Tampa man connects people with their lineage through family Bibles

By Erin Maloney, Reporter
Last Updated: Friday, July 29, 2016, 4:20 PM EDT

A Tampa man has a unique hobby: Andy Smith reunites people with their family Bibles.

  • Andy Smith of Tampa likes to connect people with their lineage
  • He tracks down Bibles online, and searches for their rightful owners
  • The hobby doesn't earn him any money, but he gets plenty of 'thank you' notes

Smith often flips through the pages of his own family Bible, which dates back to 1879.

“That’s my grandfather,” Smith says, pointing to a picture left behind inside its pages.

The Bible helped Smith unlock his past.

“As a little boy, it was always open to the family registry page. It had lists of names, dates, birth dates, and death dates,” said Smith.

But he didn’t start investigating his family tree until he inherited the Bible himself.

Now, Smith’s home office is lined with treasured family photos he tracked down through distant relatives. They would have been memories lost to time, if it weren’t for his Bible.

“For me, it’s not just the pictures, the names, or the dates. It’s the stories behind these people that in a sense breathe life back into them,” Smith said.

Smith contacted any relatives he could find, and even transcribed interviews and stories he keeps in a notebook.

Embracing his own history got Smith thinking.

“I wonder if there are other Bibles out there? I started looking on Ebay,” Smith said.

Sure enough, hundreds of family Bibles are up for sale online. Smith found himself a hobby.

“Since then, I’ve contacted literally thousands of people. I’ve reunited more than a hundred Bibles with their original families,” Smith said.

Smith peruses the Bibles up for sale, then uses sites like Ancestry.com to match the names inside with family members who are alive.

Smith emails the people to let them know a family heirloom is in someone else’s hands.

“Here’s one for the Wintling family,” said Smith, who found a Bible dating back to 1776 on Ebay.

He contacted a descendant of the original owner and sent an email.

Most if not all the people Smith contacts don’t know their family Bible even exists. And while Smith doesn’t make a penny for all his work, he gets a lot of 'thank you' notes.

“This was truly once in a lifetime,” one note reads.

“The response that you get is just incredible. They’re so blown away. They’re so thrilled to get these Bibles back in the family,” Smith said.

Smith says he’s just paying it forward, hoping others get the same satisfaction he does when holding his own Bible.

“To be able to hold something in your hands that your great-great grandparents held 150 years ago, there’s a sentimental attachment and a family attachment. How do you replace that?” Smith said.

Smith’s skills as a former journalist help him in his quest. He was a former Tampa Tribune employee for three decades.

But even with all of his investigative grit, he can’t seem to track his family before the late 1700’s.

“There are literally hundreds of John Smiths,” Smith said.

But, Smith says he’ll always continue trying.