Treasure Chest Thursday: George Washington Bryan Wrote Here … I Think

Related Posts:
Treasure Chest Thursday – Bryan Family Bible
Bryan Family Bible – The Best Laid Plans
Bryan Family Bible – To Honor a Life

I started going in one direction with this post but turned onto a different path. If you have been following along, I am sure it has become clear to you that I have no plan. I’m just sitting with this Bible my ancestors once held in their hands and looking at the remnants left behind. Ink. Handwriting. Dates. Lives. Loves. Losses. Smudges. Watermarks. Wondering what I can squeeze out of these old pages in a Bible…

This time around I’ve been trying to discover/prove who wrote the earliest entries in the Bible. I think it was George Washington Bryan. I’ll tell you why and try to see if I can pick up on any clues to the other writers while I’m at it. I hope you’ll offer your opinions too!

A short recap:

George Washington Bryan and Sarah Stokes (entries 2 and 3) on the Births page below were the head of the family to whom this Bible belonged. Their births are recorded and the births of their 11 children follow beginning with Mary Hester in 1843 and ending with Sarah Elizabeth in 1864.

In a previous post, I took a look at a portion of this page – which is the second Births page – and made the case that, disregarding the entry at the top of the page, the birth entries beginning with George Washington Bryan and ending with Eliza Ann Bryan were written at the same time – following the death of Eliza Ann, a baby who did not survive the day of her birth. And that the first Marriage entry and the first two death entries were also written by the same person at the same time. Now I want to see if I can make a case that the writer was George Washington Bryan.


I found a transcribed letter written by George Washington Bryan on the internet some years ago, but there was not a scan of the actual letter. It would have been written within a few years of the entries on this Births page and would have helped to confirm whether or not this handwriting belongs to George. I surely would like to see a scan of that letter!

Here is what I do have to draw from:

* This Bible belonged to the family of George Washington Bryan and Sarah Bryan nee Stokes. There is no information in the Bible about anyone born before these two individuals and all of the information pertains to them, their children, and their grandchildren. Seems logical that the first writer in the Bible was either George or Sarah.

* When the first marriage entry was recorded – the marriage of George and Sarah – the writer unconsciously wrote baby Eliza’s name instead of Sarah’s. It makes sense to me that George, in this time of grief, made this mistake. If the baby’s mother, Sarah, had written the entries, it seems less likely to me that she would have made a mistake with her own name.

* I have not researched the tradition at the time, but I would guess that the “head” or husband of the family often assumed the task of recording the family history in family Bibles. Please correct me here if I am wrong.

* George and Sarah migrated from Kentucky to Missouri in 1854 and left most of their family behind except the John Wesley Bryan family who migrated with them. John was George’s brother and John’s wife, Nancy, was Sarah’s sister. Sarah’s and Nancy’s parents had also made the journey but did not stay in Missouri. It is unclear if they were present in 1858. The John Wesley Bryan family may have been with George and Sarah – assisting with the birth and/or present with the family for the burial. Could one of them have taken on the task of recording the first entries in the Bible when baby Eliza died? I suppose so. But it seems unlikely.

* The handwriting is neat and well practiced, leading to the assumption that the writer had some years of schooling. In an unpublished genealogy written by Edna Ruth Starling in 1958, “Roses in December”, she wrote this about George: “George Washington Bryan was teaching school in Todd County, Kentucky. He and his brother, John Wesley Bryan, had married sisters and their two families were very close. In the spring of 1859, they hitched their oxen to a couple of prairie schooners and joined a wagon train. Some of the Keeling family came along.” (Other evidence suggests that the move west was actually in 1854, not 1859.)

I have never seen any other documentation that George was a school teacher. If Edna Starling’s story is correct, neat and legible handwriting would likely have been part of George’s skill set as a teacher. Census records for 1850 and 1860 show George’s occupation as “farmer”.

* What about Sarah? Could she have written these early entries? I don’t know much about Sarah’s early life – whether or not she attended school, for example.  In addition to my previously stated reasons for discounting her is the simple fact that she had just delivered a baby that did not survive the pregnancy/delivery or was unable to survive after birth. She was likely in a time of physical recovery as well as grief.

* The oldest child in the family, Mary Hester, was 14 at the time of Eliza’s birth and death. It is possible that she could have recorded these entries, but doubtful. The handwriting seems too mature and the organization of the entries and layout are so well executed.

* The most compelling reason to think that George Washington Bryan was the one with the lovely penmanship is that he died in January of 1864, so any entries made by George would have ended before 1864. In my opinion, there are no entries after 1861 that match these early entries.

Here are writing samples for comparison:
DSCN3129 - Version 2

The entry for Samuel David Bryan looks like it could have been written by the same person as the entries above it even though it is larger and not as constrained as the earlier writing. Samuel’s birth was a happy event, unlike the birth and death of Eliza, so I think this could account for the difference.

The birth of Sarah Elizabeth Bryan, in the blue ink, is similar in style to the earlier entries, but the slant and proportion is different. I don’t think it is a match.

