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A Genealogist In The Archives

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Care and Preservation of Family Bibles

Family Bibles, genealogists either have them in their collections or they are desperately seeking them.

                   Family Bibles owned by Melissa Barker, Houston County, Tennessee Archivist

The care and preservation of these precious family heirlooms should be taken very seriously so that they will survive for future generations to enjoy.  As an archivist, I have helped many a patron archive and preserve their family Bible.  Depending on the condition of the Bible you may just need to get some archival tissue paper to wrap the Bible in and an archival box to store the Bible.  For Bibles that are in much worse shape, my advice is to not use any kind of tape or glue to put it back together, there is no such thing as true "archival tape" or "archival glue".  First rule of archiving is, Don't do anything to your documents that you can't undo.

If your Bible is falling apart, put it back together as best as you can and then wrap it in archival tissue paper and store in an archival box.  Then store your boxed Bible in a cool dark place where the humidity is low.

                                                       Items found in a Family Bible

You may have a Bible that is chocked full of all kinds of records, newspaper clippings, photos or just about anything.  The best way to deal with these items is to make an inventory of what was found in the Bible. Scan and digitize each item and save them to your computer or hard drive. Take each piece and put it in an archival safe sleeve or envelope and then return all items to the Bible.  This is especially important for original newspaper clippings.  Newspapers are full of chemicals and over time the chemicals can bleed onto the Bible pages or onto other documents and leave a yellow or brown stain.  You don't want this to happen.  I suggest that all newspaper clippings be photocopied and the originals thrown away.  If you choose to keep the original clippings, make sure to put them in archival safe sleeves or envelopes so that they are not touching anything else in the Bible.  By returning the items to the Bible as they were originally found, you keep the integrity of the artifact intact and in original order.

                                          Handwritten family information in a Family Bible

Most family Bibles have places in them to fill out family trees or family information.  If your Bible has this in it, do not take it out.  The best thing to do is scan the pages and also make photocopies of the pages.  If your Bible is in very bad shape and the binding will not allow you to put the Bible on a scanner or a copier, then take a digital photograph of the pages like I did in the photo above.  This family information is important to your genealogy research and you want to make sure it gets preserved in case the Bible gets destroyed or comes up missing for some reason.

Family Bibles are a unique and precious piece of our family history.  There are many organizations online that have collected and digitized family Bibles.  One such place is the Tennessee State Library and Archives Bible Project where you can see actual digitized family Bibles.

If you have a family Bible, please be sure to preserve it properly so that it is still here 100 years from now.  If you are a genealogist searching for your family Bible like I am, don't give up! One day it might just surface.


  1. I actually just came into a small collection of personal Bibles and prayer books that belonged to various family members and had passed down to my father. I hope I can buy myself some good archival supplies for Christmas and get them stored properly soon. Great advice.

  2. Thank you for this post Melissa. I am fortunate to have a couple of family Bibles and they are stored in plastic boxes from Michael's, but not wrapped in tissue. I don't think the boxes are archival either. I have taken photographs of every page with writing. I also photograph the cover and title pages of the Bibles, and any inscriptions, of course. I have my own Bible which is 37 years old. The pages are covered with notes, highlights and under linings from all those years of church and Bible studies. It is precious to me.

    1. You are very welcome! Sounds like your doing just the right things. I have a Bible of my own that I have had for 27 years and it also has hand written notes, highlights and underlining's and it is very precious to me.