Finding history in the most unusual places

I was looking for something to read one night when I was home for Christmas and came across this book. I have really become interested in quilts since I first discovered Jennifer Chiaverini’s Elm Creek series. These novels set in the current day, but with strong historical themes, provide an easy to read and rich history of quilts.


I was fascinated by the way the author pulled together a story about individual women  involved in the Mormon migrations from the quilt(s) that they made. In the introduction she explains that she wants to tell the story of women using material culture. This is relatively new field of study focusing on the study of the role and meaning of historical physical items, such as quilts, that still survive. Cross carefully defines the qualifications for inclusion in her study, without any preconceived notions of which items will be included. Inclusion criteria included traceable history of the quilt from when it was made to the present, as well as the time periods and activities in which a woman must have been involved in with the Mormon church and migrations in the 19th century.

The most interesting part of the book is how she studies each quilt and the woman who made it. She gives the name of the quilt pattern, along with a brief history of the pattern and any distinct characteristics of the quilt. A photograph of each quilt is included. She then gives a brief history of the woman who made it.

While none of my ancestors are highlighted in the book, by reading through the biographies of the women and histories of the quilts, I am able to get a strong sense of what it was like to be a female Mormon pioneer in the 19th century. The photos and description of the quilts provide a reminder that this was a real person, not just a name and date on a piece of paper, that made these.

How have you used material culture historical studies in your genealogical research?

Heritage Wall

I went to my parent’s house for Christmas. I love their heritage wall. They have so many heritage items up that I needed 2 pictures to get it all. The heritage wall is in their kitchen so they get to see it multiple times per day.

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The pictures on the left feature my dad’s heritage and background. There is a picture of his grandfather, my dad and my dad’s younger sister. My dad was very close to his grandfather and as he was growing up he spent a lot of time helping out his grandfather on the ranch. The ranch heritage is represented with the cowboy hat, spurs and other memorabilia. The girl in the red blanket is Rhoda, the younger sister of his third-great grandmother. Rhoda was the last person in the Martin and Willie company to die–just a day before they came into Salt Lake. Rhoda and her family crossed the plains in 1856 and their entire company was caught in early severe winter weather in Wyoming. Just to the right of and under Rhoda is a photo of Charles Price. He married Rhoda’s sister. He was the minister of a congregation in England and when he heard the Mormon missionaries in the 1840s he and most of his congregation joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Further to the right are the Ellis Island backgrounds of both my mother and father’s surnames. In the middle is a large collage of images from Mormon pioneers crossing the plains. Almost all of my ancestors on both sides crossed the plains in covered wagons or handcarts to get to Salt Lake. Only my mom’s grandfather came later with his family (in the 1890s). In the bottom right are Timothy and Mary Jane Done on my mother’s side.

Have you thought about doing something like this in your home? It is a great conversation starter and a way to display your heritage.