Tuesday, October 6, 2015


 Years ago, among the old dilapidated volumes in the “Foreign Language Books” section on the fourth floor of John K. King Used and Rare Books in Detroit, I found a large, leather-bound family Bible in Welsh. I carefully opened to the flyleaf (which was loose) and looked at the penciled price: $12.50. That’s all I needed to know; I would have paid much more for it.
            At home I carefully leafed through the old Bible, which was written in an older Welsh than is currently used, and I discovered a clipping from what appeared to be The Saturday Evening Post. It was a portrait of a pleasant-looking, gray-haired gentleman with a whisk-broom mustache on a very Welsh-looking face. He looked familiar, but I could not identify him, nor was there a caption to help me. Years later, a documentary on Great Britain in World War I revealed that the photo was that of Great Britain’s prime minister from 1916 to 1922, David Lloyd-George. I wondered who the Welsh family was who had owned the Bible and had placed the clipping inside. The Bible also contained a homemade bookmark with the lyrics to “God Bless the Prince of Wales.” Since the title page was missing, the date of publication was lost. If the owner of this Bible was living in Detroit when Lloyd-George was prime minister of England, he or she would likely have been a member of the Welsh Baptist Church on Detroit’s richly ethnic East Side, which today is the city of Eastpoint. At the turn of the 19th century there were Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, Hungarians, Eastern European Jews, and Germans, in addition to the Welsh and Irish in Detroit, all with their own places of worship in their own languages.
            I learned about the Welsh church in Detroit many years ago from an elderly Russian woman, Stella Karenko, who had grown up on the East Side. “On my way to my church,” Stella told me back about 1990, “I passed by the Welsh church, and I remember hearing their wonderful singing! I wonder what happened to all those Welsh hymn books?”
            By the mid-twentieth century, nearly all the foreign-language churches in the Detroit area had become English-speaking, and they gradually lost their distinctive ethnic character, or simply ceased to exist. Immigration from Great Britain declined throughout the early 1900’s, and the Welsh population assimilated into American culture.
            Who knows how long that big old Welsh Bible had rested on the shelf of John K. King Books before I came along? It will remain a treasure on my bookshelf as a reminder of the Welsh Baptist Church in old ethnic Detroit.

Copyright Thomas L. Jones. First published by the Welsh-American Genealogical Society newsletter, Fall, 2015.

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