Indianapolis collector traces 1850s Bible to prominent Westmoreland family

Before the Internet opened up new avenues for genealogical research, Bibles were once a repository of choice for families concerned with preserving their history.

One such tome, dating to the 1850s, provided an Indianapolis-area man with an intriguing connection to the region of southwestern Pennsylvania where he grew up.

Pittsburgh native Chris Mitchell, who received the Bible as a gift, learned it surfaced at a Butler-area antique store.

“I had wanted an old Bible for myself,” Mitchell said. “For the age, he was in pretty good shape. Then when I opened it I saw there was a family book and someone had squeezed some plants between the pages.

When verifying the restoration of the volume, Mitchell verified its mid-19th century origin and that it was published in the Philadelphia area.

He was also able to track down the original owners of the “Good Book” – the Gills, a prominent clan in County Westmoreland.

“It resonated with me,” Mitchell said. This prompted him to post an image of the Bible and information about the Gills on craigslistwondering if any of the family’s descendants could spot him and reach out.

At the last word, no one associated with the family came forward.

According to Mitchell, the family record in the Bible begins with Cornelius Gill, who owned a farm near Freeport and operated a lumber business, and his wife, Sarah.

“I have the file that lists all the descendants,” he said. One of the couple’s children is particularly interesting – John Duff Gill, who was a lawyer in the Greensburg area, was active in local municipal government and even sought governorship.

“He was the only one who found any results on Google,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell included in his Craigslist entry information about John Duff Gill that he found in an excerpt from “Old and New Westmoreland,” a landmark volume from 1918.

The biographical entry on Gill notes that he was born in 1845 in Allegheny Township and was admitted as a practicing solicitor of Westmoreland in 1871. He was a member of the Greensburg Board of Education and principal of the Theological Seminary of ‘Allegheny for many years.

Residing at 207 W. Third St. in Greensburg, he also served as secretary of the Greensburg Building and Loan Association and elder of the United Presbyterian Church. In 1874 he married Agnes Brown Gemmell. Census records from 1880 show the couple then had three sons – Henry “Harry” Sterling Gill, 5, Arthur Bruce Gill, 3, and Robert Gemmell Gill, 1. They went on to have two more sons: John G. and Kenneth, according to records. .

In 1884, John Duff Gill, who had been a Democrat, switched to the Prohibition Party, which pushed for a “constitutional ban on liquor traffic”. The biographical sketch adds that Gill “was long director of the National Reform Association and for the twin causes, education and temperance, has been a tour de force”.

According to prohibitionists.orgGill was Prohibition’s candidate for governor of Pennsylvania in 1890, attracting 16,108 votes, for only 1.74% of the total ballots.

Democrat Robert E. Pattison was elected to a second term as governor that year, having served a first term in 1883-1887.

John Duff Gill died April 4, 1926 at his home in Greensburg. He was 80 years old.

Mitchell is curious to see if any descendants of Gill are interested in the Bible or a copy of the attached family book.

“I would like my great-great-grandfather’s Bible,” he said.

Jeff Himler is an editor of the Tribune-Review. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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