127-year-old family Bible comes home
Lost books are commonplace at the El Dorado Hills Library, but the one Peter Ferraro brought in recently was something altogether new, if a huge 127-year old Bible can be called new.
The former San Francisco sanitation worker pulled the old Bible from the trash back in the 1980s and thought it was time to find its rightful owner.
The librarians directed him to the El Dorado Hills Genealogical Society, which meets at 6:15 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month at the library. Ferraro walked into the February meeting with the Bible in a plastic bag.
“He told this great story about finding it and keeping it all these years,” said Trevor Thomas, who founded and leads the society. “He just wanted it returned to its family, so I accepted the challenge.”
Thomas has taken on a half dozen such research projects in the past, reconnecting people with their family heirlooms. He was drawn to this one for its ornate beauty and all the genealogical clues on and between its pages.
It took about a month of spare time research to track down a Castile family descendent, Richard Castile, 81, the grandson of the Bible’s original owner. Thomas invited Village Life to tag along for the reunion.
We drove to Stockton and returned the 127-year-old Castile family heirloom, a leather-clad, large format “presentation Bible” to the retired school teacher, who lives with the family of his stepson, Steve Campbell, in Stockton.
Castile is a direct descendent of the pioneering Swedish Cassel/Castile family.
Thomas explained that presentation Bibles were common wedding gifts in the late 1800s, and often served as a marriage contract, making the future husband financially responsible for his new wife. The Castile Bible contains a marriage page that spells it all out in black and white. Such bonds were legally binding in the pre-marriage certificate era, he said.
Another page contained the family births and deaths. Modern birth certificates were likewise not standard practice until the turn of the century, said Thomas. “So this right here is how the records were kept.”
The Bible’s exterior shows its age, having logged at least a decade riding the rafters in unheated attics and garages. The original string-tied binding is failing. A once-opulent leather cover is now torn and tattered, its saucer-sized brass clasp reduced to mere ornamentation.
It’s not hard to imagine the Bible in its hey-day, displayed prominently on an Iowa farm table at the dawn of the last century. Its owner, Robert Lincoln Castile, pulling it to him after the dishes are cleared, adjusting a lantern and reading a passage or two to his family — the wife and five children Thomas discovered while researching the family.
Upon deeper examination, the Castile family tree was grafted onto the Cassel family’s roots.
Builder, farmer, inventor and political radical Peter Cassel left Sweden for America with his wife Ingeborg in 1845 with plans to join earlier Swedish emigrants in Wisconsin, according to Kevin Proescholdt of the Swedish-American Historical Society. Soon after landing on the eastern seaboard, Cassel party got word that better farmland was available in Iowa and changed plans. The resulting colony became New Sweden, Iowa, later renamed Fairfield.
Cassel wrote home in widely publicized letters extolling the virtues of the American system and lampooning Sweden’s stratified social class structure — soaring rhetoric that motivated thousands of Swedes to emigrate in the late 1840s.
Cassel: “There is no such thing as class distinction here; no counts, barons, lords or lordly estates. Everyone lives in the unrestricted enjoyment of personal liberty.”
A February 1846 letter states: “The ease of making a living here and the increasing prosperity of the farmers, year by year and day by day, exceeds anything we anticipated.”
Cassel’s children became pillars of the New Sweden. But how did Cassel become Castile?
Both family trees can be found on Ancestry.com, and reveal that the Cassel’s son Anders, also called Andrew, broke rank early and became “Castel,” perhaps in an attempt to Americanize the Swedish name.
The Cassel/Castel branch of the family tree bore much fruit. Anders eventually fathered 20 children with two separate wives, the second of which, Sarah Louisa Andersdotter, was his mother’s younger sister. Put another way, Anders appears to have married his aunt, which may explain why the family name became Castile.
Anders’ first eight children were Castels. The final 12, with Sarah, were named Castile, according to records on Ancestry.com.
Did Sarah alter her children’s name to divert attention from the close family ties? Was she tossing a red herring in the genealogical pool? Ancestry.com does not say.
Robert Lincoln Castile was one of Sarah’s brood. He married in 1866 and received the presentation Bible as a wedding present from the parents of his bride, Emma Wall.
The family spent time in Iowa, then moved to Nebraska for Homestead Act land, according to Richard, and finally landed in Merced where Robert became the postmaster for a time. He later became a State Farm Insurance agent and worked into his 90s, according to Richard.
