Sunday—what an appropriate day for a 120-year-old Bible to find its way back into a family! Belonging originally to
Samuel and Roxana Stauffer (1844-1899 and 1843-1909), the Bible was found in 1992 in a consignment shop in Sparta, Michigan, by a twelve-year-old girl who already had an interest in old books. Her mother bought it for her that day, though they had no idea who the original owner was. On Sunday, July 27, 2003, she presented it to me, the
The Bible's journey back into our family began in the fall of 2002 when Julie Flietstra, now a young lady, did an Internet search for Roxana Wells Stauffer. What she found was
my family-history website, which includes
information about the Wells and the Stauffers. Julie left a message in my
book, then dropped me an e-mail asking if I was aware of a Bible belonging to Roxana Stauffer. Despite all my interest in and research of our family history, I had never heard mention of this Bible. Julie said it was her desire to pass the Bible on to someone who was related to Roxana.
I wasn't able to make a trip to Michigan just then, but in the months that followed, Julie and I kept in touch and, bless her, she did not change her mind. When plans began taking shape for me to meet Julie and
accept the Bible, we decided that the cemetery where the Stauffers are buried would be an appropriate
Julie Flietstra and Esther Gross
All the week before rain was predicted for Sunday, but God gave us a perfect morning, sunny with just-right temperatures. Julie's mom, Judy, has been part of the story from the beginning. In fact, the first time I called after Julie contacted me by e-mail, it was her mom I spoke to. I got a real feel from her for how much Julie treasured the Bible. As they
anticipated the transfer, Judy wondered if the media might not be interested in this unusual story. When Julie agreed, Judy contacted the
Grand Rapids Press, and
columnist Tom Rademacher responded with definite interest.
Sunday morning, July 27, we met at the Bennett Cemetery northwest of Grand Rapids. Six of our direct
ancestors—three generations—are buried there, beginning with my great-grandparents
Ferd and Esther Porter (she was the Stauffers' daughter). On the other side are the four Stauffers, two on either side of an upright cement STAUFFER
tombstone—Samuel and Roxana, and Samuel's parents,
Abraham and Magdalena (they were the ones who brought the Stauffers from Ontario to Michigan in 1854). At least in her later years, Roxana must have gone by "Roxy," so much so that it is the name on her headstone. Samuel's
headstone is the one which reads, "He died to save another," which is
another whole story in our family history. I
wrote a letter to Samuel about it.
Julie had brought two roses, each with its own vile of water, which she laid between Samuel's and
Roxana's headstones. A high stool was sitting nearby, but the Bible was not in sight. Tom arrived, followed a couple minutes later by a photographer. Tom began asking questions and taking the first of lots of notes on a white legal pad. That's when we learned that Julie was only twelve when she found the Bible and that Judy paid $12.00 for it. When we were ready to begin, Julie fetched from their car a large square box and set it on the
Both Julie and I had something planned that we wanted to say as part of the "ceremony." I began by reciting the last paragraphs of Roxy's obituary, which I had worked that weekend to memorize1 . They give such a beautiful picture of her, more than we have of any other of our early ancestors.
I had long known that I wanted to have something to give Julie in return for what she was doing for us. I crochet doilies, and I had one I had recently finished. So before leaving home in Tennessee, I
rolled it in blue tissue paper, tied the ends with white ribbon, and took it with us. After I recited the obituary, I gave it to Julie.
Then Julie read what she had prepared. The copy she had for me was done up real
special—edges torn and "burned" and the whole thing laminated. She also had a copy for Tom. And then she opened the box. I have to admit I was surprised. When she had referred to "Roxy's Bible," I had
naively pictured something along the lines of our 20th-century personal Bibles. But this one was a large "family" Bible from the century before
that—it weighs five pounds! It was published in 1883 (Samuel and Roxy were married in 1865). It has an extensive Bible dictionary, time lines, a harmony of the
gospels—all kinds of things!
After accepting it and holding it in my hands, I asked if I could say a prayer. I remember that
Grandpa Hawkins always prayed when we visited the cemeteries, thanking the Lord for the godly heritage we had. Among other things, I thanked God for making Julie find the Bible, someone who would treasure it and eventually seek to get it into the hands of descendants.
Through it all, the photographer was taking pictures, and Tom was taking notes and asking questions. I got out
Roxy's teacher certificate from August 1860 and showed it to Julie and the others. At one point, we arranged for a picture of some of the things found in the Bible, including what we're sure are a piece of lace from Roxy's wedding dress and another of dark striped fabric that we imagine was from Samuel's suit
. There are a couple of letters, a recipe for "washing powder," a tribute to Samuel following his death, a picture of a young relative in another branch of the family
2, and a
few other things. It's nice to know I'm not the only one sentimental about saving family mementos!
Our little ceremony took a little over an hour. Tom told us that the story would run in the
Grand Rapids Press and on local TV on Sunday, August 10th 3..
Click one of the following links
according to your internet connection to see the two minute video clip. Real
Media Broadband, Real Media 56k Dialup, Real
Media 28k Dialup. (You will need Real One Player which is a free download.)
Or Windows Media Broadband, Windows
Media 56k Dialup (Windows Media Player is a standard Windows component.)
As we were saying good-by, we commented on how nicely the weather had turned out. Judy mentioned that a lot of people had been praying. It was gratifying to know that the Bible had fallen into the hands of people of faith. If those in heaven can look down, I'm confident Grandfather Samuel and Grandmother Roxana would be happy about that and about all the events
that led to Julie's putting that Bible into my hands. But they would surely be left scratching their heads over talk of this "Internet," and "website," and "e-mail" that made it possible!