Good Books

A small polyglot Bible passed down to the author.

Last week, the United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C., was the site of the Inaugural ceremony for the incoming President and Vice President. Those leaders of the Executive branch then in turn swore in new members of the Legislative branch.

When taking an oath, it is traditional to swear upon a Bible, though in reading a bit more about this, I found that it is not a requirement and that Teddy Roosevelt, among others, declined to do so.

“Oaths are not the credit of men but men of oaths.”

Aeschylus

For those who choose to place their hand upon a Bible—or, in Senator Jon Ossoff’s case, Hebrew Scripture—the tome is often one that has been passed down through generations or has some meaningful connection to one’s family. Reading the fascinating back stories about the various books which President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and the three newest members of the Senate brought to the ceremony reminded me of an ancestor’s Bible—probably over one hundred years old—in my own family.

When I became interested in family history, my father asked me if I would be interested in having this Bible. It had been given to him by his mother, and it had previously been in the possession of her Aunt Ann “Toosie” Williamson before that. My father was not sure who the original owner had been, so I decided to do a little more research.

An inscription in pencil just inside the cover of the small book reads, “E G Williamson – Fleming, Kansas.” I am pretty sure that this would be Elizabeth Grier “Lizzie” Williamson—Toosie’s older sister. The middle initial narrows down the number of Williamsons in my family, and “Fleming, Kansas” places the owner in the area of Kansas where Toosie’s and Lizzie’s family had lived.

The Williamson girls and the rest of their family had emigrated from Scotland around 1887. Their father, uncles, and brothers had been miners in Hamilton, Scotland, and they came to southeast Kansas knowing that similar work awaited them there. Fleming was one of many small mining camps in that area.

In 1892, a post office was established in Fleming, and the town at one time had a church, a store, and a school. It’s possible that Lizzie and her siblings attended the very school pictured below. She was two years old when she and her family to America.

At one time, the population of Fleming numbered around 100, but it would appear that this particular area’s yield must have petered out: the post office was closed in 1908, and Fleming is now an unincorporated town.

Looking at this area on Google Maps Satellite View shows what appear to be seams—evidence of strip mining. Various map markers designate “MLWA Units.” Further investigation revealed that these are “Mined Land Wildlife Areas”: areas of “environmental devastation and successful habitat restoration.” Judging from these aerial views, “restoration” would appear to be slow and perhaps less than “successful.”

Lizzie (left) and “Toosie” Williamson

But I digress.

At the age of seventeen, Lizzie Williamson married Tom Kerley who had also emigrated from Scotland. They lived in various small towns in Cherokee County, Kansas—Pittsburg and Ross—and had two children. Lizzie divorced Tom in 1910. For twenty years or so, she supported herself as a bookkeeper in Kansas and in Quapaw and Picher, Oklahoma. She died in 1937 at the age of fifty-four. Toosie outlived her by thirty-two years.

Lizzie Williamson Kerley on the left; “Toosie” Williamson on the right.


While I have no plans to run for office or solemnize any vows in the near future, I treasure this old family heirloom nonetheless.

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