July 28, 2015

History Comes to Life on a Quilt - Part 3

Part 3.  Three Intertwined Families

 
(Part 1 tells the background of a quilt inscribed with many names, and how I started my search for the details of its history.  Part 2 details some of the interesting family stories.)

Here's the most complex and hard to research story I've found so far.  Eunice B. Phinney nee Dyer had married Erastus Phinney in 1876 in Boston.  At that time, Erastus was 66.  This was his second marriage.  Eunice was 42, her first marriage.  By the time the quilt was made, Eunice was a widow and living in Melrose with Mary Ives Hersey, a spinster.

I started noticing the same family names in their ancestry.  It took a bunch of head scratching and searching, but I figured out that the two women were related.   Mary's mother, Mary Knowles Dyer Hersey, and Eunice were sisters - so Eunice was Mary Ives Hersey's aunt.  Then I found, on the 1900 census, that Nehemiah Mayo Dyer was also living in their house.  I looked at some older records, and found that Nehemiah was Eunice's brother and Mary's uncle.  He was a Civil War veteran and captain of the US Navy, who moved in with his family members after his retirement.

Back on the 1870 census, I found Mary Knowles Dyer Hersey, as head of household.  Living with her were her children - Mary Ives Hersey (our Mary, on the quilt), George, and Henry.  M.K.D.H.'s father, Henry Dyer, was also living there, and - surprise! - so was her sister Eunice Dyer (our Eunice Phinney, on the quilt).  So our Mary Hersey and Eunice Phinney had also lived together before Eunice's marriage to Erastus.  At that time, Eunice was a teacher.

And from there, my searching got even more complex!  You may recall that Erastus Phinney's marriage to Eunice was his second marriage.  Lo and behold, I saw that his first wife was named Eliza Dyer! I spent a long time, a very very very long time, looking back in the Dyer family, but never did find out where Eliza fits in.  In any case, Erastus had married two Dyer wives.

As I searched back, I found several more unsolved mysteries, and a ton of Dyers and Herseys.  For one thing, they both tended to have very large families.

Both families are structured so as to make research really confusing.  Many, many names were reused across generations, both first names and family and maiden names used as middle names.  Sometimes the first and middle names are even used in the same combination, so there are more than a few people in different generations with exactly the same name.  Several times, a child had died young and the name was reused on the next child.  (Eunice was in such a pair, having been born in the same year as the first Eunice B. Dyer died.)  One family used a name twice before a third baby survived and carried the name to adulthood.  Around 1750, two Dyer brothers married two sisters from an Atkins family.  After a while I just stopped looking, but I peeked at records in the Dyer family back into the 1600s, and stopped from exhaustion before I'd gone all the way back.  In those years, many of the listings are on a source called "Mayflower Births and Deaths."  Exciting!  This was long before the US census system, obviously.

And there's one more thing.  Several years after the quilt was made, Mary Ives Hersey went on to marry in 1912.  Like Eunice, she married a widower, Abbott Adams Davis.  She was 59 at the time, and he was 56.

Some general thoughts and observations follow in Part 4.  Part 5 sums up my research.  Part 6 shares the first information from librarians and historians in Melrose.  And a little aside about the fun of being able to look at original records online.

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