Early Va./Ky. Meachams -- J.J.M. Bible

The John Joseph Meacham Family Bible

[October 10, 2000]

What started out as a simple research task to find the evidence for the birth date of John Meacham led, by several interesting twists and turns, to the discovery of an old Meacham family Bible in southern Missouri.

Clarence Mitcham in his book Meacham Mitcham Mitchum -- Families of the South published in 1974 gives the date of John's birth as Oct. 12, 1766. For this and some other birth dates I believe he relied on a memo sent to him in 1969 by Raiford A. Roberts of Texas, puporting to be a copy of an old transcript copy of a Meacham Family Bible. Such Bible record transcripts are common sources of evidence, when the old Bible itself no longer survives. However, being a copy, or sometimes as in this case a third or fourth generation copy, the reliability of the evidence is very much reduced, and this is painfully true here. In addition, considerable liberties may have been taken with the evidence, and texts may have been manipulated to align with other data or notions. In the three versions of the "John Joseph Meacham Bible" that are described below, there is only one major discrepancy or conflict with the family history as reconstructed by genealogists, but a careful review of the evidence makes one realize just how difficult it is to establish exact dates from the past.

Roberts' memo, entitled "The Children of John Meacham and his wife Lucy Brewer Meacham," is reproduced below ; the underlined items are contradicted by an earlier source and are discussed later.

"The following records were copied many years ago from an old Meacham Bible. The present location of the Bible is unknown. It is believed that the old copy was made by a member of the Efinger family, the ink is faded and some of the dates have been marked over at a later period to make them clearer. This present copy, shown exactly as the old copy, was made by Raiford A. Roberts, October 29, 1969."

"John Meacham born Oct. 12, 1766         Died Oct. 2, 1823 

"Lucy, his wife, born July 23, 1769
      "and were married Dec. 29 , 1785
"Their children
"Jean Meacham born Jan. 2, 1787
"Susanah Meacham born Feb. 19, 1790
"William Meacham born June 14, 1793       Died July 14, 1818
"Nancy Meacham born Dec. 29, 1796
"John J. Meacham born Feb. 5, 1799
"Merritt Meacham born Dec. 14, 1800
"James A. Meacham born Nov. 27, 1802
"Elizabeth Anice Meacham born Feb. 23 , 1806        Died Aug. 4, 1835
"Elles Meacham born Feb. 23 , 1806
"Harriet Meacham born Oct. 27 , 1808
"Jesse Meacham born Feb. 14, 1811
"Mearil A. Meacham born May 2, 1815       Died Aug 11, 1815

Roberts died in 1978, and were it not for a stroke of luck this might be all we would know about the supposed old family Bible of John and Lucy Meacham. As it happened, Roberts had no heirs, and the funeral home handling his estate began burning his personal papers. One of the staff noticed that a stack of files dealt with genealogy, so he set them aside and called the Midland Genealogical Society to see if anyone there was interested. Two members (one of them being Fred Reed, who related the story to me) drove out to Roberts' home at Big Spring, Texas, and took possession of these files, which were later donated to the Mormon Library.

There is one file on Meachams, and in it is a summary document of Roberts' research on the subject, entitled "Chronology of Meacham Family." Midway down the first page are these entries:

1766 Oct. 12 John Meacham born (4)
1769 July 23 Lucy Brewer born (4)

At the end are the following notes:

(3) letter from Anice and Frances Efinger, July 14, 1942
(4) Meacham Family Bible records, in (3) above.

What came next was perplexing -- the letter from the Efingers did not contain the birth dates of John Meacham and Lucy Brewer. It is unclear where Roberts got those two dates, and thus they cannot be taken with any degree of confidence. The Efingers' letter, written to Lena Boaz Olive of Fulton, Ky. had this information about the family Bible:

-------------begin quote from the Efingers' letter------------------------------------------------

This was copied from the old family Bible of Cousin Dan Meacham before he left for Scobia some years ago.

"William and Betsey Meacham, parents of John Meacham, lived on Meacham River in

"John Meacham and Lucy Brewer were married on Dec. 9, 1785 

"Their son, John Joseph Meacham and Sarah Anice Kirk were married May 6, 1819.

