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  • Writer's pictureKaren L Kurtz

Leather-bound Promise

Updated: May 20

It was the way “Willie” swung―throwing his body weight into it so naturally, and then the crack of his wooden bat sending the ball beyond the outfield that caught the old man’s fancy. Andy said he decided in that moment my dad would be the next one to inherit a family keepsake, the leather-bound family bible dating back to 1744.

I don’t have a photo from the Kurtz family reunion in the late 50’s when my dad’s 94-year-old second-cousin Andy saw him hit a home run. Dad was nearly 40 at the time. The photo, above, comes from earlier years, back before Dad’s high school baseball team made it all the way to the state competition in 1938. (Had they won State, there could have been a movie about a small-town, Ohio team with Gene Hackman as the coach.)

My memories of the Kurtz extended-family reunions held at the Hartville Memorial Park all run together. The men playing horseshoes. The women unpacking picnic baskets of starchy casseroles and sweets. A family elder standing on the picnic bench to offer the prayer before we ate. The men’s traditional baseball game after lunch, and the women doing their tradition of cleaning up the pavilion, sitting in a circle to catch up on family news, while fanning themselves in the summer heat. My tradition was spending the afternoon in a long line of kids waiting our turn to fly down an increasingly slick, metal slide with sheets of waxed paper under our bums.

I recall the old German Bible became a part of our home a few months before Andy Kurtz died. We never wore white gloves when we turned its pages or had a climate-controlled case built for the relic. (That never occurred to our family.) It simply sat in our living room on the bookcase behind my dad’s chair for most of my life.

There was always a sense of awe, a deep reverence for this book. We couldn’t read a word of it because it was written in German, but the block print illustrations and ornate script were beautiful.

The several pages of handwritten entries of family births fascinated me the most. They had been translated by a university professor one year. The first entry: “On February 25, 1751 my daughter Barbara Kurtzin was born. . .”

I noticed that in the first two generations of births recorded, all the daughters’ names were given a suffix of “-in.” The sons simply had the surname “Kurtz.” By the time my great-grandfather, Johannes Kurtz was born in 1831, (which was the third and last generation recorded on these pages,) all of his sisters were given the surname “Kurtz,” according to American custom.

There is the story of this bible, itself, and of its original owner from Steffisburg, Switzerland, Stefan Kurtz, who sailed with his brother to Philadelphia in 1744. That story will be told another time.

Who knows all the reasons why a family elder chose my dad to receive the Kurtz bible? Perhaps Andy had his eye on Willis from little up or he learned about Dad’s post-graduate studies at Bethany Seminary and that he had been a pastor for a time. Or maybe he just liked the way Willie hit a baseball. My father was astounded and humbled by the sober responsibility of being the next steward of the Bible.

I know the feeling.

A few months before my dad died, he handed over the responsibility to me. He said it was because I’d studied in Switzerland and had visited our ancestors’ birthplaces in person. I’m sure there were others in the family more worthy of this honour, but I have accepted the difficult task of deciding what will be done with the old Bible.

I pray for wisdom.

~K L Kurtz

Other Blog posts I've written that are related to Kurtz ancestry are:


Many extended family members have contributed to the research and organization of genealogical data since 1936, long before online ancestry sites made it easy.

One of these is my late cousin, Jane Burkholder Stine (1930 - 2011)

Our family is indebted to Jane for her tireless work tracing the genealogy for our family. Jane's meticulous research and patient correspondences with other genealogists and members of distant branches of the family have given us an excellent map back to our Swiss, German, and French ancestors. She had an indefatigable curiosity and a gracious generosity in sharing her decades of work.


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