Recently, my aunt Carol (Roberts) Fischer honored me with the gift of becoming the next custodian of the Walsh-Roberts family Bible, preserved in our family since 1884. The Bible is still gorgeous, despite having suffered the ravages of time, and it must have been quite splendid when it was new. Its sheer size—standing at almost four inches tall—and weight have caused the binding to fall apart. Although the front cover has come off, none of the pages are loose. I’m looking into having it rebound in a way that preserves the front and back covers, so it can continue to be enjoyed for the next 140 years.
The inscription on the flyleaf reads, “Martha A. Welch, Her Book, St. Catharines, March 24th, 1884.” I don’t know the possible significance of the date. Martha Agnes (Dodds) Walsh (or Welch) was born 11 March 1859, so perhaps the Bible was a somewhat-belated gift for her 25th birthday. When this Bible was presented to her, Martha would have been a young mother of three little girls: 5-year-old Marion, 3 1/2-year-old Clara Ellen, and 7-month-old Katherine Elizabeth (my great-grandmother).
The Bible features an elaborate presentation page stamped with gold leaf which states, “Presented to Martha Agnes Walsh from Robert Dodds, March 1884. Robert Dodds was Martha’s father—my great-great-great-grandfather—who was born circa 1817 in England, and lived in St. Catharines, Ontario, and Yarmouth (Elgin County) Ontario, prior to his death in 1906. The handwriting on this page is different from the handwriting on the flyleaf, and I would like to think this page was inscribed by Robert Dodds himself, but I doubt it, for reasons I’ll discuss shortly.
Census records described Robert as a Methodist in 1861 and 1881, and as a member of the Church of England in 1871, 1891, and 1901. Martha’s husband, Henry Walsh, was a nominal Roman Catholic, but apparently not practicing. Martha raised their children in the Episcopal faith. It’s unsurprising, then, that Robert selected this translation of the Bible to give to Martha, since it contains the King James version of the New Testament in parallel with the Revised Version.
The Revised Version of the New Testament was first published in 1881, while the Old Testament and Apocrypha were not published until 1885 and 1894, respectively.1 This explains why the title page specifies, “Revised New Testament,” rather than simply, “Revised Version.”
The Bible is replete with numerous illustrations, such as the ones shown below.
The Bible also includes some charming and helpful Bible study aids, such as maps, lists of parables and miracles, tables of measures of weights, lengths, coins, etc.; a “Table of Kindred and Affinity forbidden to Marry together,” a “Complete List of the High Priests of the Hebrews,” “Remarkable Rivers and Lakes,” and more.
Also included is a summary of the “Principal Events of the History of the World from A.D. 98 to 1882,” by Rev. William Brown, D.D. I suspect that this is the same Rev. William Brown, D.D. (1766–1835), who wrote Antiquities of the Jews and served as pastor of Eskdalemuir parish in Scotland.4
The Bible has had a few additions inserted between its pages over the years, such as this poplar (?) leaf.
I wonder if there was some special significance there. Who put it there? Was it Martha, or one of the subsequent owners of the Bible? Was it merely a pretty autumn leaf, whose color has now faded, that was pressed between the pages of the Bible so it could dry flat, or was it from a favorite tree that was meaningful to Martha in some way? Was the leaf inserted into the Bible at random, or deliberately placed at the start of the New Testament?
Genealogical Data from the Walsh-Roberts Family Bible
Of course, an important part of any old family Bible, from a genealogist’s perspective, is the compilation of family births, marriages and deaths that were carefully recorded in its pages, and this Bible does not disappoint. Inserted on a loose card within the Bible is the only marriage record we have for Martha Agnes Dodds and Henry Walsh.
The certificate states that Henry Welsh [sic] and Martha Agnes Dodds were married on 22 November 1877 at Niagara Suspension Bridge in the State of New York by Jos. L. Bennett, Minister. The two names recorded to the left of his were presumably the witnesses, Mary L. Dier and Jacob A. Gutbrodt. This certificate will be analyzed in greater depth in a future blog post.
In addition to the marriage certificate stored within the pages of the Bible, Martha’s marriage record was also inscribed in a place of honor within the book itself.
The handwriting on this page, especially the way “Walsh” and “Dodds” are written, appears to be the same as the handwriting on the presentation page of the Bible, which causes me to suspect that it was Martha who inscribed both of these pages, rather than her father, Robert Dodds. It’s also interesting to note that Henry’s name was spelled “Walsh,” here, rather than “Welsh,” which was the spelling used on the certificate. The place of marriage was noted to be Niagara Falls, rather than the older designation, “Suspension Bridge, New York,”
A certificate of marriage for Martha’s daughter, Katherine Walsh, to John Frank Roberts (recorded as Frank John) was similarly preserved within the pages of the Bible.