       "Family Record of John and Lucy Meacham:

"Jean Meacham -- Jan. 2, 1787 
"Susannah Meacham -- Feb. 19, 1790
"William Meacham -- Jan. 14, 1793
"Nancy Meacham -- Dec. 29, 1796
"John J. Meacham -- Feb. 5, 1799
"Merritt Meacham -- Dec. 14, 1800
"James A. Meacham -- Nov. 7, 1803
"Elisabeth Anice -- Feb. 3, 1806
"Ellen Meacham -- Feb. 3, 1806
"Harriet Meacham -- Oct. 28, 1808
"Jesse Meacham -- Feb. 14, 1811
"Mearil A. Meacham -- May 2, 1815

"John Joseph Meacham born Feb. 5, 1799 
"Sarah Anice, his wife, born April 5, 1798

"William Harvey Meacham -- June 17, 1820 
"Joseph George Meacham -- Jan. 12, 1822
"Emeline Elizabeth Meacham -- Dec. 24, 1823
"Lucy Ann Meacham -- Feb. 18, 1826
"John Wesley Meacham -- May 19, 1828
"Nancy Adeline Meacham -- Oct. 22, 1830
"Mary Eliza Meacham -- Feb.18, 1833
"Sarah Ellen Meacham -- Dec. 13, 1835
"Susan A. Elina Meacham -- Jun. 22, 1838
"Harriet Frances Meacham -- May 7, 1842

---------------end quote from letter-----------------------------------

The letter ends "s. Anice and Frances Effinger" indicating that it is not the original but a typed copy, especially since their name should be spelled with only one f '. This transcript is of course quite different from the one Roberts has in his memo (which is not found in his files, but is from a copy he sent to Clarence Mitcham); there are numerous conflicts with the account given by the Efingers. The underlined items in the memo version above either do not appear in the letter, or they are different. Just comparing the two versions alone, without recourse to any external data, several things seem very, very odd:

  1. the transcript in the Efinger letter is quite different from the memo, especially the format and the absence of death dates;
  2. there are so many conflicting dates;
  3. Roberts has cut the record down to just the family of John and Lucy, making it appear that the Bible record was a contemporary one made of their family events, but he dropped the dubious preface about their parents residing "on Meacham River";
  4. he has added the birth dates for John and Lucy;
  5. he has failed to mention who had owned the old Bible, and when and where it was copied;
  6. he implies that he has made the memo copy directly from the faded old copy, but there is no old copy in his papers, indeed there is nothing in his papers, apart from the Efinger letter, concerning the old Bible;
  7. all of the Efingers had passed away without heirs by 1948, so it is extremely unlikely that their original copy survived to be seen by Roberts.

Perhaps he was referring to the 1942 letter itself which might have faded, but the original letter also is not found in his file, only a typed copy which Olive apparently sent to him. Clearly, as a third generation copy (original copy from Bible -- Efingers' letter to Olive -- Olive's typed version to Roberts) with re-inking of entries and significant amendments made somewhere along the line, little credence can be placed in the information supplied by Roberts. The Efinger letter certainly deserves more serious attention, but it is also not without problems.

It is also true, of course, that the original information recorded in the Bible could have inaccuracies, both accidental and intentional. There is an excellent article, "Resolving Conflict between Records: A Spurious Moseley Bible," in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (vol. 84, no. 3, Sept. 1996) which discusses in detail an example of deliberate transcript fraud (to support a DAR application), and other considerations relating to the accuracy of Bible records. The first sentence of this article reads: "Questionable family Bibles are a common problem." Often it has proven impossible to separate the grains of truth from all sorts of other accumulated chaff contained in transcripts.

Clearly neither Roberts' memo nor the Efinger version is entirely reliable, for several reasons, although both undoubtedly contain some authentic Bible record. Hand copying almost always results in errors, and is often accompanied by re-arranging and adding material. From the wording of the Efinger letter, especially the placement of the quotation marks, all of the text in quotes was said to have been copied from the family Bible. But my suspicions were immediately raised on reading the first sentence, and I believe now that part of this quoted material was instead taken from notes that had been made from another source by the Efinger sisters. It would be very interesting to know what genealogical sources they had prior to 1942, but no evidence survives. Another possibility is that all the quoted text really was in Cousin Dan's Bible, but the first sentence had been written in much later than the other text -- a common occurrence known in historical and literary studies as a "gloss." Furthermore, the format ("Family Record of John and Lucy Meacham) looks more like a potted text than the sequential entering of contemporaneous family information. It must be acknowledged however that several extant genuine Bibles have potted text at the beginning, serving as a preamble. It is important in this regard to know the publication date of the Bible, a piece of information not mentioned by the Efingers. Very strange also is the coverage of three generations in the first three entries, then reversion back to the "Family Record" listing of births of the children of John and Lucy. The third sentence indicates that the family Bible is that of John Joseph and Sarah Kirk Meacham, and the information on John Joseph's parents and siblings thus serves as background and preamble. Strange also that there are no entries for the deaths or marriages of any of the children of John and Lucy, or for those of John Joseph and Sarah. And strange that there are no births recorded of any grandchildren of John Joseph and Sarah, including Cousin Dan himself. Of course the Efingers may have stopped copying at that point, or, more likely, they may have selectively copied text into a desired format. The first sentence and the general format taken together cast doubts on this letter as an entirely credible Bible record transcript. While surely more reliable than Roberts' memo, it does not have the flow one would expect of spontaneously recorded family events. And it does contain one tell-tale piece of folklore that was circulating in the early decades of this century.

