November 15, 2018

Melrose History Quilt, December 2018


Way back in spring 2015, I received a query for information on repairing an inscribed quilt.  And as they say, the rest is history.

Just for fun, I looked up some of the names on, and the owner ended up deciding to leave the quilt with me so I could fully research it.  That was magic #1.  My research points to Melrose, MA, as its home, and 1897-8 for its creation.  See History Comes to Life on a Quilt on this blog, to read lots more details about the quilt and about Melrose.  At the bottom of this post are links to the whole set of posts about this amazing saga.

Magic #2 was receiving an order for my book from Alanna Nelson who lives right there in Melrose.  Magic #3 is that she is an avid quilter and knitter and event planner.

So for the last several years, I've been continuing the research, with the help of a Melrose librarian and contact with some of the family members and descendants, and Alanna has been creating a celebration focused on this quilt.  Oh, and I also did finally do the repair work.  Soon I'll be taking the quilt there, and participating in two weekends of events!

You can read about these upcoming events on the Melrose History Quilt website.  And down at the bottom of the home page, you'll find a space to sign up for the newsletter to keep you abreast of the plans.

I'll be there on Saturday December 1, Friday December 7, and Saturday December 8.  During the intervening week, I'll be in New Hampshire visiting family, and holding a workshop/get together on December 3.  You can contact me for details about that.  The quilt will be on display in Melrose on the other Saturdays in December, but I'll be coming back home.

In preparation, I've been solidifying all my lists.  I also wrote to people who have public trees for these families on Ancestry (where I've done the bulk of my researching).  Several people responded with some wonderful stories, some gorgeous family photos (a few of which are included below), and some new info, through which I've identified a few more people.  Here are the "final-for-now" results.

There are 227 names on the quilt.  I have located information on 184 of those people, and there are 43 that I couldn't find.  The quantity of information ranges from family contacts with stories and photos, to many links to census pages and other records (marriage, death, enlistments), to nothing more than a one-line entry in a Melrose directory.

The quilt was likely a fundraising project.  All the names are written by the same hand, so it is not a signature quilt.  Fundraiser quilts are known from this time and other decades.  People paid to have their name included, and then usually there was also an auction or raffle to sell the quilt in the end.  Often, date, place, and event are also included on the quilt, but not in this case.  Town histories include the incorporation of Melrose as a city and a renovation of the Methodist Episcopal Church around this time.

As I try to narrow in on the date that the quilt was made, I'm realizing that there will likely never be anything more definite that a range, unless some new source comes to light that actually describes the quilt and tells why and when it was made.  For one thing, there probably was a year or so during which the quilt was being made, and the names list may or may not have been updated during that process.  Also, for example, people may not have donated to have brand new infants added or may have added names to the quilt in memoriam. 

I'm pretty sure that names of new infants and married surnames of women couldn't have been entered on the quilt before the events happened.  The latest such incontrovertible dates on the quilt are the birth of Grace Everson on March 21, 1897, and a fairly large gap until the marriage of William and Jennie Howes on June 28, 1898.  In that gap though, there are three marriages and two births that transpired in families that are named on the quilt.  But those new infants and married names are not written, in fact one of the new brides is written with her maiden name next to her husband-to-be.  So I'm assuming that their names were put on a list before the wedding.  There is no indication of births or deaths that happened later on in 1898 or in 1899.

I'm hoping to see lots of New England friends and family while I'm there.  And I'm hoping to meet new friends, too!

Part 1 describes the quilt and the initial research.  Part 2 details how I narrowed down the dates, and relates some of the interesting family stories I began finding.  Part 3 tells the story of the Phinney, Dyer, and Hersey families.  Part 4 has general observations on life in the late 1890s.   Part 5 sums up my research.  Part 6 shares the first information from librarians and historians in Melrose.  I wrote a little aside about the fun of being able to look at original records online.  And, since the quilt did initially come to me for repair, and I did eventually stop reading census forms and do the repair work, and wrote up the techniques and choices involved.  And then I went back to the research, and continued to find lots of great information.  After the events, I described the homecoming experience and the exhibits, and wrote about the little quilt I made that was displayed in Melrose.  A set of summaries of the data and stories that brought the quilt to life.  And a very astonishing coincidence with another quilt and a family tree.  I was given a photo of one of the people named on the quilt. 


  1. This has been a fascinating read. Once I started, I couldn't stop reading! Not only are you a gifted quilt restorer, but also researcher, historian and to be able to put it all in writing and make it so interesting takes talent. It would be interesting to see if some of the buildings in the book you put a link to still exists and also would be interested in seeing what the scenic views look like today (e.g., The Cleft Boulder on page 129. Thank you so much for sharing and look forward to updates.

    1. Sorry for the delay, but I just discovered your lovely comment. Apparently, I'm no longer getting the email notices of comments coming in...

      Thanks for the kind words! It was an amazing project all around.

      Check out one of the other posts I wrote:
      While I was in Melrose with the quilt, I walked around some, on a super cold December afternoon, and found some of the houses where folks named on the quilt had lived. It was super exciting! I didn't get a chance to check out all the addresses, so I'm hoping some of the locals will get to it one day.

  2. Very interesting- amazing what you can learn from a quilt. Makes us remember the importance of labels.

    1. Hi, Lois -
      Sorry for the delay, but I just discovered your lovely comment. Apparently, I'm no longer getting the email notices of comments coming in...

      Yes, hooray for people who sign and date their quilts! Historians of the future will be sooooo happy. :-)