DNA discovers a family bible

peacock1870familybibleI’m staring deep into the worn edges and well thumbed pages of a beautifully leather-bound bible from 1870. It’s by William Collins Sons & Co of Glasgow, later to be publishers of Agatha Christie, C.S. Lewis, and Enid Blyton. I wonder what amazing stories this book could tell of its journey of 147 years.

Inside are delightfully coloured lithographs, and commentaries by two of the world’s great biblical scholars. One is Thomas Scott, an 18th century preacher who along with William Wilberforce, a leader to eradicate the slave trade, was one of the founders of the Church Missionary Society. The other is Matthew Henry a 17th century non-conformist evangelical minister.

My favourite Henry quote is about the relationship between men and women, from the story of the creation of Eve. “The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”

Tucked away and forgotten inside is a lovely frail piece of paper doubled over four times. The document needs to be carefully opened so that it doesn’t disappear from the touch. I read it in wonder. It’s the vaccination certificate of dad’s aunty Grace from when she was a baby 111 years ago.

I then hurriedly looked at the pages of the bible itself and saw the names of generations of Peacock family. There were my great-grandparents and grandparents. I calculated that it must be my great-grandmother Lizzie’s handwriting. Then the script changes. Another family has the bible now.

I discovered the bible only because the great-great-granddaughter of Lizzie’s niece went searching for her family just before Christmas. Her DNA test matched me and my sisters fairly strongly, but not my mum. So our connection had to be on dad’s side. Werribee to the west of Melbourne was the common ground, so the link was narrowed to my dad’s paternal heritage. Lizzie’s niece Nellie jumped out of the pages, and although her generation was recorded in error, we’d found our connection. And this Peacock family bible, not even known about by us for generations, was discovered.

The story of the bible was then told. My great-grandmother Lizzie and her niece Nellie were raised as sisters and became very close. So close in fact that when Lizzie was unable to feed her new-born daughter Grace, Nellie came to help. She was a new mother herself and so became the wet nurse, feeding two babies.

That’s where the bible passed out of the Peacock family. It went to Nellie, to her own daughter the milk-twin, and down another three generations. The names of that new branch of descendants filling the pages ever since.

My extended family now includes a former world and current Australian fishing champion. I’ve made other fascinating family discoveries also thanks to DNA testing. There’s Henry Calf who was Lillie Langtry’s coachman; the remarkable Daphne Wadeson, her encounters with Queen Mary, schooling with Vera Lynn, and fox hunt activism; and Fred Mercier who’s famous in family lore for kicking Lawrence of Arabia up the derrière.

But no discovery is more personal than the family bible we never knew existed.

For anyone who wants to get started with DNA testing, click here and the Family Finder test is recommended.

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