According to this certificate, Frank John Roberts and Katherine (abbreviated as Katr) Walsh of Buffalo, New York, were married by Albert L. Grein, the pastor of Pilgrim Church, on 10 June 1903. The witnesses to the marriage were Frances Hurst and Edward Doersam. This may be the only record of this marriage that exists; I wrote to Pilgrim Congregational Church (currently know as Pilgrim-St. Luke’s United Church of Christ)5 back in September 2020 to see if they had a copy of the marriage record, and was informed that they have no records dating back that far, and that it was probably “in the records we lost in one of the two electrical fires we’ve had over the years.” 6
While we don’t have a wedding photo of John Frank Roberts and Katherine Walsh, we do have one photo of them, taken at about the same time.
There is also this portrait taken to commemorate their 50th wedding anniversary in 1953.
In addition to the two loose marriage certificates that were kept with the Bible, the Bible contained pages for Births, Marriages, Deaths, and Memoranda.
The dates of birth for all of Martha’s ten children were recorded, although the identical ink used in each entry suggests that they may have been inscribed all at the same time, rather than being inscribed individually when each child was born. Henry and Martha’s own birth dates finish the list. I’m especially fond of the unusual spelling of Katherine Walsh’s name that her mother used, “Catheryne,” which would not be out of place in our modern era. Although the Henry and Martha Walsh and their oldest four children were born in St. Catharines, the family migrated to Buffalo, New York in 1887, where all of the younger children were born, beginning with Agnes.
The deaths inscribed in the Bible seem to have been filled in closer to the time of each event, as evidenced by the different handwritings and inks. After Martha Walsh died in 1935, the Bible passed into the hands of her daughter, Katherine (Walsh) Roberts. The latest event recorded was the death of Clara B. (Walsh) Ulrich in 1960.
The inscription page for marriages is shown below.
The first two marriages seem to have been inscribed at the same time as the births, since the ink and handwriting are the same. I’m amused by the fact that the grooms’ names were apparently an afterthought, inserted in a different handwriting made subsequent to the original entry.
The Bible also contains a page of memoranda, which include entries about world events that Martha or Katherine presumably considered to be significant, such as the Pan American Exposition,7 held in Buffalo in 1901; the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1903 (formally known as the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition8 and held in 1904), and the “San Francis. Fair,” (Panama-Pacific International Exposition)9 held in 1915. In addition to these events, there is the curious note, “Stewart at 13 mts. (^on the table) could kick his left hind leg.” It’s unclear exactly what was meant by this, and in a spirit of charity, I’ve been trying to avoid dwelling on the implications of this statement for Uncle Stewart’s motor development or physical appearance. In any case, these memoranda certainly add to the unique charm and character of this family Bible.
Last, but certainly not least, are several pages of family photos at the end of the Bible.
Aunt Carol was able to identify the individuals in most of these photos for me, and her notes are provided in the captions.
Katherine Roberts was, by all accounts, a loving grandmother who doted on her grandchildren. She is shown below in the summer of 1942 with five of those grandchildren, and a sixth in the portrait on the wall behind her
Katherine passed her family Bible to her daughter, Cathlyn Roberts, who, in turn, passed it down to Aunt Carol (her niece), since Aunt Carol had established herself by that point as the family historian for her generation. I’m honored and delighted to be the next caretaker of the Walsh-Roberts family Bible, with all its precious inscriptions, photos, and certificates, that serve to document our family’s history.
Featured image: Cover of the Walsh-Roberts family Bible.
1 “Revised Version,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revised_Version : 16 November 2022).
2 “William Holman Hunt,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Holman_Hunt : 16 November 2022); and
“Category:Engravings by William G. Jackman,” Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Engravings_by_William_G._Jackman : 16 November 2022).
3 “Franz Ittenbach,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz_Ittenbach : 16 November 2022); and
“Biography of Illman Brothers (XIX),” ArtPrice.com: The World Leader in Art Market Information (https://www.artprice.com/artist/196973/illman-brothers/biography : 16 November 2022).
4 William Brown, D.D., Minister of Eskdalemuir, Antiquities of the Jews, Carefully Compiles from Authentic Sources and Their Customs Illustrated from Modern Travels, in Two Volumes, Volume I (London: Rodwell and Martin, 1820); e-book, Google Books (https://books.google.com/ : 16 November 2022); and
The Editors of the Gazetteer for Scotland, “Parish of Eskdalemuir,” Gazetteer for Scotland (https://www.scottish-places.info/parishes/parhistory988.html : 16 November 2022).
5“Pilgrim St. Luke’s UCC,” (https://pilgrimstlukes.org/ : 16 November 2022).
6 Marianne Rathman, Buffalo, New York, to Julie Szczepankiewicz, email, 8 September 2020, “Re: Church Records,” Roberts research files, privately held by Szczepankiewicz, Hopkinton, Massachusetts.
7 “Pan-American Exposition,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pan-American_Exposition : 16 November 2022).
8 “Louisiana Purchase Exposition,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louisiana_Purchase_Exposition : 16 November 2022).
9 “Panama-Pacific International Exposition,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panama%E2%80%93Pacific_International_Exposition : 16 November 2022).
© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2022