Jeff Jardine: David Weaver hopes to return an 1885 Bible to its rightful family

jjardine@modbee.comJanuary 18, 2014 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textJeff Jardine
    Title: Local columnist
    Coverage areas: People, issues, the community
    Bio: Jeff Jardine joined The Bee's staff in 1988 after a decade at the Stockton Record. He covered sports before moving into news in 1996 and became the Local Columnist in 2003. He graduated from University of the Pacific in 1979, majoring in communications and history.
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    On Twitter: @jeffjardine57
    E-mail: jjardine@modbee.com

It rested in a cabinet in David Weaver’s home for more than two decades: a very large, very thick, very heavy family Bible.

He’d basically forgotten about it for one simple reason: It isn’t his family’s Good Book. His family isn’t kinfolk to any of the people noted in the beautiful, well-preserved leather-bound book, nor their descendents.

Printed in 1885, it includes pages with dates of birth and a marriage certificate, all handwritten. It once belonged to Allen and Jennie Sleezer, a couple from Providence, N.Y. Tracing their lineage could be done relatively easily online and over the telephone.

The bigger mystery to Weaver is how or why the Bible ever came into his possession in the first place. Was it handed down by his grandfather Dayton Weaver, and if so, where did Grandpa get it? His grandfather lived in Waterford. Did David get the book from his father, Clarence? Unlikely.

“He lived most of his life in Stanislaus County,” David said of his father. “I don’t know how he would have gotten it.”

Which leaves … no, not that, either.

“I don’t go to many yard sales,” Weaver said. “So I have no idea.”

The 83-year-old Modestan wants to return the Bible to a Sleezer family descendent who would appreciate it. Otherwise, Weaver would consider donating it to a museum in Providence.

Ed Dandaraw, who heads the New York town’s historical society, would love to have the book if no Sleezer family member is interested. Settling in Providence sometime around 1787, the Sleezers became among the most prominent residents in a town where a street still bears the family name.

But before Weaver packs, seals and ships the Bible, he’d still like to know how he got it. The Sleezer family lineage offers a few possibilities but no obvious answers.

Some certainties: Allen Sleezer and Jennie Bentley were married in Providence on Dec. 31, 1881 (four years before they received the Bible). Their names and dates of birth also are noted, as are those of their parents.

Allen’s parents are buried in a cemetery near Providence; hers a few miles away in Saratoga, N.Y. Allen was the grandson of Martin Sleezer, who changed his name after coming to America. A Sleezer descendent posted this on an ancestry message board:

“Every one who has the surname of Sleezer … or ever did … is related. Think about that: There was only ONE original progenitor of all Sleezers in the U.S. … that was Martin.”

Dandaraw said Sleezer received 100 acres of land for fighting in the Revolutionary War and settled in Providence, where son Henry and grandson Allen were born.

Eventually, the family dispersed to Ohio, Illinois, Kansas and other points west. Indeed, there are numerous Sleezers across the Midwest, in Kansas and even in California.

In fact, one online search found an item listing an Allen Sleezer as the postmaster in a small town in Siskiyou County. So I searched current voter registration, found 39-year-old Sam Sleezer in Red Bluff, and called him. Turns out Sam has traced his family history and knew about Martin Sleezer.

“(Martin) was a Hessian who came here to fight against the Americans,” Sam Sleezer said. “The story is that he fell in love, switched his allegiance and fought for the (colonists).”

He didn’t know of Allen Sleezer, who, by the early 1900s, had moved to Siskiyou County and served as postmaster in the tiny community of Mount Dome, according to online records. But, Sam said, the link makes sense.

“I grew up in Siskiyou County,” he said.

An intriguing family history, but nothing points to how Weaver obtained the Bible. Unless … his own family migrated from Pennsylvania to Lima, Ohio, and then to Missouri, Kansas and on to California. That mirrors the migration of some Sleezer family members.

Perhaps his kin met their kin way back when and stored the Bible for them or something, and it was passed down through the Weaver family in that manner. That’s as good as any other guess.

Now, though, he can connect with Sam Sleezer, a descendent who is truly interested in his ancestry.

The family Bible can finally go home.

Bee columnist Jeff Jardine can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or (209) 578-2383. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJardine57.

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