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.


Sepia Saturday – In Praise of Women’s Bodies

Oh my. Two Sepia Saturday posts in one weekend!

What to do with today’s prompt? Kat Mortensen (chooser of the prompt) tells us that this picture is of “Twin Wells” on the banks of the River Aille at Lisdoonvarna in County Clare, Ireland, taken around the turn of the century (1900). The waters were acclaimed as restorative and this place was designated a spa. (My image won’t enlarge; if you’d like a better look, go here.)

To be honest, I don’t understand this picture. What in the heck is going on? The poor woman on the right hardly looks real. What is that “shelter”? Why are these people standing around in their nice clothes and hats in front of this woman? It’s a mystery to me.

I was thinking about this prompt while trying to go to sleep last night. The woman sitting on the right led me to think about a picture of someone in my family. Both images portray women whom we would not consider attractive and whom we would assume lived a hard life.

Pictured below is my 2nd great grandmother, Sarah Stokes Bryan, at age 90. It is the only picture I have seen of her. Perhaps it was taken on her birthday?

Sarah Stokes Bryan, age 90





Sarah Stokes’ life in brief:
Born August 26,1821 and raised in Todd County, Kentucky.
Married June 9, 1842 to George Washington Bryan.
Bore 11 children.
Two children died before the age of 2 years.
Moved the family west to Ray County, Missouri in 1854 as troubles over slavery brewed in Kentucky. They found themselves in the middle of trouble in Missouri as well.
Husband joined the Missouri Enrolled Militia July 28, 1862.
Husband relieved from duty February 9, 1863 due to illness (pneumonia and tuberculosis).
Moved family to Davis County, Iowa.
Husband, George, died January 3, 1864.
Gave birth to 11th child, Sarah E. Bryan (my Mom’s grandmother), February 27, 1864.
Remained single, raised her children and managed her farm.
Died October 22, 1914, at the age of 93.

Sarah’s sister, Nancy, had married George’s brother, John. Both families made the move to Missouri and lived together for a while, but Nancy and John remained in Missouri when Sarah and George moved to Iowa. Nancy gave birth to her first child in 1850, twins in 1851, followed by 6 more babies. As told by George in a letter to his brother Francis, Nancy was in poor health after giving birth to her 4th child.

Nancy’s last child, Susan Virginia Bryan, was born March 1, 1866. Nancy died about 10 weeks later on May 19th. The baby died July 13th.

Nancy’s story always reminds me that access to birth control saves lives.

While writing this, I was also reminded of something I read many years ago, so I looked it up. It was from the essay “In Praise of Women’s Bodies” from Gloria Steinem’s book “Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions”.

I stole her title. I hope she won’t mind!

Here are some of Ms. Steinem’s words:

Stretch marks and Cesarean incisions from giving birth are very different from accident, war and fight scars. They evoke courage without violence, strength without cruelty, and even so, they’re far more likely to be worn with diffidence than bragging. That gives them a bittersweet power, like seeing a room where a very emotional event in our lives once took place.

…. Childbirth is more admirable than conquest, more amazing than self-defense, and as courageous as either one.

…Perhaps we’ll only be fully at ease with ourselves when we can appreciate scars as symbols of experience, often experiences that other women share, and see our bodies as unique chapters in a shared story.

When you first saw this picture of Sarah Stokes you may have thought, “What an ugly old woman!” I understand. That was my first reaction.

But now I see a survivor. A strong woman who earned every wrinkle through poverty, hardship, endless hours of working a farm, caring for her large family, grieving the loss of children, separation from her husband during time of war, nursing her sick husband and burying him, then bearing her 11th child after his death. And living to the old age of 93.

Beautiful, isn’t she?

A Letter from George Washington Bryan to Francis Marion Bryan – 27 Aug 1854

The thing that really got me hooked on genealogy was finding letters written by my ancesters in the mid-1800s. I was searching on the internet for anything I could find about the Bryan side of my family and I stumbled on a website called The Bryan Gathering. There were my people! And most exciting of all, there were several letters written by my ancestors in the mid-1800s! The letters had been transcribed by Deloris Johnson McBride, who was in possession of them. I printed the letters from the website and proudly put them in my Bryan notebook and I was hooked on genealogy for good.

