prayer book

Medieval Prayer Books 
inscribed with family records
of births, baptisms, marriages and deaths 1250-1550

The recording of birth, marriage, and death dates in a treasured family heirloom is an old practice. A Manual for the Genealogist, Topographer, Antiquary, and Legal Professor by Richard Sims (London, 1856) notes that "Entries of births, deaths, and marriages, frequently occur in calendars prefixed to missals and Book of Hours, as early as the middle of the fifteenth century." The Book of Hours, often described as the "best seller of the Middle Ages and Renaissance," was a prayer book used to recite prayers eight times a day that flourished from approximately 1250 to 1550.

A similar practice of recording family birth, marriage, and death dates developed with printed bibles and quickly grew in prevalence as printed bibles became affordable for more and more families of the middle and lowwe class. Family records found in bibles published from the 1500’s through 1791 were often written inside the front or back cover, on blank pages, end sheets, back of lithographs, or empty spaces in and around the printed text. The bible published by Isaiah Thomas of Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1791 is the first Bible printed in America with dedicated sheets to record family birth, marriage, and death data. These were unornamented pages with the heading "Family record of marriage, and births of children" between the Old and New Testaments. American family bibles subsequent to the 1791 printing followed and improved upon this example and most had a section dedicated to a Family Register.  Family Bibles were probably more common in America then any other region in the world from the 1600's to the 1900's.  During the 1900's and beyond, however,   the use of Family Bibles has drastically diminished. Transcribing, digitizing, and otherwise preserving old family bibles is a crucial part of ensuring these unique family records are available for generations to come.

Returning to the subject of early "prayer books" initialy mentioned - what follows are examples from Medieval times of specific examples of  Family Records inscribed in such treasured volumes. 

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From a Book of Hours recording births and deaths in the Dumesnil family, doubtless from the Loire town of St.-Georges-du-Cher, since Joseph (d. 1548) was born in Montrichard close by. Used by at least four generations of Dumesnils. These entries were made in the prayer book shortly after the events they record. The writers identify themselves with expressions like “my father Louis Richard died in Paris” or “my only son, issue of me Louis Richard.” This is the lineage as reconstructed from the annotations: Joseph Richard (b. 18 April 1548) m. Catherine Ceré, have issue Louis Richard (b. 17 June 1576, d. 4 March 1642); Louis Richard (d. 1 March 1642) m. Susanne Ladire (d. 6 September 1659) have issue Charles (b. 29 May 1626); Charles Richard m. Madeleine de Montigny have issue Louise (b. 22 June 1657, d. 1 June 1737), Madeleine (b. 25 August 1660), and Charles (b. 1672). Additional reference to Pierre (b. 18 June 1666) and Susanne (b. 25 August 1676). The Richard line terminated with the death of Louise in 1737. The leaves above references the birth of Pierre (18 June 1666) and Susanne (25 August 1676).



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A prayer book image - repesenting the ancestral line of Jesus Christ


Sample images and artwork from prayer book pages

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Some Great Reference Documents below


Berner's Hours


Braddyll Family Book of Hours with Family Entries



Some Great Videos

Book of Hours of Lorenzo de' Medici


The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry


Medieval Books of Hours in the Public Library of Bruges


Introduction to Illuminated Manuscripts





Various Links to Prayer Books containing family records.


Jean-Baptiste Dessaignes (born 1630) - Book of Hours

Ann Bolyen Prayer Book

Johanette Ravenelli

De La Rocha Prayer Book

Alice de Reydon Prayer Book

Prayer Book of  Rouen, France

Prayer Book of Lady Elizabeth Dunbar


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15th Century Prayer Book