, and letters; there may be meaningful notes in the margins next to significant scripture. (2) Bible records were commonly submitted — and accepted — with Revolutionary War pension applications. (3) Digital photography makes it easier for all family members to “own” the content, if not the artifact. Our grandmother’s cousin died in 1975 and my letter to two of her descendants has gone unanswered – so far. There are a thousand possible reasons why I haven’t heard back. They may not know the current location of the bible. They may not be interested in genealogy or family history. They may be dealing with difficult issues in life that put a non-urgent request like mine on the bottom of the pile. That’s just a few of them. It’s hard to know what to try next without being intrusive. While I was pondering my dilemma, though, it occurred to me that I am sitting on something that a different set of researchers might consider their genealogical holy grail. I have, in my possession, the Ruffner Family Bible of James Alexander Chapman Ruffner, Sr. and his wife, Hulda Stephens Ruffner. (4) They married in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, in 1870, and raised twelve children in Indiana County. (5) That’s a lot of potential interested parties! The bible may have passed through other family members first, but it appears that it came to James Alexander Chapman Ruffner, Jr., then to his son, James Stephens Ruffner, and then to me. Here is a virtual tour of the James and Hulda Ruffner Bible — offered in the hopes that others will want to do the same, and that someday the Offutt Bible will be located and shared. The pictures are in a slide show below.
The bible has a leather cover with gold engraving and a clasp. You can see that the bible is not in good shape. It could use the attention of a conservator. The handwriting on the title page is that of James Alexander Chapman Ruffner, Sr. That judgment is a based on its similarity to other writing known to be his. I don’t know the significance of the “x” that appears at the top. Note that Hulda is spelled without an “h” at the end, while on the records page, it is spelled with an “h” at the end. That’s a variant that continued throughout her life. The inscription date is the same as the publication date – 1873. The title page lets you know that this is not just a bible but a complete reference work. My camera does not do justice to the engravings but I selected a few pages for inclusion. I particularly like the page of easy reference tables; it warms my librarian heart. And now to the records themselves. The page of Births is the real highlight here. It lists the names and birth dates of the parents first, followed by the names and birth dates of all twelve offspring. The events for James and Hulda, and at least the oldest child, Martha May, occurred before the book was published in 1873. It looks to me, from the consistency of the handwriting, ink, and style, as though the births of the first three children were entered at the same time – Martha, Robert, and Della. That would put the acquisition of the bible in 1875 or 1876. The ink and style (although not the handwriting) changes slightly for Clara Maude in 1877. After that, the entries look at least slightly different each time. They even ran out of room; Clarence and Walter had to be squeezed in at the bottom. There are only two marriages recorded, 1904 and 1910, in a completely different backwards slanting hand. I am woefully short on information specifics on other marriages (so far), although I know that seven other offspring married. Mary Ellen is an incorrect name for my grandmother; she was Mary Ella. In the 1940s, there are five deaths recorded, three alone in 1949. The decade was not kind to the family. Interestingly, the deaths of James (1928) and Hulda (1933) were not entered. The handwriting on this page is again different; I believe it is that of my grandfather . He died in 1951 and no further entries were made. I hope that some cousins that I have not yet met will find their way to this page. You would be welcomed to take your own personal look!
(1) Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2007), 33. [Note: there’s a great irony in using the work you are citing to make sure you are citing the work correctly.](2) Sandra Hargreaves Luebking and Loretto Dennis Szucs, “The Foundations of Family History Research,” The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy, 3rd ed., Sandra Hargreaves Luebking and Loretto Dennis Szucs, editors (Provo, UT: Ancestry Publishing, 2006), 1-37, particularly 7. (3) Jo White Linn, “Family Sources,” North Carolina Research: Genealogy and Local History,” Helen F. M. Leary, editor (Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Genealogical Society, 1996), 475-482, particularly 477. (4) Ruffner, Sr., James Alexander Chapman. Family Bible Records, 1850-1949. The Holy Bible. Philadelphia: A. J. Holman & Co., 1873. Privately held by Malissa Ruffner, [address for private use,] Baltimore, Maryland, 2010. (5) James A. C. Ruffner Statement dated 14 July 1898 in support of voucher for invalid pension certificate no. 594,227 for service (A- 1 Battalion, Pa. Cav., Civil War), Case Files of Approved Pension Applications…, 1861-1934; Civil War and later Pension Files; Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15; National Archives, Washington, D.C.