January 27, 2020

Two Quilts that Connect 1635, 1897, and 1998

Well, folks, the 1890s quilt I researched for several years and then exhibited last winter is, as they say, the gift that keeps on giving.  (Check the highlighted links for background on the quilt and it's story.)

Last spring, a woman brought me a rail fence quilt to repair.  It had been made for her by her grandmother.  A few days later, as I was looking over the quilt as part of making an estimate on the repairs, I discovered that the grandmother had signed and dated (1998) the quilt.  Lo and behold, her last name was a name of someone on my research quilt.

Can you guess where this is going?!

Grab your favorite beverage (mine would be a cuppa tea) and put your feet up - it's story time!

My research showed that the red and white quilt seen up above had been made in Melrose, MA, just north of Boston, so I asked the owner if she knew of any ancestors who'd lived in Massachusetts.  She pulled out her phone and looked for an email from a cousin who'd just done extensive genealogy searching on the family.  Yes, she said, the first ancestor, William Hersey, arrived from England in 1635, settled in Hingham, MA, and lived there for the rest of his life.  Wow!  Hingham is near Boston, down the coast a bit and around the bottom of the bay, a 44 mile drive from Melrose.

Sure, that's a lot easier distance in our time than it was in the 1630s.  But it was still close enough for me to get really excited!

So I dusted off my Ancestry skills and started searching.  Starting with the name on the quilt, Mary Ives Hersey, I followed the chain of her ancestors back along the paternal line:

Mary Ives Hersey
(father) Joseph O. B. Hersey (born in New York, moved to MA, sometimes living in Melrose)
(grandfather) Henry Johnson Hersey 1775-1830 (born in Hingham)
(great-grandfather) Jonathan Hersey 1742-1828 (born in Hingham) (fought in the Revolutionary War)
(great-great-grandfather) Jonathan Hersey 1713-1760
(3 times great-grandfather) Daniel Hersey 1682-1766
(4 times great-grandfather) Jonathan or John Hersey 1640-1726
(5 times great-grandfather) **William Hersey** 1596-1658, who married in England in 1631

William's dates from both sources make sense - he could have easily married in England four years before immigrating to the Boston area.   

The next exciting event was the quilt owner sharing a photo of an amazing family tree.  It is a work of art in and of itself!  The trunk of the tree is William Hersey.  Making it even more fun, the tree was drawn up, literally, in 1895, virtually at the same time my red and white quilt was being made in 1897-8.

And lo and behold, I could see a branch for a son of William named John.  On Ancestry, William's son shows up sometimes as John and sometimes as Jonathan.  Then I could see John’s son Daniel, who has a son Jonathan, and then it got too small in the photo be able to read any further, but I found it hard to imagine the chain of names is only coincidence.

And then.....!  The owner asked if she could bring her kids and her dad while he was in town for Christmas, to see my quilt, show me the family tree, and take some photos of all the generations with the quilts.  Absolutely!

And I was able to take close-up photos of the tree so all the names in Mary Ives Hersey's ancestry are legible:

Patriarch William, John, Daniel.....

...Jonathan, Jonathan...

....Henry, Joseph O. B. ....

....George, and Mayo.

The name by my top finger is Joseph O.B. Hersey, Mary's father, and the name by the bottom finger is George, her brother.  And later on, while studying over the photos, I noticed one more person at the lower left, the name so tiny as to be barely legible, and that is George's son Mayo who was born in 1886.  There are no women on the tree at all, a factor of the times perhaps, and also because it’s tracing the Hersey line.  Mayo is a family name from Mary's maternal family, and it shows up several times in the maternal side of her tree.

Here is the quilt owner's branch:

 The two branches share the patriarch William and his son John.  Then, the Melrose branch goes to the left with Daniel, an the owner's branch goes to the right with Peter... 

 ... John, Samuel, Caleb...

...Asa, Ezra, Charles...

.... and Charles W.  It is his wife, Jean, who made the rail fence quilt in 1998.

Charles W. is the father of the man who came to visit, grandfather of the quilt owner.  But Charles W. was born in 1924, after the date on the tree, when presumably it was drawn.  Squinting at Charles W.'s name, I began to see that he and his sibs had been written with a different pen and in a different hand.  And then I noticed a straight white edge around the area - that whole next generation was added later!

I love this photo!  This is my finger at the bottom pointing to the Melrose family, and the owner's finger at the top pointing to her grandfather.

When my quilt was made, in 1897, Mary Ives Hersey was living at 16 Vine St. in Melrose.  Her house is still standing!

And then, 120 years later, a distant cousin of Mary's is living in Illinois - and brings me a 20th century quilt, made almost exactly 100 years later, to repair!  Wowee zowee! This quilt is magical.  There is no other way to say it!


  1. I loved reading about all this! What a beautiful journey for the quilts, the quilt owners, and you!
    I am curious, where is the Melrose quilt going to live? I see you currently have it.

    1. Yes, the whole journey of this quilt has been amazing. So far, there is no definite plan for its future. I'm glad you enjoyed the stories!

    2. What an amazing story. Thank you for taking us on this journey.

  2. I like the way the white knots tied into it look like little pearls from a distance, part of the decoration. This makes me want to make another quilt.

    1. You're right, Christie, they do look like pearls. What a great idea! It's not a difficult block to make, hint, hint. I made a small 3-block version and wrote my ancestors' names on it. But I just yarn tied it, like the original. Next time....maybe pearls!

  3. I also have ties to this tree as I am descended from the following branch William, William, William, Joseph, James, James(Revolutionary War) Samuel, Samuel (Homesteaded in Illinois) Thomas Arthur (Homesteaded in Dakota Territory, Thomas Talcott Hersey (My Grandfather and last Generation on tree) Then my Father William Hersey and Me Marion(Mick) Hersey. Wonderful Memories of a Great family!!

    1. Hi, Mick! How wonderful! Honestly, the connections and stories embodied in just this one quilt are astonishing. Thanks so much for writing in. I can put you in touch with the person I wrote about here if you'd like. You could email me your email address. (annquilts at comcast dot net) But in any case...wow!!!