February 5, 2024 at 8:56 a.m.

Old Bible And Letters Tell Story Of The 1860’s

Local historian Mona Ramsey shares more
These images reveal the Heafner family Bible printed in 1857. George Heavner carried it as a Confederate soldier in the War Between the States.
These images reveal the Heafner family Bible printed in 1857. George Heavner carried it as a Confederate soldier in the War Between the States.
(Photos Courtesy of Mona Ramsey)

THOMAS LARK | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

CROUSE––It’s all about preserving the past.

That’s the aim of the Crouse Community History and Photo Project. And according to group spokeswoman, historian and researcher Mona Ramsey of Crouse, the close study of old family Bibles is a great way to learn about local history and that of your ancestors.

Mona Ramsey 

As Ramsey informed last week, she recently worked on a big project with fellow historian Robert Carpenter of the Gaston-Lincoln Genealogical Society. It concerns an old family Bible––carried by a local man, George Franklin Heavner (or Heafner) of Lincoln County, when he was a Confederate soldier in the War Between the States––and a huge stash of old letters dating from that period and beyond.

“It’s a huge story,” said Ramsey, adding of her research work, “I love helping people find their people.”

She added that it was in October, 2022, when she heard from Terry Waldrop, who researches abandoned cemeteries. Waldrop in turn introduced her to his friend, Gus Evans, who presented Ramsey with George Franklin Heavner’s family Bible. It’s now 167 years old and in surprisingly good shape: no damaged spine, no missing pages and featuring information pertinent to the Heafner family.

This image shows Harriet Matilda McFalls Havner: yet another spelling of the “Heafner” surname. She was George Heavner’s wife. 

It’s a German surname, natürlich, albeit here with an Anglicised spelling; a very common phenomenon seen in the days of colonial and post-colonial America when so many people were subliterate or illiterate altogether. Auf deutsch, it’s “Häffner” or “Heffner,” both of which are pronounced the same way as the English misspelling of “Heafner.” Many readers will recall Sebastian Haffner, the late German journalist and historian. Though spelt and pronounced differently (ohne Umlaute, thus “Hahf-ner,” not “Heff-ner”), his was a cognate of the same surname.

And as Ramsey recalled, over the ensuing weeks of poring over the Heafner Bible, she used the information she found to create a new database of family members and in so doing add to the Heafner family tree. With the information found in the Bible and digging deep on the Websites at www.ancestry.com, www.familysearch.org and through local documents, Ramsey made useful discoveries.

These images reveal the Heafner family Bible printed in 1857. 

“I was able to connect the entrants in the Bible to Johann Dietrich Heffner, the pioneer who came into Lincoln County in the middle of the 18th century,” she revealed. “In fact, the line that ended up forming was an almost lost line coming off Dietrich’s son, Frederick (“Friedrich,” auf deutsch), who died around 1808.”

Related to the Bible were some 100 pages of letters from the years of 1862-64, during the War Between the States, as well as more letters spanning the years of 1887 to 1909. In these letters, Heavner recalls everything from his stint as an infantryman with a regiment from Buncombe County (where he moved, circa 1860) to buying and selling cattle.

Nineteenth-century penmanship can sometimes be hard on modern eyes. But not to worry. Carpenter, teaching advanced genealogy and history at Gaston College, assigned the letters to his students, and they transcribed them.

“We could not be more pleased with how this project worked out,” said Ramsey. “The advanced genealogy students excitedly started on the letters and were soon traveling down the Heafner family research rabbit hole.”

A painstaking process

Carpenter offered further explication about this painstaking process of uncovering the past. When students completed transcribing letters, they e-mailed Carpenter their transcriptions. 

“I had provided them some parameters, such as how to transcribe, how to title, font and spacing,” he said. “We discussed the process in class, analyzed problems and issues, practiced on some letters, and soon commonalities emerged.  We discovered that Mr. Heavner was very literate but did not spell consistently well; seldom capitalized; and used no punctuation. The project was challenging, and the students assisted one another. They brought letters to class, comparing their transcriptions.

“So what is a transcription?” he rhetorically continued. “A transcription is a verbatim account of an original document, not to be confused by an abstract, which only includes the most important parts of a document. Both are valuable sources for genealogists. The transcriber must record the document exactly as it exists with spelling, punctuation, capitalization and sentence structure unchanged. When the original was too confusing or not clear, the transcriber used brackets to enclose unclear words or expressions or to substitute words and phrases which are more understandable, used question marks to inform the reader of ambiguity, or used a footnote to inform the reader of pertinent information which is helpful in understanding.”

Carpenter thanked his students for their hard work and dedication. Some transcribed numerous letters, volunteering for more. His students were Mike Peters, Jill Eaddy, Tonya Peters, Carol France, Elaine Glenn, Richard Smith, Robin Ramsey, Mike Carpenter, Tammy Schweitzer, Wanda Holloway and John Misenheimer. In addition Eaddy and the Peterses volunteered to help Carpenter consolidate the letters for publication, and they also transcribed numerous letters.

Got a neat historical artifact you think would be of interest to the Crouse Community History and Photo Project? Call (704) 736-1440, or send Ramsey your queries at [email protected].


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