Lost Bible Update

A few months ago, I posted a story about how a bible given to my 13-year-old aunt Margaret in 1919 was lost for decades but recently returned to our family. You can read that post here.  It’s an amazing tale of Internet serendipity and the kindness of strangers who helped reunite the little bible with my family.

Douay BibleDouay Bible 2

My aunt died in 1985 and had one child, Claire Brown. My plan was to find Claire and return her mother’s childhood bible. But there was a problem. I had no idea how to get in touch with her.

I lost contact with Claire after I moved from New Jersey to California over 40 years ago. But thanks to an Internet search that began with the U.S. Public Records on FamilySearch.org, I soon found a Claire Brown of her approximate age who once lived in Brooklyn and Florida.

Most of the info on Claire was relatively old, so I began plowing through the many online websites that, for a fee, can find addresses and phone numbers for nearly anyone anywhere. Somehow, and consistent with every other stroke of luck in this story, I stumbled upon a website that happened to have a current–and free–phone number for a Claire Brown I thought might be my cousin.

I called the number and hoped for the best. I shouldn’t have worried, not with this bible’s lucky streak. The woman who answered the phone was, indeed, my cousin Claire. Our long overdue family reunion was underway.

I told her the story of the little bible’s remarkable odyssey and that I wanted to send it to her, which I did. She received it last week. The circle is complete.

Claire was extremely grateful to receive her mother’s bible but completely unaware that it existed, which made its return even more amazing. She still finds it hard to believe, as do I, the chain of events that resulted in the return of her mother’s bible. Take away one element of this serendipitous tale and my aunt Margaret’s bible is never found, its story forever a mystery.

As for how the bible came to be lost all these years, my aunt probably left it at my grandmother’s house when she married and moved to Brooklyn in the 1930s. It likely stayed there undisturbed for decades and was lost when the house was sold in 1977. But there is no danger of the little book wandering off again. Claire says she plans to keep it prominently displayed on the nightstand next to her bed.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone with Claire over the last few weeks. 40-plus years apart makes for a lot of catching up. She stays in touch with two other cousins I had lost contact with, so there’s the added benefit of reconnecting with them. All thanks to a 94-year-old little holy book and its profound effect on a family that didn’t know it was lost until it was found.




Little Bible Once Was Lost But Now Is Found


Dad-old house in bg2Many new and valuable family history resources are added to the Internet every day. That’s why I occasionally do an online search of the street addresses profiled on wikiHomePages, a website where family members, historians and others can create house histories of homes using old photos taken in and around the address.  What I’m looking for is any fresh information I can use to update my “HomePages.”  Most of the time there’s nothing new.  Most of the time.

A few years ago, I received a check for $284.40 from the state of California after entering my 1974 apartment address on their unclaimed property website.  The found money came from a long forgotten insurance policy.

It took 36 long years to reunite me and my money, but I’m not complaining.  I was happy to have it, even though I knew I had probably used up my share of amazing-discoveries-made-while-checking-old-addresses-online.  But then another “lost and found” incident occurred recently that proved to be more rewarding and valuable than found money.

A woman named Patty in Delaware posted an inquiry on the Ancestry.com message board seeking information about her 19th century Irish immigrant ancestors.  Their surname was Kennedy and they first settled in Newfoundland, Canada.  After living there a number of years, one of the families immigrated to South Amboy, New Jersey in the early 1890s.  Patty posted her request in April of 2012.

Posting on a genealogy message board is the digital equivalent of putting a message in a bottle and tossing it in the sea, fingers crossed.  Some posts date to the 1990s and are still waiting for a response.  But Patty got lucky.  And so did I.  I just didn’t know it at the time.

In October 2013, a year and a half after posting her inquiry, someone reached into that sea of digital messages, grabbed Patty’s bottle and opened it.  Here is the reply from Rose in Virginia.

Good Morning,
Not sure if you are still active on this site but I have recently come into possession of a New Testament short bible Army and Navy edition. Inside the front cover is information hand written about the person who may have owned this bible. The address is listed as 157 Augusta St, South Amboy NJ. The last name is Kennedy. I can’t make out what comes before the last name – could be a rank or some type of initials. It also says – St. Mary’s Catholic School. The date is Oct 3, 1919. I am wondering if this might be a relative of yours. You can email me if you like and I will send you a picture of the inside cover. 
I’m thinking if it was my family I would like to have this.
Rose D. 

