I’m a reader of Lancaster Farming, as well as a writer. Since I’m also a history buff, one of my favorite sections to check each week (after perusing all the recipes, of course), is the Antiques Center page. Several weeks ago, an article caught my eye there. It was titled, “Antique Family Bible Found in Scranton Home Tied to President’s Ancestors.”
As I read on, I discovered the article was about a 19th-century Bible recently discovered in an obscure part of a Scranton, Pennsylvania, home. The Bible’s family record section listed the names Catherine and Patrick Blewitt, who happen to be the maternal great-great-grandparents of recently inaugurated president Joe Biden.
A photo with the article showed the hand of President Biden placed on a large and obviously very old Bible during his 2013 vice presidential swearing-in ceremony. However, as the caption noted, it was not the Blewitt family Bible, but rather the Bible that had belonged to his Biden ancestors on his father’s side. My research shows that he also used that same family Bible recently when he was sworn in as president on Jan. 20. Perhaps he didn’t use the Blewitt family Bible because the story mentions that its cover was missing.
It got me to thinking about my own family Bibles. Apparently, large Bibles were the order of the day back in the late 1800s, and I happen to be the keeper of two family Bibles from that era — one from each side of my family. Each one measures 12 by 9 inches and is 2-1/2 inches thick. Both are quite weighty. One includes the marriage certificate and birth records related to my great-grandparents, Samuel and Kate Groff Bachman, while the other holds the family records of my paternal great grandparents, J. Alfred and Nancy Gingrich Bowman.
Both volumes repose on an antique table in my office, away from the household’s hustle and bustle. I have other, newer Bibles in various translations to read, so I typically use these family heirloom Bibles only for looking up tidbits of ancestral history.
Recently I referred to these Bibles when my youngest nephew and his wife, who reside in Tokyo, were expecting their first child last year. They decided that, instead of choosing any of the currently trendy baby names, they would ask their relatives for a list of family names. I knew the names from the most recent generations, but decided to refresh my memory on older generations.
Samuel and Kate’s children were named Cora Ellen, Garfield Arthur, Edgar Cullen and Emma Medora. The names of my mother Fay’s brothers and sisters included Olive, Esther, George, Harold, Charles and Miriam.
On the Bowman side, J. Alfred and Nancy’s children were George, Harry, Fanny, Sally, Mary and my grandfather, Ammon. My dad, J. Alfred, had siblings named George, Mary Jane and Harry.
My nephew Steve and his wife, Mima, had a little girl. They not only had numerous names from our side of the family, but Mima is one of 11 siblings, so there was no shortage of suggestions. They chose the lovely name, Olivia Grace, for their little one.
And now, back to the start of this column. What if I were being sworn into some public position? Please don’t jump to any conclusions about my political aspirations, as I have none. While I’ve formerly served on our county’s Conservation District board and I’m a current member of our local sewer authority, neither required a formal swearing in.
As I’ve learned, The Constitution of the United States does not require that a Bible must be part of a presidential swearing-in.
“Placing a hand on a Bible while reciting the presidential oath is simply a tradition started by George Washington,” reports CNN.com. It turns out that other presidents have used everything from a copy of a U.S. Constitutional law book to a Catholic missal, to no book at all, as they’ve raised their right hand to take the oath of office. However, the Bible has remained the book of choice for presidential swearings-in.
Some presidents have opted to use Bibles of their own or those of their families when being sworn in. Others have chosen to be sworn in with the Bibles of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
The most-used Bible for presidential inaugurations was the one George Washington was sworn in with as the first president of the United States on April 30, 1789. His Bible was a 1767 King James Version and, according to Wikipedia, it was randomly opened to Genesis 49 during the inauguration ceremony. Wikipedia further reports that George Washington’s Bible was later used for swearing in presidents Warren G. Harding (1921), Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953), Jimmy Carter (1977) and George H.W. Bush (1989).
Slate.com reports that, for his first swearing in (2009), Barack Obama became the first president to be sworn in using the Bible used by Abraham Lincoln at his 1861 first inauguration. Donald Trump’s 2017 swearing in included both the Lincoln Bible and a childhood Bible given to him by his mother.
I’d want to be a president sworn in with a Bible. I appreciate the historic family Bibles I have, but someone would get painful arms hefting these two heavy tomes were I to take an oath on them. Thus, I think I’d choose the small zippered Bible I earned in Sunday school as a little girl by learning my memory verses.