By a strange coincidence, in the weeks before coming across this letter, I had been researching the various claims about a Meacham or Meachon River or Creek in Virginia. There are several candidates in various counties, and Mechum River in Albemarle probably has the best pedigree as a stream really named after a Meacham. But there are no candidates in Caroline County where William and Betsey lived before moving to North Carolina. Describing them as living on Meacham River is almost certainly a bit of early 20th century folklore-making, originating probably from someone who heard of a river in Virginia named Meacham. See my article "On Meacham River" for further discussion of this topic.

Who were these Efinger sisters? In a previous letter to Raiford Roberts dated April 9, 1942, Lena Boaz Olive described the Efingers thus:

"Sue Meacham Efinger was a sister of George Meacham (your great grandfather). She and Mr. Efinger are dead now, but four of their children, two sons and two daughters, are living at their old house in Hickman, Ky. [The youngest of them] is 72, and none of them has ever married. Unique, isn't it? ... They will not be around too much longer."

This last remark was to prove true in a rather dramatic fashion, and not only for the Efingers. Olive died about a year after writing the above, at the age of 73. Mary Anice Efinger died soon after, in 1945 aged 79, followed by John Efinger in 1947, aged 78. George and Frances Efinger both passed away in 1948, aged 84 and 85. The death of George, last of the Efinger line and without heirs, was to occasion an unusual estate division, and provided the clue which led to the discovery of another family Bible related to the John Joseph Meacham family.

George Efinger's will stated that his estate should be divided amongst his "relatives." Since there were no survivors on the Efinger side, his mother's ancestry was traced, and his assets divided among the descendants of his mother's six brothers and sisters who had living descendants, in a complicated genealogical and mathematical arrangement based on six shares. An outline of relatives on his mother's side was drawn up in 1949, apparently by a professional genealogist, and the estate disbursed in 1950. It seemed his estate must be quite large in view of the work involved in determining how to disburse it, but after expenses the amount was only $15,000. Some relatives received a few hundred dollars, some received as little as $11.61 (1/192 of the one sixth share), depending on their distance from his mother. It is sad to note the fact that this (and virtually every) estate is accounted for down to the last penny, but there was no mention of his personal effects, and those of his brother and sisters, mother and father -- six long lifetimes' accumulation of letters, photos, documents, souvenirs, etc. And of course the crucial copy of Cousin Dan's Bible record. Were they all burnt, as Roberts' personal items were? A cruel twist of fate, this time with no stroke of luck to save something for posterity.

The genealogist who traced the descendants of Efinger's mother wrote that his research was assisted by:

"... an old family Bible of John Joseph Meacham which is in the possession of his granddaughter, Mrs. Susan Munger who lives in East Prairie, Missouri. This Bible appears genuine and is very old. It has the genealogy of the Combs family as well as the Meacham family."

Susan Combs Munger (b. 1869) was a daughter of Harriet Frances Meacham Combs (b. 1841), who was a sister of Susan A. E. Meacham Efinger (1838-1924). A few hours of internet searches and telephone calls led to contact being made with a greatgrandson of Susan Munger living in Missouri. When asked about the old family Bible, he said: "Hold on. I've got it around here somewhere." After a few nail-biting seconds, he returned to the phone and said: "Yea, here it is, but there's nothing in it ...[another few seconds]... oh, its between the Old and New Testaments." Quite an exciting moment!

Images and transcriptions of this Bible record can be seen in the next article. The Meacham data listed in this Bible is:

John J. Meacham born February 5, 1799; died Aug. 14, 1865
Sarah A. his wife born April 5, 1798; died Oct. 20, 1870
John J. Meacham and Sarah A. Kirk married May 6, 1819
William H. Meacham born June 17, 1820; died Feb. 13, 1868
Joseph G. Meacham born January 12, 1822
Emaline E. Meacham born December 24, 1823
Lucy Ann Meacham born February 19, 1826
John W. Meacham born May 19, 1828; died April 16, 1880
Nancy Adaline Meacham born October 22, 1830; died Jan. 29, 1835
Mary Eliza Meacham born February 18, 1833; died Feb. 19, 1835
Sarah Elen Meacham born December 13, 1835; died Jan. 11, 1851
Susan A. E. Meacham born June 22, 1838
Hariet Francis Meacham born May 7, 1841
Nicholas Combs and Francis Meacham married January 22, 1862