Kennedy Bible 3Kennedy Bible 2

If that was the end of the story, it would still be a good example of the helpful connections that can be made on a genealogy message board.  But the story didn’t end there.  Far from it.  It still had thousands of miles to go.

Last month, as part of my periodic check of the wikiHomePages addresses, I did an online search of my father’s childhood address, “157 Augusta Street, South Amboy, NJ.” Something new popped up: Rose’s response to Patty’s message board request.

I quickly posted a note on the board saying my father’s last name was Kennedy and that he and his family lived at that address in 1919.  I was certain it was my father’s bible.  And while excited about the prospect of recovering a long lost family heirloom, I was also aware of the possibility Patty and Rose may never re-visit the board and see my post.

As the days passed, I thought about alternate ways to contact them.  I could try calling them on the phone.  Afterall, how many women named Rose could there be in Virginia? How many Pattys in Delaware?  No.  I could see that Plan B was not a viable option.  But then on the seventh day my anxiety rested, after an intervention of biblical proportions you might say.

That was the day I received an email from Rose.  She had seen my post and offered to send the bible to me in California.  How very gracious of her.  Rose wouldn’t even let me reimburse her for the cost of shipping.  She was just so very happy to play a role in returning the bible to my family.  The world would be a much brighter place with more people like Rose.

1919 to 2014 is a long, long time.  If only the little bible could talk and tell us where it’s been all these years.  Rose received it as a gift from her friend Sheila, who was given it 20 years ago by a superior officer while she was in the Army.  Beyond that I have no idea of its travels.  But I did discover the name of its first owner.  And it’s not my father.

I received the bible last week and it’s in great condition; I should look so good at 94 years of age.  All the handwriting is clear and easy to read, except for the first name or initials on the inscription.  The first three letters look like “Mgt.”  My father’s given name was Arthur.  No way I can twist Mgt into Arthur.  However, he did have a sister Margaret.

Kennedy Bible 1Mgt could be an abbreviation for Margaret.  But there is something else between Mgt and Kennedy. Two separate lines at the top join at the bottom to form a “V.”

Margaret is buried near my father in New Jersey.  A photo I took years ago of her tombstone shows a “V” as her middle initial.  But what clinches it for me is the date of the inscription, October 3, 1919.  Margaret was born on October 2, 1906.  The little holy book was likely a present for her 13th birthday.  Makes sense to me.  MgtV Kennedy is Margaret V. Kennedy.  And just as Rose wanted to return the bible to its rightful owner, so do I.

My aunt Margaret married Frederick Meserole in 1934 and lived in Brooklyn.  They had one child, Claire, born in 1937.  Her married name was Claire Brown.  I haven’t seen Claire in over 40 years and need your help locating her.


If you know Claire Brown, maiden name Meserole, please contact me at whpcl@earthlink.net. The story of my aunt’s lost bible won’t have a complete and proper ending until it is returned to her daughter Claire.  In the meantime, I’ll take good care of the little book, just as Rose and Sheila and names unknown have looked after it for over 94 years.

NYC’s Municipal Archives Online Gallery

New York City’s Department of Records recently launched an online collection of over 870,000 photos, maps, and motion picture and audio recordings from the last century.  Many of the pictures in the city’s Municipal Archives Online Gallery are tax appraisal photos of buildings taken from 1983 to 1988.  Browsing the website is free.

The photo below on the left is from the 1980s and shows the Brooklyn house where my father-in-law was born in 1927.  The picture on the right is the current Google Street View of the house.  You can buy an 8″x10″ print or a high-res digital file of a 1980s picture from the city for $45.

The Municipal Archives Online Gallery is an ongoing project with more photos being added on a regular basis.  And while I’m happy to have photos of buildings from the 1980s, I hope the city someday expands the gallery to include their tax photos taken between 1939 and 1941 as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).  You can order prints of those older photos, too, but it’s sight unseen, you don’t get to preview your purchase.  I ordered a print of my father-in-law’s house from the 1939-1941 collection a few years ago, but the city couldn’t locate the address.  They refunded the charge to my credit card, so it didn’t cost me anything.  Still, it was disappointing to wait for something that a preview search would immediately show didn’t exist.

The online gallery is a great resource for anyone tracing their family history in New York. But even if you have no ties to the city, you’re bound to enjoy browsing through such an accessible and wide variety of snapshots that document life during the 20th century in one of the world’s great cities.

New York City does an excellent job making high-quality photos of old homes available to the public, but they’re not the only one sharing their photo archives.  SeattleSalt Lake County and Portland, Maine also make their old tax appraisal photos available to the public.