Saturday, July 27, 2013

Who Were These Lady Quilters?

    I've started on a new tangent very interesting project.  About 15 years ago I bought an antique quilt at an auction near Utica, NY.  I was drawn to this particular quilt because it's a signature quilt, the ladies who collaborated on this quilt each signed a block.  Signature quilts were often made by church groups for a minister, for fundraisers or when a family was leaving the area as a memento.  This quilt has no inscription of dedication or any other evidence of what it's purpose was, and no indication of where or when it was made. The thing is humongous and has a square cutaway on each side for where the foot posts would have gone. This morning I thought, wouldn't it be fun to try and trace some of these women and perhaps discover where my quilt was made and what year?
     When I first acquired the quilt I made a halfhearted attempt to find the quilters.  I went through some microfilmed censuses at the local library but found no clues as to their identities.  Now however, we have indexed census records, so this should be a snap I thought.  The first step would be deciphering the names, the second, trying to assign an approximate date to the quilt.

"Mifs" M. Leighton's Signature
     The names were fairly easy to read, but not very informative--  "Mrs. J. Brown", try a census search on that name, there are thousands!  And is J her initial or her husband's? The single ladies at least gave their own initials which was slightly more helpful.  They also prefaced their names with, "Mifs", the old style of writing the title "Miss", except for one progressive woman, "Miss S. J. Ricker", who signed in the more modern way.  This was helpful with dating the quilt, as was the pink on pink fabric.  I decided to start my search with the 1900 census.

     I quickly discovered the magnitude of this task.  With surnames like Cook, Campbell and Wilson, and only a first initial in most cases I came to the conclusion this would take months to figure out unless I ran out of patience first.  Then I came to Mrs. T. McGouldrick.  The 1900 census shows 96 persons with that surname, 72 of them in Pennsylvania, including several with the forename Thomas.  1910 still finds the family concentrated in PA.  There is a Mrs. Myra Allen, another name on one of the blocks, living in Pittsburgh at the same time as a Thomas McGouldrick lived there.  Quite a few of the other surnames also show up in Pittsburgh, and add in the 1910, and still more are there.

     I'm not ready to say the quilt was absolutely made in Pittsburgh, but the chances are good which goes to show, sometimes that one clue can make all the difference, as in the instance of Mrs. T. McGouldrick.


  1. Hi Ellie,

    If this quilt was made in Pittsburgh, then I'm almost certainly a descendant of the "Mrs. T. McGouldrick." I just tried sending you an e-mail @glindagood56. If this is no longer your address, would you mind reaching out to me at

  2. Got your email, will be sending the photo!