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History how-to videos: Books and bibles

Updated Wednesday 14th February 2018

What does the information in the front of books tell us about where they come from?

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On the History Detectives, we get sent a lot of very different things. Every single one of them has a story to tell. This beautiful bible was sent into us by Grace Knutt who lives in Buckinghamshire. Inside, starting 1864, are the names and dates of birth of her great grandparents’ thirteen children.

It’s an invaluable record for Grace to use to trace her family tree back into the Victorian period, but since her great grandfather was a waiter in a pub and his wife was a household servant, Grace wonders how they could have afforded such a large and expensive bible.

The chances are that if a poor family had a book at all, it would have been a bible. The key to this one is the publisher. This was printed in 1870 by the British & Foreign Bible Society.

The British & Foreign Bible Society was founded in 1804 after a woman named Mary Jones had to walk twenty miles to find a bible in the Welsh language. As a result, the society was set up to supply affordable bibles in Welsh to Welsh speaking Christians. Their work soon spread to England and further afield.

They still operate today as the Bible Society, and they’ve produced biblical texts in 700 languages, they’ve distributed over 550 million copies of the bible to people all over the world. This is a fine example of the work from the mid-Victorian period. If you have an old book and you want to know more about it, then look at the publisher and take that as the starting point for your research.

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