Subsequently, family researcher Jerry Bryan reprinted the letters in his book, “Our Links to the Past: The Story of the Descendants of William Bryan”. The letters were written by Hester Jane Westfall Bryan, George Washington Bryan, Francis Marion Bryan, and John Wesley Bryan. The Bryans are my Grandfather Thomas Hoskins’ side of the family. George Washington Bryan was Thomas Hoskins grandfather – my 2nd great grandfather. Hester Jane Westfall was the mother of George Washington, Francis Marion and John Wesley Bryan.

Here is the transcription of a letter written by George Washington Bryan to his brother, Francis Marion Bryan in 1854:

Ray County Mo.

August 27th 1854

Dear Brother and Sister

I now gladly embrace the opportunity of informing you that we are tollerable well at present except Mary Hester and myself. Mary still has a spell of the phythisic occasionally and I have been greatly afflicted with the Rheumatism in my neck breast and sides. Sally has another boy born June 3rd/54 and he grows quite fast and looks well. We have not named him yet. We still live near where we first arrived. John and me are living together. Nancy has another girl she calls her Mary Jane. John and Nancy are tollerable well at present though Nancy has been very sick shortly after her child was born. Larkins live close to us we see some of them nearly every day but they talk about moving back towards Kentucky they are all tollerable well. We have had a great drought this summer and have had but little rain since the 20 June Consequently our crop of corn is very light I don’t suppose that we will realize more than 3 ½ or 4 bushels to the acre. Our oat crops are good, tobacco is very little account. I have been thinking about going 75 0r 80 miles north of this to look at some land and see if I can find a place to suit me this has become a hard place for a poor man to get a home. I would advise my friends if they are doing well not to pick up to come here yet. Corn is selling for 50 cents per bushel, flour for $3.25 per 100 pounds and the people talk about saving their bacon for another year. Price when sold from 7 to 10 cents per pound pork is thought to bring $5.00 per hundred the price of cattle is thought to fall. I want you to remember us in your prayers when it goes well with you that we may hole out faithful and if never meet in this world I hope we shall meet in heaven where parting friends will be no more. We send our best love and respect to all the connections in general. Frank don’t treat me as bad as I have treated you by not writing to you. I want you to write as soon as you get this letter and let us know how you and Lucy are getting along so no more at present. But still remain your loving brother and sister until death.

 To Francis M. Bryan                Mailed to Elkton, Todd, KY

From George W. Bryan

To put this letter in a little context:

George Washington Bryan and his brother, John Wesley Bryan, married sisters – Sarah Stokes and Nancy Stokes. Sarah’s and Nancy’s father was Larkin Stokes. When George refers to “Larkins” in the letter, this is likely Larkin Stokes and family. George and Sarah were living in Todd County, Kentucky in 1850, but probably arrived in Ray County, Missouri in the spring of 1854 – in time to plant crops. George says “it is a hard place for a poor man to get a home,” indicating that they are living on leased land and are not land-owners themselves. In fact, he and his brother’s family are sharing a home. The letter is written to Francis Marion Bryan and his wife, Lucy, who were still in Todd County, KY.

What is phythisic? I think G.W. mispelled  phthisis – but who wouldn’t?  The Michigan Family History Network  provides the following definition –

“Tuberculosis: Commonly known in the 1800’s as consumption, lung sickness, long sickness, white swelling, the white plague, marasmis, phthisis, wasting disease or tuberculosis of the lungs.  …. Tuberculosis most commonly affects the respiratory system, but may affect other parts of the body. TB may be acute or chronically progressive. It is spread by the act of breathing by people with an active case of the disease. 100 years ago one in every seven people died from TB.

… The progressive wasting and emaciation of the individual gave rise to the term consumption. Persistent coughing is the most common symptom of an active case of TB. The diagnosis of TB was a slow death sentence. Cough, prolonged fevers, bloody sputum and wasting are the primary symptoms.”

I am happy to report that Mary Hester grew to adulthood, married, had at least 5 children, and lived past the 1885 Kansas census. I haven’t dug into her life any further.

The unnamed baby boy born to Sarah and George was eventually named William Wesley Bryan. Unfortunately, he died two years later, on 04 Dec. 1856.