I have loved books for as long as I can remember, and apparently I was not the first in my family to do so.
My great-great-great grandmother, Ruth (Thorne) Dudley (1823-1914), was a reader or at least a collector of books. Several of her books are still in my family and reside in my parents’ home. She carefully wrote her name in her books, as well as the year she obtained them. At least in the few we still have.
There’s no way to know how many books Ruth owned in her lifetime or how important they were to her. But I think it says something that we still have them.
We also have a book with the name Mary Jane Dudley in the front. I’m not sure how exactly she’s related to our Thornes and Dudleys, but I imagine her book ended up in Ruth’s hands. It’s even possible that Mary Jane was Ruth’s daughter.
What’s interesting to me about Mary Jane Dudley’s book is that it was given to her as a “New Years gift” by her mother. The giving of New Years gifts is not a tradition I’ve ever experienced myself. It’s also not something I would expect of devout Quakers.
In Ruth (Thorne) Dudley’s books, the dates are always written in the Quaker style–using the number of the month rather than its pagan name. When she died in 1914, she was extolled as a significant member of the local Quaker meeting and buried in the Quaker burial ground.
Quakers didn’t generally put much stock in holidays, preferring a more simple approach. To the Quakers every day was special. But apparently Mary Jane’s mother thought enough of New Years and enough of books to give a book as a gift on the occasion of New Years 1859.
Another fascinating tidbit about the Thornes and the Dudleys and their books has to do with the oldest library in New Jersey (and the seventh oldest in the United States)–The Library Company of Burlington. Ruth’s parents, my four-times-great grandfather Benjamin Thorne and his wife Ruth, came from Burlington County, New Jersey.
When Benjamin and Ruth left New Jersey in 1830, the Library Company of Burlington was already over seventy years old. It was chartered in 1757 by King George II. Originally a subscription library, its seventy founding patrons promised to pay ten shillings each per year to maintain and grow the collection. Royal Governor William Franklin, the son of Benjamin Franklin, was its first patron.
I recently discovered that lists still exist from the late 1700s of who used the library, when, and what books they borrowed. Many of its patrons were Quakers from the Burlington area, so I’m hoping that I’ll find my four-times-great grandparents’ names on it. What an interesting piece of history, to know what your ancestor read.
In today’s world of digital information and computerized checkouts, I’m sure there’s a list somewhere of all the books I’ve checked out over the last few decades. If this list doesn’t get deleted, maybe someday a descendant of mine can look back and see what I read (or at least what I took out of the library and how many times I couldn’t get it back before the due date and paid fines).
My wife and I started a tradition years ago in our little family of four. Every Christmas, we each buy a book for each other. We started the tradition long before our kids could actively participate, but now that they’re nine and ten and well on the way to becoming voracious readers themselves, they enjoy trying to pick out books that will make us happy. The books aren’t always successes; they’re usually half-price specials from the used book store; they’re often duplicates (because we have an astounding amount of books in our home already); sometimes they’re just flops. But incorporating a love of books into our holiday experience has meant a lot to all of us.
Happy New Year and Happy Reading!