Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Family Bible

I may have mentioned before that I am not very religious. I totally support everyone's right to their own beliefs - and I feel very strongly that no one has the right to enforce their beliefs on anyone else. So when I tell you I bought a bible you might be surprised.  Actually in my lifetime I have owned two bibles and read the bible from cover to cover - because how else could I justify forming an opinion on it?

However, this blog is not about religion, and not so much about a bible as about a family.

I have always loved books, and in particular old books. For one thing second hand books are cheaper than new and as a child I read so much, I couldn't afford to support my habit. I frequented the library on a regular basis, but also bought used books and then traded them back once I had finished them. But I always wondered about the people who had owned these books before me.

This is all very boring but I mention it to explain why I often stopped by a used bookstore in North West London where I lived in the early 1960s. I don't remember the name of the store, nor its exact location, but it was somewhere between Camden Town and Gospel Oak / Hampstead Heath area. It is most likely not there now. It was, like all other used books stores, dusty and curious. It had tables outside loaded down with old books. probably they were carefully arranged at the beginning of the day, but by evening they were in total disarray. Very much like these two stores in the same area. Primrose Hill Books on the Left, and Black Gull Books on the right.



I often bought books there and that is where I found the Family Bible. I paid about one shilling for it. What attracted me to the bible was the fact that it was old, leather bound and well worn. It had a story locked inside its pages, I don't mean the story most would associate with a bible but a story about the family who owned it.

Front flyleaf inscription

The family in question were Marshall-Weir. The bible was given to Nancy Marshall by her father, one would assume on the occasion of her marriage, but for whatever occasion, it was in 1838 - I know that because of the inscription on the front flyleaf.

Even more interesting were the inscriptions on the leaf between the old and new testaments. I am guessing five children born to Nancy Marshall and her unnamed husband Mr. Weir, over a period of 10 years. It is interesting too, to notice how the handwriting changed slightly over the course of the same 10 years - I do believe they were all written by the same person, but there is a difference.

When I left Ireland to move to the US 1994, I left almost everything I owned. I told my sons they were free to use, sell or dump it all.


My younger son chose to hold on to that old bible, probably for the same reason I had kept it for almost 30 years, it held a record of a family's existence and despite ending up on the side of the road in a London bookstore, they once valued it.

Imagine my surprise, 21 years later, when my son emailed me with photos of the bible. I was surprised that he still had it. I was even more surprised when he followed up with information he had dug up on the family. In particular the third child listed - the middle child, John Marshall Weir.


The obituary listed the birthplace and that information narrowed down further searches until eventually my son had established the family home as Tullymurry House in Newry, County Down, Ireland and further digging led him to The Irish Landmark Trust who now manage the house. (Read about The Irish Landmark Trust here.) They put him in touch with the current owner of the house.

What we knew from the Bible:

Actually the only things we knew for sure are that John Marshall gave his daughter Nancy the bible in 1838. We know that 5 children were born during the period 1839 to 1849 - and we are assuming that the bible was given to Nancy on the occasion of her marriage - presumably to a man called Weir and they parented those 5 children.

The inscription on the bible says:
Nancy Marshall

from her father

John Marshall

Belfast 28th August

1938
These emails were from the current owner of the Marshal Weir home to my son.

November 1st 2015:
Very many thanks indeed for contacting Irene at the Irish Landmark Trust to establish whether the bible in your possession originally belonged to John Marshall Weir who in the nineteenth century was the owner of Tullymurry House, Donaghmore, Newry, County Down.
Your extremely interesting email has been forwarded to me since my family are the current owners of Tullymurry following its purchase by my grandfather from the Marshall family in 1895.
After the property's extensive renovation a few years ago the family entered into a beneficial arrangement with the Irish Landmark Trust who now manage Tullymurry for holiday lets. The renovation of the house was done very sympathetically in order to retain most of the original features and atmosphere and a few of the Marshall family artifacts still remain in situ including the two century old dining room table and an alchove in the kitchen where John Marshall kept pills and potions for his homeopathic medical practice.
In order to have a 'professional' verdict on whether we are indeed talking about the same John Marshall I have referred your email with its images to a lady historian in Northern Ireland who following years of research on the Marshall family is a leading authority on such matters. I am hoping to receive the lady's feedback very shortly and will then be back in touch with you.
You may wonder why anyone would carry out research on an unrelated family but the Marshalls belonged at the time to the relatively small circle of influential 'gentry' in Northern Ireland and were extensive landowners. Interestingly one of Marshalls married into the Pirrie family famous because William James Pirrie was a partner and the chief engineer at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast responsible for building the Titanic before it fatefully set sail early in the last century under the flag of the White Star Line.
Once again very many thanks for contacting Irene and you will hear from us shortly,

