Thursday, November 19, 2009

Researching Signature Quilts

Photo taken July 2006 in Marion, Indiana at the annual Quilters Hall of Fame Celebration. The Minatel brothers above meet my 1941-42 Navy Signature Quilt for the first time. Although their names appear on this quilt, the brothers didn't know of the quilt's existence until I discovered them in Indiana as I was researching the names on the quilt. One brother was old enough to serve during the WWII era. They assume their father or his friend added their names to the quilt because they recognized the name of two of their father's friends on the same block that bears their names.

The allure of Signature quilts is irresistable. They are so embedded with history! It is juat one of the reasons I volunteered to serve on the Signature Quilt Pilot Project Team for the Quilt Index the past three years.

It has been exciting to be a part of a team helping to make it possible for individuals to enter Signature Quilts into The Index. Click here to read our essay on Signature quilts.

Special thanks goes to the Salser Family Foundation for supporting a specific focus on the QI pilot project of public object submissions; to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (which is supporting the development of public object submissions to the Quilt Index); and to the members of the American Quilt Study Group listserv for sparking the conversation that led to the present convergence in spring 2009. Up until now, only large collections who could rasie the funds have been entered into the Index.

My Personal Signature Quilt Research

My first two purchased antique Signature quilts took place in 2000. The Navy-related one was found at a large antique show in Chantilly, VA in January. The New York Album-style quilt was found at the Howard County Maryland Fairgrounds Antique Show late March 2000. I was so excited I quickly transcribed the 42 signatures and started googling. Genealogy-focused websites are also a great place to start.

My first guess for dating this quilt (based on the fabrics in the quilt) was that it may have been made somewhere between 1860 and 1875. One of two things could help me prove this: genealogical research or finding a quilt with a stitched or written date on it that included some of the same fabrics.

First Steps: Transcribing Names Using Grid Format and Phtographing the Quilt

Above is a scan of a photo I took in 2001.
The colors are actually quite distorted.

You can easily create a grid using preprinted paper 
or by creating one on your computer.

Click on the photos to see a larger version. 
Double click and you can get an even closer view.

The second photo was taken recently indoors. I always take with and without flash so that I can compare the two to the quilt.

Photographing My Quilt

One of the hardest things for me to do is to get true color when photographing indoors. Living here in the PNW, I seldom have sunshine to work with after October when I want to shoot outdoors. And of course everyone's computer monitor can have its own funky interpretation of color as well.

Perhaps the most important lesson I have learned is to have the right camera and lighting to start with and to photograph each block in order and to label each photo as soon as I upload it into my computer.

(green block without flash_Annie Evans-7b)

(same green block with flash_Annie Evans-7b)

Lighting and the ability to zoom in on a signature is the most challenging aspect for me. I finally discovered that an Ott light often works best to give the right lighting. My flash washed some signatures out yet no flash would often create too many shadows due to the quilting.

However, in this particular green example, the signature was dark enough to begin with that you can read it in either photo when you click and enlarge. The actual green my eye sees is somewhere in between these two on the screen, but does lean a little more towards a yellow-green rather than a blue-green.

Becoming a Quilt Detective

The three geographical references on this quilt are NYC, NY, and what I thought at first was "Madison City." I began by looking on a New York State map and found Madison County and Madison, but not a Madison City.

How easy it is to mis-remember clues in a quilt unless you photograph it block by block and keep the photos handy each time you resume research.

I shared the quilt at a local guild meeting within the month. The next day a member called to tell me that her husband had some roots in Madison County, New York, and she gave me a Web site address for cemetery records. I found five of the family surnames on a Civil War soldiers casualty list of Madison County, but none of the first names matched.

Always Take a Careful Second Look in Order to
Double-Check Your Notes

I soon posted inquiries to various local historians listed on the Madison City website. One librarian responded that the town of Madison had never been called Madison City. She thought I ought to go look at the handwriting on the quilt again, which I did. This time I used a magnifying glass. Sure enough, it wasn't Madison City, it was HUDSON City.

I subsequently learned that the current city of Hudson was once called Hudson City. It was south of Madison and much closer to New York City.

The Geographic Clues Begin to Line Up
Right Down the Hudson River

In January 2001 I contacted RootsWeb, one of the major genealogy websites at that time, and asked the editor of their newsletter if she would be interested in a short article about my two new Signature quilts. She was quite amenable to the idea and I received a number of responses once the story appeared. However, none of them were exact matches to the people on the quilt.

As my life became consumed with my work at The Quilters Hall of Fame, I set aside my research on my Signature quilts for several years.

Big Break in Research in Spring of 2008

In March 2008 a descendant of the Weightman family on this quilt got in touch with me. Tiffany just happened to come across the article I posted on a New York genealogical website in 2004. She has now helped me indentify and connect 27 people on this quilt. She feels that everyone on the quilt is somehow related by blood or marriage and continues to work on it. We are guessing the quilt was to commemorate a family event of some kind, possibly an elder's birthday or one family's move Westward to Ohio.

Creating a grid system always helps.
I have learned a lot as I have worked on this quilt.

Henry Everett - Row 6b on the grid above.

Here is a list of names in alpha order with the block location beside each name. The numerical represents the horizontal rows and the alpha represents the vertical row. So 1a would appear in the upper left hand corner of the quilt and so on. This quilt has 7 horizontal rows and 6 vertical rows and measures 92" tall and 80" wide.

