April 22, 2021

Antique Photo from Melrose, MA

A few years ago, I did a lot of research on a quilt with many names inscribed.  It seems to be fund-raising quilt, and was made in Melrose, MA, in 1897 or 8.  The information and connections made via this quilt just keep on coming...

You can read about the quilt, the research process, and the results - there are 14 blog posts - starting here, if you want to read through the whole process step by step.  There also is a summary of the process, a description of my adventures taking the quilt "home" to Melrose, and downloadable sets of data that I collected.  

But wait - now there's more!

A month or so ago, I was contacted by a man who'd found a signed photo of Edith Kimball (Dorchester).  He mostly looks for photos of his ancestors, but when he finds photos that identify the people in them, he also tries to reunite the photos with the families.  A noble and wonderful goal! 

He contacted me via Ancestry, where I had built family trees as part of my research process, and where I contacted people who'd made family files to let them know about my project.  I've gotten some wonderful responses, including great photos and stories, but none from Edith's family.  He decided to send the photo to me anyway, and I will keep trying to find her family.  If nothing else, I will add the photo to the info I have, and it will travel with the quilt to wherever it goes next.  

Here she is:  Edith Kimball.  The photo was taken in 1890.  She was 20 years old.  She lived in Boston. 

I know that she married Chester O. Dorchester in 1892, and that they had 4 children.  Their names and the names of their son Chester (b.1893) and daughter Alice (b.1896) are written on the quilt.  This was one of the facts that helped me figure out when the quilt was probably made - between the births of Alice and their third child Kenneth (b.1899). 

Her father-in-law, Daniel Dorchester, was a minister.  After he was widowed and retired, he lived with Chester and Edith and their children in Boston.  There are several ministers named on the quilt.  A few but not all were present or past ministers at the Melrose Methodist Episcopal Church.  Not all were residents of Melrose, and I wouldn't be surprised if some were ministers in other neighboring churches.  

Coincidentally - and the research story for this quilt is chock full of coincidences - I recently started following the Melrose Historical Commission on Instagram.  They had just posted about using old maps as research tools.  They illustrate with a few closeups of the kind of maps I saw when I visited the Melrose Library.  And lo and behold, the area they coincidentally chose to show has property owned (on maps drawn in 1875, 1889, and 1906) by various people named Kimball.  I poked around a bit to see if I could find a connection between these names and Edith, but so far, nothing has showed up.  But there is a likely connection, don't you think?  Tantalizing in any case!

Here's the inscription on the back of the photo:
Christmas Greeting - from Edith Kimball

I really enjoy seeing the faces of people on the quilt, since I feel like I've come to know them a little bit.  It's fun to read between the lines on the census forms and puzzle out what life might have been like for them at the end of the 19th century.  

Previous posts about this quilt:
Part 1
describes the quilt and the initial research.  Part 2 details how I've narrowed down the dates, and relates some of the interesting family stories I've been 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've written 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.  And also, a summary on the occasion of the exhibit about the quilt, December 2018, in Melrose.  After the events, I described the homecoming experience and the exhibits, and wrote about the little quilt I made that was inspired by the historical quilt.  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. One quilt uniting so many stories - I'm so grateful you attract these tidbits that bring the past to life. Keep it up!

    1. I'm grateful, too, Alanna. It's something I never expected. Big thanks to the internet - I can't imagine this all happening any other way. And thanks to you for helping make the project real and helping me bring the quilt to Melrose. One of my best adventures!!

  2. Fascinating quilt history! And I love the bold red and white geometry of the quilt itself, too.

    1. Yes, a wonderful quilt all 'round.