Lost and found: Family bible back in loved ones’ hands after half century

ARLINGTON – A treasured family Bible given as a wedding gift that went missing for almost 50 years is back in the hands of an Arlington relative thanks to a keen-eyed author perusing a second-hand store in Eastern Washington.

In early June, Beverly Chapman, author of the Educational Activity Books for Children series, was browsing at Sister’s 2nd Hand Store in the tiny hamlet of Northport.

She spotted a box containing various books. Some were recent publications, while others were over a century old.

“In the very bottom of the box was something wrapped in burlap,” Chapman recalled. “After removing this object that was wrapped like a gift, I opened it. To my surprise, here was this beautifully leather-bound Bible.”

As she gently feathered through the pages in the cream-colored book, three inches deep and in near-immaculate condition, she found family genealogical entries suggesting that the book had been presented to a couple on their wedding day.

“I knew that someone, somewhere would appreciate this family Bible to be returned to them,” Chapman said.

Beyond being the authoritative book on Christianity, Bibles have also long served as a hard-copy archive of a family’s history. In today’s disposable society, there’s something to be said about a Bible that possesses a sense of heritage, history and family connections, often containing family details written by the hand of a distant relative.

While doing her best to track down the name of a living descendent, one lead pointed Chapman to a potential ancestor residing in Arlington. She enlisted The Arlington Times to dig deeper.

Combing social media and real estate property search websites turned up a few clues. Based on family names in the Bible’s milestones and memories pages, the net of descendants stretched from Washington to Bakersfield, Calif. to Fremont, Mich. and the Midwest.

To be extra thorough, The Times met with ancestry experts at the nonprofit Stillaguamish Valley Genealogical Society at 6111 188th Place NE in Arlington to help using their voluminous online family searching tools and local hard-cover directories.

Typically, due to privacy concerns and the release of personal information, genealogical societies are hesitant to become directly involved in personal searches, said Ruth Caesar, society president. Instead, they prefer to make their ancestral search tools and wealth of advice available for others to do the legwork.

However, they were willing to delicately assist in this instance.

Librarian Flynn Kennedy used her ancestry navigating skills to track down a few relatives.

“Oh wow, they’ve got a family tree; this is wonderful,” Kennedy said, viewing a digital screen grab of a page from the Bible, supplied by Chapman.

Kennedy meticulously took down the names and dates of birth, and checked family tree sites, thumbing through old Arlington phone books and reverse directories for clues.

A granddaughter was contacted in California who, given enough personal names and details logged in the Bible, shared contact information for the book’s original owner, and a son who still lived in Snohomish County.

That would be Bill Gardner, 57, of Arlington.

The Times wrote a letter to Gardner in August. He called back days later. On Sept. 6, the Bible arrived on his doorstep, courtesy of Chapman.

Gardner was ecstatic to hold the book that he hadn’t seen since he was 12.

“It’s just nice to have the Bible back in the family again,” he said.

It has been a tough year for his mother, Mary Alice Crowe, the bride to whom the Baptist Bible was bestowed. She had open heart surgery July 8. In August, she was re-admitted to a Grand Rapids, Mich. hospital to undergo intestinal surgery, where she remains hospitalized.

Gardner said news about the recovered Bible put a huge smile on her face.

“I took a picture of it and sent it to her, and it brightened her day at a time she really needed it,” he said.

Gardner, who works for The Boeing Co. in Everett as a heating and ventilation specialist for their office properties, has his own theory about how the good book wound up in a second-hand store in Northport.

He said his mom and his first stepfather were married for over 10 years in a home between Newport and Spokane. When they divorced, his mother parted abruptly, leaving most of her belongings behind. The stepfather passed away a few years ago.

Gardner is one of four children of Mary and his father, Lavon.

He said having the Bible back in his family’s hands means a lot to him.

He sent a “Thank You” card to Chapman expressing his appreciation.

“I even thought about making a trip to Northport and thanking her in person,” Gardner said.

He’s keeping the Bible. He’s also taken on the task to finish filling in the registry pages with childrens’ names and marriages that happened in the intervening years.

“There’s a lot of grandparents and great-grandparents’ names in there, too, so I can go through on ancestry.com and find more history information, or whatever,” he said.