[Underlined items are different from the Efinger transcript]

When he read out the publication date (1834) and first two entries to me over the phone, I believed that this must surely be the family Bible of John Joseph Meacham -- "the old family Bible of Cousin Dan Meacham" the Efinger sisters referred to -- and that it had found its way somehow to other relatives when Dan moved to Mississippi. This "Cousin Dan" was Daniel Orelius Meacham (1853-1925), son of William Harvey Meacham (1820-1868) who was a brother of Harriet Frances and Susan A.E. mentioned above. A strange statement in the Efinger letter of 1942 is that the Bible entries were copied "before he [Dan] left for Scobia [Scooba, Miss.] some years ago." Daniel left Hickman, Ky. for Scooba sometime around 1915 to 1920, and died there in 1925. The "some years ago" must have been at least two or three decades!

I spoke with the two surviving grandchildren of Daniel Orelius -- Dan Meacham of Scooba and John Meacham of Batesville, Miss., both in their late 70s. Neither of them had any recollection of an old family Bible. John did however recount a fire that burned Daniel's house to the ground in about 1928. Daniel's widow and the family of one of his sons were living in the house at the time. It is possible that the Bible was destroyed in the fire; another possibility is that when Daniel left the clan hearth in Hickman, Ky., the family Bible remained with relatives there and was eventually lost. The latter seems less likely, since according to John Meacham, there were no relatives in Hickman at the time Daniel left, except the Efingers.

When photocopies of the Missouri Bible arrived, having been very kindly provided by the owner, the realization came quickly that this was a different Bible. It had belonged to Susan Combs Munger in 1949, and from the entries it is clear she inherited it from her mother Frances Combs (nee "Hariet Francis Meacham" May 7th, 1841). The Bible had been recording Combs and Munger family information from 1863-1900 and 1891-1970, respectively, and had clearly been in Missouri for quite some time, so it could not have been the one Daniel had in his possession around 1910-15.

It is also immediately apparent from the publication date of the Bible in 1834 that the first nine birth entries dating from 1798 to 1833, and the marriage entry dated 1819, are back-written -- recorded from someone's memory or notation, or perhaps copied from an older family Bible -- and they constitute what I call "preamble." This conclusion is also seen in the style of writing that characterizes those entries: they are neatly spaced, all written in the same handwriting and with the same pen/ink flow. A continuous and timely recording of family events would not have these characteristics, as page 3 shows so clearly. The entries in this hand and style include also the birth entries of 1835, 1838 and 1841 on page one, and the 1835 death entries on page two.

"Back-writing" and "preambling" are not uncommon in Bible records, but they are factors to be borne in mind when weighing the evidence, especially in case of conflict with tombstone or census data. Strictly speaking, Bible entries are primary documents when they record an event near to the time it happened; when the lag is a year or more, then the Bible record is no longer primary, and is correspondingly less reliable. Since the preamble is a copy, errors may be expected. It is likely that there are errors in both the Efinger transcript and the Missouri Bible, but the latter should of course be given more weight as it was recorded closer to the time of the events and is a first generation copy (in the case of the 1798-1841 entries).

The practice of making a preamble is important in understanding both this Bible and Daniel's. It seems likely that the Missouri one, which I have christened "The Hariet Francis Meacham Family Bible," was prepared for Hariet Francis perhaps when she was born (1841), or baptized, or when she got married (1862), although the 1851 death entry is in a slightly different hand. (Was this her mother's handwriting just a little changed over the intervening ten years?) The preamble provided a record of her parents, brothers and sisters, and it is quite likely this information was obtained from an older family Bible.

Daniel's Bible was probably one generation older, as it appears to have had information about John and Lucy and their children. There is still a lingering doubt as to whether this text was a recent insertion in the Bible or an addition from the Efingers' notebook, as the passage about William and Betsey "on Meacham River" certainly was. It is reasonable to conclude that Daniel did indeed have an old family Bible, and it may have been inherited from his grandfather John Joseph via his father William Harvey, or an uncle. If that was the case, the gods of family relics must have been smiling upon him. His father died while he was still a minor, and a guardian was appointed for him by the Fulton County Court; his brothers and sisters had all died by then, without surviving issue. Perhaps the family Bible was kept for him by his guardian until he reached adulthood.

Alas, the gods also taketh away. In a town in central Mississippi, on a night in 1928, this wonderful family record was consumed by fire.

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