The rest of the handwriting on this page has nothing in common with the earlier writing.
DSCN3129 - Version 7

Looking at other pages of the Bible, only the first two entries on both the Deaths page and the Marriages page below appear to match the early writing on the births page. The marriage of Mary Hester (page on right) looks like a match to me – although much larger than the early entries. Again, I attribute this to the difference in emotion.

DSCN3119The two “happy event and larger” handwriting samples record events in 1861. Even if they are not written by the earlier writer, they do not eliminate the possibility that the first writer was George.

I could be completely wrong, but I think George wrote everything up to and including those dated 1861.

So what do you think? Can I add this to my collection of ancestor signatures?

DSCN3129 - Version 2With the caveat, of course, that it is just my opinion.


Bryan Family Bible – To Honor a Life

Related posts:
Treasure Chest Thursday – Bryan Family Bible
Bryan Family Bible – The Best Laid Plans

There is something puzzling about the order of these Family Record pages. The order is a blank page paired with a Births page; a Deaths page paired with Marriages; and then another Births page. I suppose I see the logic of adding a second page for births at the end of the section – we do seem more likely to record births and there are typically more births to record than marriages.

But the births recorded on the second Births page in the Bryan Family Bible predate the ones on the first Births page. Why did the original recorder of family information choose to skip the first Births page and write on the last one instead?

DSCN3127 - Version 2Here’s one scenario. The first entry made to this family record was the marriage of George Washington Bryan and Sarah Stokes. It was their new family Bible. The writer opened the Bible to the Marriages page and established the family by recording the marriage of the owners of the Bible. Then the writer turned the page and started recording births there – forgetting about the previous Births page that was “out of sight; out of mind.”

Sounds like something I would do.

Let’s take a look at what appear to be the first entries in the family record. Here’s the marriage record of George and Sarah Stokes Bryan again…

DSCN3127 - Version 2The handwriting is small and neat, with some flourishes. The ink looks brown – maybe due to aging? And a line is drawn to separate this first entry from any that may follow.

This same pattern appears on the Births page that follows.
DSCN3129 - Version 2Disregarding the entry at the very top, it looks as though the births recorded beginning with George Washington Bryan through Eliza A. Bryan could have been written at the same time as the marriage entry on the previous page. The size, style, ink, lined entries, and even the pressure applied seems exactly the same. The dates range from 1819 to 1858. The entry for Samuel David Bryan born in 1861 may have been written by the same person, but the writing is larger and the pressure/thickness of the writing is different.

There are two deaths recorded on the Deaths page opposite the Marriages page that also seem to match.
DSCN3126 - Version 2

Although the entry for Eliza Ann Bryan above looks slightly different than the others – there seems to have been more pressure applied while writing and it’s just not quite as small and neat – I think it was written at the same time. Here’s why…

Eliza A. Bryan was born October 27th 1858.

Eliza Ann Bryan died October 27th 1858.

And did you notice the smudging of Sarah’s name in the marriage entry?
DSCN3127 - Version 3It looks as though someone wrote “Eliza” and then tried to “erase” the ink and wrote “Sarah” over the mistake. Eliza was on the mind of the person who made the marriage entry. This is something I could not make out just by visually examining the Bible. But photographed, cropped and enlarged, it becomes visible.

Here is an alternate scenario. The writer opens the Bible – never before written in – to the Deaths page to record the death of Eliza. But another child had died two years before. That death must be recorded first – then Eliza. The page on the right is the Marriages page, so the writer decides to record the marriage of the parents of these two children. With a heart full of grief, the writer substitutes Eliza’s name for Sarah’s name in the marriage entry. Wanting to record these events in best form, the writer tries to cover this mistake. Once these entries are completed, the writer turns the page and records the births of everyone in the family up to and including Eliza.

And what of the death of William Wesley Bryan recorded just above the entry for Eliza?

William was the seventh child born to George and Sarah – as documented on the Births page. He was born June 3, 1854, presumably a short time after their arrival in Ray County. He died December 4, 1856. Perhaps the family was not in possession of a suitable family Bible at the time of William’s death, or maybe the thought of recording the death of their toddler boy was just too much to bear at the time.

Whatever the case, after the birth and death of Eliza Ann on October 27th of 1858, her life was honored by documenting it in the family Bible. For this child, there were no memories  to hold on to but those of labor, birth, tears, death, and burial. And so, perhaps, it was particularly important to document the life of Eliza Ann; to recognize her place among those who cherished her; to remember that she had lived, if only for a fleeting moment in time. All who came before her and the brother who left before her were recorded along with Eliza in the Bible, a physical representation of her place in the family.

This sad event may have provided the impetus to record all of the valuable family information found in The Bryan Family Bible. Once begun, the Bryan family continued to record the births, marriages and deaths of their members for many years.

Who was the writer? I believe it was Eliza’s father, George Washington Bryan. But that’s for another day.