When his second wife died the family decided that grandfather and his Bible should stay with his daughter Pearl in San Francisco.
Both Robert and Pearl made their way back to Merced County at the end of their lives, but the Bible apparently got left behind in the 1970s, shortly before Pearl’s death.
Richard recalled the Bible in his grandfather’s home, and was delighted to get the heirloom back after its 40-year hiatus.
The family history recorded on its pages and the keepsakes tucked between them left him speechless. How it wound up in the trash remains a mystery.
Thomas’s research hints that it likely sat in a box with Pearl’s discarded possessions until the 1980s, when someone cleaned house. Sanitation worker Ferraro spotted it on his route through the affluent Presidio Heights neighborhood of San Francisco.
Reached by phone at his home in El Dorado Hills, Ferraro recalled finding many valuable items on the curb. Some, like the Bible, he took home or tried to sell.
The Bible spent the a decade in his Marin County attic, he said. When he retired to El Dorado Hills he parked it in the garage rafters for several more years.
The Castiles arrived in central California in the 1930s and “scattered to the wind,” said Thomas. Most came home to roost in Merced County late in life, many winding up in the family plot southeast of Merced at a cemetery called Le Grand.
Thomas dug deep into his genealogy toolbox to trace the Castile descendants. The Bible gave him a generation of names as a starting point. He found the children of Robert and Emma Castile, including Richard’s father, in the California Death Index. The next stop was the state library, located in Sacramento at 900 N St., where he learned from old Merced newspapers that the Castile children were buried in Le Grand. The obituaries listed grandchildren that were also buried in Le Grand. The trail heated up when he found one named Richard, with no death record and no obituary.
“That was my clue … but I had to prove it,” he said. “That’s the fun part.”
He looked up the Le Grand cemetery on FindAGrave.com, which contains information on many old cemeteries, including photos of headstones, but still found no evidence of Richard. Thomas actually went to the cemetery to confirm that Richard wasn’t buried there.
Obituaries for other family members buried in Le Grand mentioned Richard living in the Bay Area during the 1990s. More sleuthing found two possible addresses, a retirement community in Atherton and a residential house in Stockton.
He called Atherton and asked for Richard Castile. The response — Richard no longer lived there — told Thomas that his subject was still living somewhere.
“They can’t say much, so you have to listen to how they word it,” he said.
More digging produced a phone number for the Stockton house. The phone rang and he started to leave a message when a voice came on the line. Hello Richard Castile.
Thomas blurted out who he was and what he had.
It can be a delicate call, said Thomas. The researcher must quickly convince the subject that the unfamiliar voice on the line that knows so much is not a salesman, a crank or a crook. “You have to tell them enough to demonstrate you’re serious, but not so much they think you’re an identity thief.”
“I was amazed,” said Richard, who had indeed lived in the retirement community, but later accepted his stepson’s offer of the guest bedroom in Stockton.
He’d researched the family history years ago but his work was destroyed in a fire, so he was delighted to learn that Thomas had created a Castile family tree on Ancestry.com.
During our visit, Richard inspected each artifact from his newfound family archive — the letters, the greeting cards and the newspaper clippings, including his father’s obituary, dated 1974.
A 1896 telegram says “Father very low,” and “Come at once,” perhaps in reference to Anders Castel, who died in 1915.
The Bible contains a colorful 1906 temperance pledge signed by several family members.
There were also old photographs, including one of a proud woman who Richard recognized as his beloved Aunt Pearl, a lifelong learner and teacher, and likely the last family member to have the Bible.
Pearl Castile graduated from Nebraska State University in 1916, three years before she had the right to vote. She received a nursing degree from Massachusetts General in 1922 and a Master’s Degree from UC Berkeley in 1929. In 1943 she was named the assistant dean of the School of Nursing at U.C. San Francisco. A PhD in education from Stanford followed in 1948.
She retired from UCSF as a professor emeritus in 1955.
Richard recalls the family chiding her for remaining unmarried. “It drove me crazy,” he said. “No one would ever compliment her on her achievements. They just wanted to know when she was gonna’ get married.”
The Castile Bible will be the subject of the May 15 meeting of the El Dorado Hills Genealogical Society, at 6:15 p.m. in the El Dorado Hills Library. Steve Campbell and Richard Castile hope to attend. Peter Ferraro said he’ll be there.