Analyzing a Bible Record


8 April 2014

The words penned in old Bibles are so often taken at face value.  We make assumptions on the basis of what we see. For the attached image, we've extracted the data in case you need help with the names. Use both to analyze the record.

  • J. G. Couty   Born Sept th 23  (Father) 1872
  • Joseph Shelby Couty  Born Sept th 16 1898
  • David Golden Couty   Born Nov th 24 1900
  • John Horas Couty Born Jan th 12 1903
  • Margret Viola Couty Born Oc. th 26 1905
  • Antonio Couty Born March th 6 1908
  • Fred Couty Born Feb th 14 1911
  • Mary Leola Couty Born May th 24 1916
  • Leonea Couty Born June th 16 1919
  • Jonah Grayson Couty Born Oct th 27 1922
  • Solomon Couty Born Jan  5  1915
  • Mother: Gertrude A. Durrousseau  Born Dec. 16   16. 1878

SOURCE: Laura LaCour, wall posting at “Laura LaCour,” Facebook ( 29 March 2014@4:30pm. Used with permission (and appreciation).

Because this is a late-19th to early 20th-century record, there’s also a surviving story behind it. We’re curious as to how many EE users would anticipate that situation, in addition to the more-obvious clues.


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Jade's picture
Analyzing a Bible Record

1) Physically, the listing of Births appears to have been written by 3 different hands.  The first hand was certainly writing in/after 1922, the latest birth year given.

2) The entry for Solomon stands out: it is out of chronological sequence and comparing handwriting styles, apparently not by the writer of most of the entries.  If the original writer had just made a mistake in the chronology, the entry for Solomon would probably been in the same ink and hand.

3) The identity of the original writer is unknown.

4) Something about Solomon was of interest.  Was there a dispute as to whether he was a child of J. G. and/or Gertrude (Durrousseau) Couty?

Pursuing an insight on the specific question in no. 4, by surrounding data, I looked for this family in the US Federal Census enumerations.  For 1920 they were the household of what indexed as that of Gracian Coster in Police Jury Ward 10, Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana.  For 1930 they were the household of Grayson Couty in Natchitoches, Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana.  Solomon Couty or reasonable facsimile (not accounted for by other "Birth" entries) was not listed in either enumeration.

Searches for Solomon both with and without specified Couty surname failed to find a likely candidate in Natchitoches Parish in the 1920 and 1930 US Census enumerations.

These preliminary findings suggest the possibility that there may well have been a dispute as to Solomon's parentage, and this could have been reflected in some litigation regarding inheritance or other matters.  Note that there is ample room in the series of Births for Solomon to have been Gertrude's child, and this would be an element to look out for in further investigation of this family members' life-paths.

Further research would include whether J. Grayson Couty had property that was claimed by heirs, whether he or Gertrude left wills disposing of property, whether there is a sign of Solomon among Gertrude's immediate relatives, whether there may have been a Court record relating to birth of Solomon out of wedlock, and whether a Court placed Solomon with another family.

Another interesting puzzle -- perhaps with many layers.



Erickdm's picture
Couty Bible

Perhaps Solomon Couty married one of the daughters.  The ink color and handwriting appear to be the same as whomever entered the birthdate of the mother.  The person who entered the name of the mother seems to have been her child, because he or she started the entry with "Mother: Gertrude A. Durrousseau..." I would check the marriage records to see if Solomon Couty can be found, and also to see who the daughters in the family married. Cousins often married cousins!

Jade's picture
Assumption from context

Very good point, Erickdm.  My assumption that Solomon's listing was due to his being a child in the main family could be quite off-target!



EE's picture

Great job!  You’ve all touched upon important issues to consider. You’ve also flagged the difference in both ink and handwriting. You've noticed that Solomon is treated differently and raised questions. You've noticed that the name at the bottom carries a citation of relationship, whereas the others don't. Let's focus on the latter.

The record page begins with what assuredly is the husband and father, J. G., followed by all the children.  Why would the wife and mother’s data be “added on” at the bottom of the page— in the same ink used for “Solomon Couty” who was not listed among all the other births, as they occurred.  Most researchers would expect the mother’s entry to appear at the top of the page, together with the father’s data.

I posed that question, Why?, to the owner of the diary: Ms. Laura LaCour, a granddaughter of Gertrude. It was she, Gertrude (Mrs. J. G. Couty), who created the Bible entries penned in black ink. Ms. LaCour’s response teaches us two lessons about life in the past:

With regard to the last child entered out of place, Ms. LaCour states: “We were visiting my Grandmother one summer in Big Mamou. Mama and Old Mama were looking at this page and Mama [Mary Leola of the Bible record] commented on how there were only two or three years between children. Except between her and Fred. That’s when Old Mama told her she had a son who died shortly after birth and she couldn’t bring herself to write it down. So Mama wrote it, and also added Old Mama’s name [at the bottom] and birthdate.

As to why Gertrude did not list her own data at the top of the page where her husband appears, Mrs. LaCour responded: "Old Mama probably never thought of adding herself. She was that kind of woman.”

EE’s takeaway is this:

  • When we evaluate relics from the past, so often our interpretations are shaped by our modern view of life. How many of us today would start a family Bible, then list our husband and our children, across 17 years, but not our self? Many women in the past did have a different image of their role and their "place" in life. 
  • When we evaluate Bible records, we assume that parents would list all their children. We would be likely to assume that the omission of a child from a family Bible was an indication that the child did not belong in that family unit. That assumption could be wrong. The men and women who created these records in the past had heartaches we’ll never know, and children were intentionally omitted. Sometimes, those omissions were for the reason we see here. And sometimes—though not in this case—they occurred because of fractures in the family unit so extreme that even a parent considered a child “dead” to the family.


The Editor

Marie Andersen
Marie Andersen's picture

Looks like what I guessed had probably happened was right. I didn't have time yesterday when I saw this to post, but my first guess was that a child had died as an infant or been stillborn and the person who entered at first was either the mom who was too hurt, or someone who didn't know about the child. I didn't quite catch that the mom was not listed with the dad.


GenerationsDetective's picture
Bible Record Analysis

I really like the analysis that Jade offers. There are two items I have. 

1.  What is the printing date of the bible? This will give clues to the date the information was created. It would have to be after the date the bible was printed. 

2.  This looks as if it was written in ball point pen. Though the first patent for a ball point pen was in the late 1880s, the quality of writing was poor and the pens were not widely used and they were very expensive. It was not until the 1940s that the ball point pen really came into its own. The innovations of this period allowed for fluid and uninterrupted writing. In the 1950s that ball point pens proliferated across the United States as a writing instrument. A forensic document examiner could probably look at the width of the line and color of the ink and definitively date the pen that wrote the information.

Jade's picture
Couty Birth Record

I really missed the boat on this record.  Without the family explanation it might have taken me a really long time to conclude that Solomon had died young.

This was a good lesson in the perils of making assumptions.

Thank you!


EE's picture
Couty Birth Record

Jade, by no means did you "miss the boat." You did an excellent job. No one sees everything in a record. All of us, each time we come back to a record, are likely to see something new. "Group analysis" exercises of this sort help us all, and  those who are willing to "put their thoughts out there" are the facilitators who make that education happen. Thanks for offering your expertise here.


The Editor