November 15, 2016

Researching Joy's Quilt

We introduced you to Joy Swartz and her red and white quilt in our last post.  Lynda is still researching the names that appear on the quilt and trying to find out enough about the people named to discover their stories.  Meanwhile, we would like to share with you some of the challenges of this kind of research.

Block inscribed with a decorative branch and the name of Susan Hoydsicke (?).  All
photographs by Lynda Salter Chenoweth unless cited otherwise.
Often, the first challenge one discovers is badly faded or illegible writing.  Without being able to transcribe the names on an inscribed quilt, the kind of information one can discover is greatly reduced.  Joy's quilt has, for the most part, clearly written or stamped names and, since the quilt has never been used or washed, almost all of the names are easy to read.  Where this isn't the case, it is mainly due to ink smudges or to migration which renders part of the name unreadable.  An interesting aspect (still needing research) of some of the blocks on Joy's quilt is the application of some sort of substance (perhaps bee's wax?) over the names to protect them from deterioration and fading. [Note:  One reader has suggested that the substance may have been placed on the fabric to provide an easier writing surface and is, in fact, under the signature.]  If any of you out there are familiar with this practice, please comment on this post and tell us what you know!
Block with a substance applied over the inked name to protect it.  This photograph
courtesy of Susan W. Greene.
A second challenge pertains to census records.  Census takers in the nineteenth century moved from house to house along a street or rural road, knocking on doors and asking the inhabitants to tell them who lived in the residence.  The head of household, usually a man, was recorded first by the census taker who wrote down what he heard.  It is common to find the same last name of a family spelled three or four different ways over census years, depending on how the census taker "heard" it and how he chose to spell what he heard.  For example, while doing the research for Lynda's book Philena's Friendship Quilt: A Quaker Farewell to Ohio, Lynda found members of the Hambleton family listed in census records as Hamilton, Hammelton and Hamildon.  Census record searches, as well as other Internet searches, are done by name and, if you are not finding people, you have to try different possible spellings of the last name and see what pops up.  In the case of Joy's quilt, Lynda has found in census records over time three different spellings of the name Faringer which appears seven times on the quilt.  These spellings are Ferringer, Fehringer, and Farringer.
Stamped block bearing the name Eliza H. Faringer.
A third challenge to identifying the people named on inscribed quilts is the nineteenth century tradition of naming members of each generation after a prior one.  This is especially true in the case of Quaker quilts.  Also, people tended to marry people from their communities and their distant family members (such as cousins) so last names were also passed on along with given names.  Figuring out which of many Eliza Faringers, for example, is the one named on Joy's quilt requires the knowledge of critical dates that separate generations.  One of the blocks that addresses an Eliza in verse displays a date of 1848.  The only other date inscribed on the quilt is 1857.
A date provided as part of an inscription can give an indication of the time frame in which a person may have lived. This can be misleading, however, because members of the Religious Society of Friends as well as other quilt makers often inscribed on their quilts the names of beloved family members who had passed away, along with the year of their death.  One example of this was a block inscribed "Whitson Cooper" with the date 1835 in Philena's quilt.  Whitson was her father who had died eighteen years before her quilt was made and dated in 1853.  
Block inscribed Susanna Douglas, Germantown, 1857.
A further challenge is determining the geographical locations of people named on a quilt when that location is not provided as part of the inscription.  Geographical location is the key to many Internet data bases that may provide information about the surroundings and history of the places where they lived, as well as their participation in civic, political, religious and other community activities.  If only a few of the quilt blocks indicate locations, these have to serve as the clues followed to find the geographical locations of others who are named on the quilt. Inscribed friendship quilts usually provide documentation of the people closest to the quilt recipient or quilt maker.  They will be generally from the same community, church group, or family groups.  In the case of Joy's quilt, Lynda is searching for information about the people in the areas of Philadelphia and nearby communities.  We'll see how well she does!
A block bearing the name of Martha Crout from Philadelphia.  Note the chain stitching that affixes
the red fabric to the block.
Again, our thanks to Joy Swartz for letting us explore what stories are to be told by her unique quilt.
(C)  Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2016.



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