May 25, 2012

Reading! A Family History of Books

I had to write a post about books and family traditions of reading when I saw the topic for June's Carnival of Genealogy over at the Creative Gene Blog.  Ironically this comes at a time when I am in a dilemma of what to do with the numerous books that have been passed down in my family.  I have been doing a little spring cleaning and have just run out of room to keep everything.

I have five bookcases in my home--all full.  A cupboard in my basement stuffed full of old books.  I don't even know what is in the attic but I know there are some boxes of books.  This is after giving away a few boxes of books to other family members.  As you can now tell I come from a long line of ferocious readers.  These come mostly from my father's side but also quite a few from my mother's side (who were not the type to keep things like the pack rats on my Dad's side).

What I love about my collection is the books cover a wide range of topics spanning 6 generations of owners.  I have a whole shelf plus a drawer in an old dresser devoted to family bibles.  One of my favorites is an old large leather covered Bible that has the Bird family births and deaths recorded back to the late 1700's.   Many of the older books in my collection also have a religious topic.
 Another one of my favorites belonged to great, great Uncle Alonzo who fought in the Civil War.  It appears to be a soldier's handbook of sorts distributed by the US Sanitary Commission in 1865.

But I also have many fiction books ranging from the 1880's until the 1950's.  These include some classics like Huckleberry Finn and Charles Dickens to all types of mysteries.   Thrown in there is what seems like every textbook my Father had from his college days at Lafayette.  So this tells me my ancestors liked to read.  Books seemed to be a favorite gift at Christmas and Birthdays because many have writing on the inside cover saying Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday.  Also many of the older books have the owner's name.  I find this priceless because it gives me the kind of insight into my ancestors that you do not find in the census and other records.  It tells me their interests and I find that fascinating.  An example is an old Boy Scout Handbook from the 1920's that belonged to my Father.  I never knew he was a boy scout until I found this book!
Long ago before radio, TV, and the Internet reading was a main form of entertainment and learning. An example is my great, great grandfather Matthias Woodhull who had several medical books concerning the lungs.  He was a merchant, not a doctor.  But the story passed down to me was he suffered from lung problems (most likely from tuberculosis).  In fact he even moved to North Carolina from New Jersey for a short period in hopes of the weather in the South helping his condition.  (As a side note he picked the wrong time to move--1860.  The start of the Civil War brought them back North).

This love of reading was definitely passed down through the generations.  Both my parents loved to read.  My Mom LOVED mysteries.  I had never really knew her Mom to be a reader (other than reading books to me) but I have found many books with her name so apparently she did.

I also loved reading as a child and still do.  I have saved every childhood book I ever had.  They hold precious memories of my grandmother reading the books to me.  In turn I read those same books to my children.  My daughter can zip through a book in no time flat.  She not only loves to read, she loves to write fiction also.  Her favorite gift to receive is a book or gift card to the bookstore.  So that tradition has survived also.  It has remained a tradition in our family for my daughter to aloud "The Night Before Christmas" every Christmas Eve.  I don't know if my ancestors did this but she reads from this 1902 book passed down from my Father's family every Christmas Eve.

I have read a few of the books that belonged to my ancestors.  But my favorite thing to do with my old books is just hold them.  May sound strange but I love holding a book that my great, great, grandparents also held at one time.  I also love that old musty smell of old books.  As I have been going through these books in my spring cleaning I have been known to just stand there and sniff them.  Something my kids think is just plain weird but I can't help myself.

This is why I personally am not a fan of electronic books.  Nothing wrong with owning a Kindle but it is just not for me.  Even for new books.  I need to turn actually paper pages and hold the book in my hands.  Surprisingly my daughter feels the same.  For someone who wants every new electronic device that comes out she has no interest in a Kindle.  Like me she needs the "real" book in her hands.

So, how is my spring cleaning progressing?  Well we have donated some books and also sold a few.  I decided I do not need 20 old college textbooks or mysteries, that I can keep a select few.  But I cannot part with my oldest books that belonged to my ancestors.  I feel they are a connection to my past.  So I have gotten rid of some other (newer) stuff in that basement cupboard to make room for the books!

Happy Summer Reading!


  1. You have a delightful collection of books, and BIBLES, did you say, BIBLES?? Be still my heart. I do have a couple, but, nothing like you describe. Enjoyed your post!

  2. Wow! What delightful keepsakes you have! I know just what you mean about deriving pleasure from holding those old books knowing that your ancestors held them too. You truly have a family history of reading! Thanks so much for sharing and contributing to the COG.

  3. Oh, you are so blessed with all those old books! I do own a Kindle, but books I want to keep (instead of reading and then giving away/selling) are still bought as paper versions.

  4. As we've downsized our house and book collection, I've held on to the older books from my grandparents. I don't have anything like the aged books you do, but I understand the feeling of holding books read by those before us.

  5. How neat to have such wonderful books! I have a Bible that my Great Uncle actually worked with Dickerson and made study notes for one their study bibles,written in the 1930's. I also own a few books that he actually wrote. You're not alone I have trouble disposing of books too! Good Luck and what a great piece!

  6. What a fun post to read. Almost with you all on Christmas eve reading from a 1902 edition of the Night Before Christmas. Thanks for sharing your collection with us.