Kind regards
Richard McMinn

December 5th 2015:
I apologise for the further delay in coming back to you caused by an unexpectedly long stay in hospital. I've only today been able to have an in depth phone conversation with the lady historian who as I indicated earlier is the absolute authority on the history of the Marshall/Weir families in Ulster and has been numerous times to Tullymurry.
All along I have been very conscious that before accepting your most generous offer to physically relocate the family bible to Tullymurry House that we needed firstly to go through a proper verification process. Mrs Hamill, the lady historian, has meanwhile taken enormous trouble to go back through her files and review her own notes on the Marshall family in the earlier part of the nineteenth century. Whilst she admits to having a small number of unresolved genealogical gaps - which are typical in this sort of situation - she is very comfortable with the concept of considering Tullymurry as the  'rightful home' for the bible.
In deep gratitude and quiet excitement I therefore accept your extremely gracious offer to let us have the 'return' of the family bible for it to take a place of honour at Tullymurry House.



          


I exchanged emails with Mrs Hamill, the historian referenced in the emails, and she gave me the following information:
"The Bible was given to *Anne/Nancy above by her father John Marshall of 5 Donegall Street, Belfast. This was at the time of her marriage to Silas E. Weir in 1838. John Marshall was the uncle of John Marshall who married Charlotte Weir and who lived at Tullymurry House until his death in 1866. 
When Anne/Nancy married Silas Ebenezer Weir (born 1785-DIED 21/10/1866) on 28th August 1838, she left Belfast and moved to the Weir’s family business at James Street, Cookstown, Co.Tyrone.  The business was that of Drapers, Silk Merchants, Merchant Tailors, Dressmakers, Cabinet makers and upholsters.  Silas was also the treasurer of the Loan Fund Office.
Silas had a brother James who had a business in Belfast, so it is likely that she met Silas in Belfast.   Some of the Weirs had already emigrated to the United States and were established in business there.
Children born to Silas and Anne/Nancy, were
1839 – William died aged 37 on 16th September 1877. Buried in Donaghendry Cemetery, Cookstown.
1842 – Susan Marshall Weir, died on 1st February 1933 in 43a Elsham Road. Kensington. London aged 90.  Susan and her sister Elizabeth had already lived in London in the 1880’s but Susan returned to run the family business in Cookstown, after her brother emigrated to USA in 1893.  When her mother died on 1st March 1870 aged 58, being the eldest girl, Susan was most likely given the Bible, and this she had in her possession when she died in London.
1845 – John Marshall Weir – emg. To USA.  You already have the details of his ‘golf fame’.
1847 – Elizabeth – last found in London in 1891 but cannot trace her.
1849 – Annie was definitely alive in 1870 at the time of her mother’s will. May have gone to Australia with her brother James.
1852 – James – died in Australia 7th October 1914.
Notes – Silas Ebenezer Weir died 21st October 1866.
Anne/Nancy (nee Marshall) died 1st March 1870.
Together with their son William – they are buried in Cookstown.
The Weirs of Cookstown and Belfast and the Weirs of Tullymurry could well be cousins as the topography of Ireland at the time was that families moved as landlords released land.

However, the tangible link to the Bible is that of the Marshalls of Belfast whose roots were Annabane and Tullymurry House. "
The logistics for getting the bible to its home in Tullymurry House, where it will be on display finally got underway.  As the parties involved were spread across three countries, it took time, however on a visit to Dublin, Maud Hamill met up with my son and he passed the bible to her.
Ben Palmer passes the bible to Maud Hamill
Maud then transported it up to Tullymurry House, appropriately on St Patrick's Day 2016 where it is finally at home and on display, having been shuffled around for well over a century.