Friday, October 23, 2009

A family historian’s gold mine……..

As I left the restroom of the Nine Mile United Methodist church it took a few minutes for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. I could see the light from the stairway, leading to the exit I would use, but in the shadow to the right of the exit way I could see something else. Something hanging on the wall it seemed. As I got closer, I could see that a beautiful blend of fabrics were used to create a wonderful hand made quilt. I was simply astonished to find it here of all places. I just had to find the light so I could get a closer look.

My father had encouraged me to learn to sew when I was a child. He had 6 kids and it was not easy to keep us in clothes especially the 4 girls! So he promised us that he would provide us with fabric if we learned how to sew. And we did, all of us. The sewing machine was rarely quiet.  And he kept his promise and kept us in fabric until the day he died.  In recent years I had started to quilt so to find this quilt made me really get excited.

I felt my way around the room until I found a switch and I flipped it on. Turning to look at the quilt, I was truly amazing. Chills ran up and down my spine and the hair stood on the back of my neck as I moved closer to the quilt so I could get a better look at it. It was just a few years shy of 100 years old and in very good condition considering its age. It is a Crazy Quilt pattern made by the Ladies Aid society in 1906.

Suddenly I realized that this might be the most important clue that I could have found today. The most amazing thing is that each piece of fabric had a church member’s name embroidered on it. “Could this tell me if I had family members here?” I thought. I could barely contain myself. I really need to get back on the road toward Chicago but some how I had to capture these names, just in case there was a Smith on it! I grabbed my camera and started to snap pictures.

I very carefully zoomed in and photographed each block starting at the top row and worked my way from left to right. Twenty blocks later I reluctantly had to leave but I knew that I would be back, I just knew it!

I was so excited on my drive home. I thought I would never get there all I could think about was the names on the quilt. How many were there? How are they related to me if at all? As I drive and sorted this out in my head I decided, even if there was not a single relative on the quilt it was still a huge find for the Nine Mile Area. Just think of how many people this actually places in the area in 1906. Even though I had only been doing my family history for a short year or two, I knew that this was a huge find.

When I got home, I raced into the house and powered up my PC. I would work until the wee hours of the morning uploading pictures and looking at all the names. It would take me most of the week to transcribe them. Some of the names were difficult to read but that is OK because it just means that I will need to return for a visit again in the future. There are 295 names on the quilt. I have in the years since this discovery spent many winter nights investigating the people whose names appear on this quilt. It will be a few more years before I will have gathered all the information that I need to put the story on paper. While I am not related to most of them, because of my investigation I feel like I know them. These people have continued to build the church which my family and 8 other families started in 1853.

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