The information within the parens in the list below is what Tiffany has helped me prove to date.

2b ...Adams, William
3b ...Adams, Myra - Hudson City
3d ...Adams, Anne C. (dau of William and Caroline Evans)
4a ...Adams, Thomas (husb. of Anne C.)
5a ...Adams, Edward F. (son of Thomas & Anne C.)
5b ...Adams, Mary Adelaide (dau of Thomas & Anne C.)
7a ...Adams, Eva (dau of Thomas & Anne C.)

2d ...Anthony, John
5f ...Anthony, Abigail

4f ...Brown, Myra -----NYC
6c ...Brown, Sarah ----NY

1a ...Evans, Frank E. (son of Jacob and Carrie L.)
1d ...Evans, Willie
1e ...Evans, Jacob (husb. Of Carrie L.)
1f ...Evans, George W. (b. 3 Oct 1866-Brooklyn) (husb. of Kati)
3e ...Evans, Caroline C. (mother of Annie E. Weightman)
3f ...Evans, Kati (wife of George W. Evans)
6e ...Evans, Nathaniel (son of Kati & George W. Evans)
7c ...Evans, Martha R.
7e ... Evans, Annie
7d ...Evans, Carrie L. (wife of Jacob Evans)
4d ... Evans, William (father of Annie E. Weightman)

6b ...Everett, Henry
4c ...Everett, Rebecca
6a ...Grandmother Galina

Walton Ruggles (2f on grid)

2f ...Ruggles, Walton
5d ...Ruggles, George
6d ...Ruggles, Jamie
7b ... Ruggles, Simon
7d ...Ruggles, Elizabeth

1c ...Shanks, Naomie (b. Naomie Scudder m. to William)
3a ...Shanks, William (m. to Naomi)
4b ...Shanks, Sarah (possibly a dau. of Naomie & William)

1b ...Smeaton, David D. (son of William & Harriet)
2c ...Smeaton, Douglas P. (son of William & Harriet)
*2e ...Smeaton, William (husb of Harrie L.) (research indicates had initial 'P' like son)
5c ...Smeaton, Willie H. (son of William & Harriet)

5e ...Smeaton, Harriet L. (wife of William P.) (she may be a Shanks)

*(Numerous articles in the New York Times archives about William P. Smeaton. He was a school teacher and he gave testimony in court proceedings upon the brutal murder inn 1860 of his mother-in-law a Mrs. Susan or Sarah Shanks—both first names were reported.)

3c ...Stanhope John

2a ...Weightman, Annie E. (maiden name EVANS. b. Nov 1842. Died 1 Spt 1911)
4e ...Weightman, George (b. 23 July 1843 NYC) (research shows middle initial 'W')
6f ...Weightman, Mary E. (Mary Elizabeth was born 1866)

(More children in this Weightman family later but next child not born until 1870 and is not included on this quilt, nor is the one born in 1873 and 1874. Perhaps this could help us penpoint the date of this quilt since it bears no date of its own.)

All 42 Blocks of New York Signatuure Quilt

Click on each photo to enlarge so that you can see the details of the fabrics.








The research will continue on this quilt until we have identified everyone on the quilt and confirmed a common connection, if it exists.

This quilt is now a part of The Quilt Index's Signature Quilt Pilot Project. You can see it at The Index here.


1) "Friendship Quilts"Precious Remerances" by Judy Anne Breneman

2) "Album Quilts" by Laurette Carroll (lots of photos)

3) "Antique Signature and Album Quilt Types" by Kimberly Wulfert

4) "Friendship Signature Quilt Top, Signed and Dated, 1910 - 1916" by Kimberly Wulfert
Lots of close up pictures of a variety of signature types as well as an invitation to help locate the people who have signed one of the quilts.

5) "Signature Quilts" by Xenia Cord

6) "Signature Quilt Workshop Leads the Way for Future Researchers" by Patricia L.Cummings

7) "Signature Quilts/Album Quilts/Friendship Quilts"

8) Black gospel music being preserved thru fund raiser Signature quilt


1) Wisconscin Historical Society Signature Quilts on-line

2) Lubec Historical Society - an 1889 Signature quilt

Bruce County Military History - Signature quilts of WW I

3) Australian National Pioneer Women's Hall of Fame Signature quilt project

4) Elgin County Museum in St. Thomas - "Elgin Beat: Signature Quilts - Community Patterns" by Dave Ferguson

5) Historical Society of Talbot County Album quilt with list of names, Easton, MD

6) Clay County Historical Society Signature quilt, Moorehead MN

7) Three Iowa Signature Quilts


"The Signature Quilt: Traditions, Techniques and Signature Block Collection" by Pepper Cory

"Keepsake Signature Quilts" by Sally Saulmon

"PHILENA’S FRIENDSHIP QUILT: A Quaker Farewell to Ohio" by Lynda Salter Chenoweth


  1. Thanks so much for sharing! ~ a friend in our guild found blocks and finished the quilt ~ it sparked our curiosity and we've started our own blog after trying to research the names!

  2. Congratulations on getting started on what looks to be your first Signature Quilt research project! How wise you are to start a blog so that you can share your discoveries. This could possibly enable others doing genealogical research on the same family names to discover your research via the Internet and add to your story! Good luck and ENJOY the hunt! KarenQuilt