Wednesday, 30 May 2018

The Family Bible

I am a Buddhist. I took refuge in 2014 in the Karma Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. My family, however, are members of the Church of Norway, a Lutheran church which until 2017 was Norway's official state church. They are rather lazy Christians (no offense intended; I admit I am a rather lazy Buddhist myself), and none of my close family members regularly go to church. I even asked my grandfather if he grew up going to church on Sundays, and he said no. The closest thing was his stint in Sunday school as a child; otherwise they would only go on Christmas Eve and other special occasions.

The further back you go through the generations of my family, the higher the degree of religiosity. Indeed, religion was less of a personal choice than a matter of law; in the 1700s, for instance, church attendance was compulsory. Most people probably took the tenets of Christianity for granted, and would have attended the services anyway.

Growing up in a secular household, the Bible was never an important part of my life (nor was any other holy book). However, you would find bibles here and there in my family members' homes, and one bible in particular stood out: A large, heavy, leather-bound volume occupying a place of honour in my grandparents' bookshelf. This bible, my grandfather told me, had once belonged to his mother's parents, Gunerius Olsen (1864-1949) and Oline Margrethe née Forseth (1864-1913), who lived in Trondheim at the turn of the 20th century. It was written at a time when compulsory Lutheranism was a thing of the past but people's Christian faith was still generally stronger than today.

Margrethe and Gunerius, my great-great-grandparents, the original owners of the bible

The family bible, on a table which also belonged to Margrethe and Gunerius

It is the first pages of the bible that are most interesting to me. They contain lists of births, baptisms, confirmations and deaths. The first page lists the four oldest children of Margrethe and Gunerius, with their dates of birth ("født") and baptism ("døbt"):

On the next page, my great-grandmother Ingrid Gunhild Olsen (the youngest of the siblings) and her three children, including my grandfather, are listed. The three siblings are all alive, so for the sake of privacy, I will not publish any photo of this page here, since it contains their full names and dates of birth.

The following page, however, is sad. It is a list of deaths. The first is my great-grandmother's older brother, Thorleiv, who died in infancy at the age of three months. The second is my great-grandmother's older sister, Ingrid Karen, who died in 1904 just shy of twelve years old (yes, my great-grandmother was named after her deceased sister). As genealogists we often encounter records of premature deaths, but it is different when you see the names of your great-grandmother's siblings written down by their own parents in grief and loving memory.

The third post on the deaths page is my father's cousin who was killed in an accident when he was seven; this is a painful memory for everyone who can remember it, and I have redacted the name and dates for the sake of respect and privacy. The fourth and last post is my great-grandfather Fredrik Pedersen. He, at least, had a long and full life, and passed away in February 1979 at 74 years of age. His wife, my great-grandmother Ingrid Gunhild, would live another 11 years; she died in 1990, just months before I was born.

This bible is a direct window into the lives of my great-great-grandparents and their children. I've seen nothing else like it on any other side of my family, although there probably are other family bibles out there, in the safekeeping of distant cousins. In addition to the information I have shared here, our bible also holds my grandfather's original birth certificate from 1935 as well as copies of my grandparents' marriage certificate from 1963. In other words, the family bible is living history, bringing generations and centuries together. Hopefully it will be preserved in our family for another hundred years, or even longer.

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