June 23, 2017

A Fictitious Detective Story: The Completely Made-Up Case of Elma's Quilt Blocks

This is a tale of pure fiction, yet one that presents an opportunity to share some pictures of pretty, historical quilt blocks.  We also hope it will provide a little entertaining instruction for researching historical Quakers.
Recently, Mary was given a set of twenty, nine X nine inch, unfinished quilt top blocks.  According to the gift giver, the blocks were purchased from a dealer about twenty years ago.  At that time, the dealer explained that the previous owner lived in Ohio, and that the pattern was called "Losses and Crosses."
One of the blocks is marked by a faint name, inscribed in pencil.  Another has what looks like a manufacturer's mark "49".
Much like some actors who develop their characters by asking questions as "who, what, where, when  and why", we can approach even simple objects in the same way.
1.  WHO made the (WHAT) unfinished blocks?
The blocks contain one name, inscribed in pencil.  After examination under magnification, looking at a digital photograph, manipulating the photos to make it clearer, and tracing it to see if duplicating the process of the original inscriber shed light on the name, the name was still unclear.  Even if we could decipher the name, it would not mean that that person made the blocks.  The name could indicate an intended recipient, or . . .   We just don't know. But we can PRETEND the name indicates a maker, and that (since our blog is about Quaker quilts and history) that the maker was a member of the Religious Society of Friends.  We have chosen to call the mystery block maker "Elma Howel"  (with all of its various spellings). 
To find any historical Quaker, we like to begin with William Wade Hinshaw.  (See our Hinshaw's Records tab at the top of the page.)  If you do not have access to Hinshaw's records, they can be found in hardbound volumes at some libraries and also accessed on www.ancestry.com for the price of a short term subscription.
Ancestry access is provided by scrolling down to the bottom of ancestry's  drop-down menu under "SEARCH" and clicking on "Card Catalog."  Once that page opens, an entry of "Quaker" in the "TITLE" field pulls up numerous listings including Hinshaw's Encyclopedia of American Quaker Geneaology.  Hold this thought for a moment.
2.  WHERE did the blocks come from?
The blocks' oral history is that they were purchased from someone who lived in Ohio.  Hmmmmm.  That hardly narrows things down but let's PRETEND that is where the maker lived at some point in her life.
Now, back to ancestry.com.  After finding the list of Quaker records, we see Hinshaw's Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy, Vol. IV, (Ohio).  After clicking on that link, we enter the surname "Howel" and after examining several entries on the returned list, we end up on page 687.  According to records of the Salem Monthly Meeting: On 1830, 8, 25, Elma Howel (formerly Cadwalader) was "dis" [disowned] for "mcd" [marrying contrary to discipline].
Now we can search ancestry's Public Member Trees for clues, although to make a positive identification requires much more meticulous, time-consuming research.  Continuing on our fictional journey, the first name to pop up when searching Public Member Trees by name is Elma Cadwalader.  This Elma was the first of seven children born to Jonah and Ann (Catel) Cadwalader who appear in Quaker records from Pennsylvania and Virginia.  Elma married Elias Howell on 17 November 1829, just months before Elma Howel (Howell) was disowned for "marrying contrary to discipline."  (Disownment events were normally recorded by Monthly Meetings some time after the "transgression" occurred.)  Later, in 1854, Elma's membership in the Religious Society of Friends was reinstated, with permission of the Salem Monthly Meeting, by the Alum Creek Monthly Meeting in Ohio.
Elma was born in Pennsylvania in 1800 and died in Ohio in 1870, eight years after the death of her husband.  To research more about this very real person, we would then explore her name, cross-referencing it with birth/marriage/death dates and the names of her relations in census data, social histories, and other records.
As we begin to place any name in relationship to others, a portrait begins to emerge which, in turn, can allow us to IMAGINE quilts in their original place and time.
3.  WHEN were the blocks made?
Research by the person who gave the blocks to Mary suggests their fabrics date ca. 1860-1880.  Since the fabrics, thread, and style fit this time frame, we can PRETEND this is an accurate time frame, pending further research.
On page 176 of her Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns, Barbara Brackman lists the following names for pattern #1316a: Double X #2, Fox and Geese, Bow Tie Variation, Goose and Goslings, and Crosses and Losses.  This last is the last name the previous owner used for the pattern but we do not know what the original maker called it.
4.  WHY were the blocks made and why was the quilt never finished?
The dealer sold the pieces as "Civil War" blocks although some later fabrics suggest that at least some of the blocks were made after the Civil War.  Was this a quilt being made for an event that never happened?  Was it abandoned because the maker had other priorities, became ill, or even passed away?  Had something happened to the intended recipient?
Despite becoming slightly attached to dear Elma, we must conclude by admitting we know almost nothing about the true history of these blocks.  However, we can definitely say that we are glad these relics of the past survived.
Special thanks:  Karen Colley and to members of the Facebook groups "Quilts-Vintage and Antique" and "Antique Signature Quilts."
Ancestry.com Quaker meeting records and Public Member Trees.
(c)  Lynda Salter Chenoweth and Mary Holton Robare, 2017.