Monday, January 6, 2020

Donated Family Bible Spotlights Two Families, African American History

The Nance Family Bible, donated to SARA by George Wishart

A family Bible recently donated to the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives, a branch of the Arkansas State Archives, contains vital genealogical information about enslaved African Americans and two families who migrated to Arkansas from Virginia, Alabama and Georgia.

“This Bible is a significant, historical record that will help families discover and trace their family roots in Arkansas,” said Melissa Nesbitt, archival manager. “We are honored to be able to preserve, protect and make available to the public this remarkable resource.”

The Nance Family Bible contains names and birth, marriage and death dates related to the Nance and Clark Families. The families migrated from the southeast and settled in northeastern Texas before moving to southwestern Arkansas.

The Bible was donated to the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives by George Wishart of Plano, Texas.

The Bible lists African American names and birth dates, which is helpful for genealogical research for African Americans. Researchers often run into obstacles when tracing African American families before the U.S. Civil War. African American families often were not recorded with birth or death records. After the Civil War, families also sometimes changed their surnames.

Some research services and records about African Americans in Arkansas are available at SARA and at the Arkansas State Archives. For example, the State Archives houses records from Hempstead County that list the names of enslaved people as “property” in historical circuit court records dating back to the Arkansas Territory.

The Bible was published by the American Bible Society in 1841, which is during the time when Francis Scott Key, writer of the “Star Spangled Banner,” was vice president of the society. However, the family records listed in the Bible date back prior to the publishing date. Likely, the information was recorded in the Bible after it was published. One page in the Bible reads: “a true copy from the old family Bible.”

For more information about the Bible or other historical records at the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives, call 870-983-2633 or email More information about Arkansas history and genealogical research is available at the Arkansas State Archives at or by calling 501-682-6900.