The Prodigal Bible returns - family reunited with 151 year old book

A 151-year-old Bible has been returned to the Scots descendants of its original owner from nearly 3,500 miles away in the USA.

Donald Mackechnie was flabbergasted when a stranger turned up at his Glasgow home with the pocket sized book that belonged to his grandmother’s great-grandfather.

The 66-year-old said he was “amazed” that the Bible, which has a brass clasp and bears the name Alexander MacDonald of Inverness and dated January 1, 1866, had returned to the family.

Donald Mackechnie
Stunned - Donald Mackechnie with his ancestor's 151-year-old Bible

It is a mystery how the book, which had a four-leaf clover tucked within its pages, came into the possession of an amateur Bible collector from Cleveland, Ohio in the USA.

In 2001, he gifted it to a business associate called Marshall Whitehead II who took it home and promptly forgot about it until May of this year when he was moving house.

Noting the name of the original owner, the American decided to try and track down the descendants of Mr MacDonald, who was born in Inverness in 1825 and worked as a ship master, wine merchant and grocer.

He contacted Highland Council in Inverness which put him in touch with Anne Fraser, a historian at Highland Archive Centre, who created a MacDonald family tree.

Armed with this information, Mr Whitehead used social media to track down Mr Mackechnie’s daughter Mairi in Glasgow who alerted her Islay-raised father to the astonishing find.

Alistair Begg, a Pastor at Mr Whitehead’s church in Ohio who is originally from Glasgow, was visiting relatives in the city last month, and hand delivered the Bible to the native Gaelic speaker's home.

Recalling the moment he was given the Bible, Mr Mackechnie, clerk to the board at St Columba Gaelic Church of Scotland in Glasgow, said: “There was a knock on the door one day and this chap was standing there.

“I almost fell on the floor when he explained what he was giving me. “I could not believe it, it was such a shock and a surprise.

“The whole family are delighted and over the moon to receive his previously unheard of family heirloom.

“It does not even enter your head that this kind of thing could ever happen – it is quite amazing.”

Mr Mackechnie, a retired mechanical design draftsman, said the story of the Bible’s return to Scotland was “fascinating and shows there are still kind people in the world.”

Alexander MacDonald, a member of St Columba High Church of Scotland in Inverness which has since closed, died in 1881, and is buried in the city’s Tomnahurich Cemetery.

His son Kenneth MacDonald was a lawyer and the Town Clerk of Inverness for nearly 40 years until his death in 1921.

Alexander MacDonald worked as a ship master, wine merchant and grocer.

Mr Whitehead, who chose the book from a collection of more than 100, said he believed it was not a coincidence that it had been returned to the family of the original owner.

“Our Lord does move in mysterious ways,” he added.

“I am very pleased that this keepsake treasure of the MacDonald family, located in Cleveland, Ohio was safely returned to Mr MacDonald's native homeland.

“It would not have happened if it had not been for the tireless effort of Anne Fraser and the kind gracious act of my senior Pastor, Alistair Begg.

“Now that Mr MacDonald's Bible is in his family's hand, I believe that there is a purpose that God has for allowing it to return safely to his family.”

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Ms Fraser, a High Life Highland Family Historian, said it was an “intriguing” story and she was pleased to help.

“While it is unclear how it ended up in the USA in the first place, we were very happy to be able to help find Alexander MacDonald’s descendants using the ScotlandsPeople network’ at the Highland Archive Centre,”she added.

St Columba Gaelic Church of Scotland in St Vincent Street, Glasgow was established in 1770 to cater for the spiritual needs of Gaels from the Highlands and islands.

Services are held in Gaelic and English every Sunday.

St Columba Gaelic Church of Scotland
St Columba Gaelic Church of Scotland in Glasgow.