Metro-East News

Pages of 1800s-era family Bible, missing for decades, travel over 300 miles back home to Southern Illinois

Susan Whitemountain, left, speaks with Jean and Paul Barwick in late December at The Gathering Place, a genealogy and family resource center in Anna that Whitemountain runs.
Susan Whitemountain, left, speaks with Jean and Paul Barwick in late December at The Gathering Place, a genealogy and family resource center in Anna that Whitemountain runs.

A family Bible recording births, marriages and deaths dating back to the 1800s slipped away years ago, likely buried inside a trunk that was sold in an estate sale around the time Jean Barwick’s grandfather died in 1953.

“It probably got away from the family 50 years ago or more,” said Barwick, of Herrin.

This December, pages of that Bible were returned to the family. But how they made their way back home is an astonishing story. For years, the Bible has been tucked away in the basement of a family that Barwick doesn’t know in Dixon, more than 320 miles away.

That’s where Susan Whitemountain comes in. She runs a shop in Anna called The Gathering Place, a genealogy and family resource center. In October, Whitemountain traveled to Dixon in northern Illinois to attend the 70th wedding anniversary party of a second cousin.

While there, a relative of theirs told Whitemountain he had something for her that he thought she would find of interest. “He brought me this folder with all of these pages in it from a family Bible.”

Entries dated back to the 1800s. One was for the marriage of Andrew Jackson Bizzel and Martha Brasenell in Union County in 1874; entries followed listing the births of the Bizzel family’s children.

On Ancestry.com, a website where people pay a membership to research their family roots, Whitemountain located someone who had created a family tree that included the Bizzel family of Anna. She wrote to Barwick inquiring how she was related to the Bizzels.

Whitemountain said she was careful not to mention the Bible pages because she did not want to get Barwick’s hopes up if it was the wrong family. “She wrote me back and said her grandfather was Jesse Bizzel, the youngest child of the family in the Bible. At that point, I knew she must be related. When I got ahold of her and we talked on the phone, we discovered her mother’s birth (in 1917) was listed in the Bible as well.”

“Then I knew for sure it was their family Bible.”

Whitemountain said that, unfortunately, the rest of the Bible was not salvaged; likely, it was not in good condition, she said. Barwick said that while it would have been neat to have the entire Bible intact, she is pleased to get the pages filled with important information about her ancestors.

“It kind of gives you a sense of who they were,” she said.

Bibles were the primary way that families of that era recorded important events. The photographs did not have names, so Barwick has been doing research of her own to try to figure it out. She believes that the Bible originally belonged to her great-great-grandmother, who married Isaac Bizzel, the son of Barwick’s great-great-great-grandfather of the same name. The senior Isaac Bizzel was an immigrant from England who traveled to Union County to farm by way of North Carolina and Tennessee, she said.

The last entry came in 1926, recording the birth of her mom’s younger brother.

“My mom has always told me that there was a family Bible and we never were able to find it,” Barwick said. Her mother, who died over a decade ago, often talked about it. “She wanted me to find granny’s Bible.”

The two met at Whitemountain’s business in Anna, and Whitemountain gave the pages to Barwick.

“It’s kind of a miraculous thing,” Whitemountain said of how her second cousin’s son-in-law came across the Bible in a sack that was destined for the trash during a basement cleaning and decided to save the pages for Whitemountain, who was then able to connect with a descendant of its owner online on the first try. In late December, just before Christmas, Whitemountain gave Barwick the pages at her shop in Anna.

“And to know her mother had been looking for the Bible and not been able to find it ... that’s why I called it divine intervention,” Whitemountain said.

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