In January 2009, my Aunt Jeannie sent me an antique quilt that had belonged to my Grandma Coriell.
The quilt, entitled “Sunburst” per a label stitched in one corner of the quilt top, is a hand-pieced, hand-quilted “scrap” quilt, approximately 75″ x 77″ (roughly queen-sized). (Scrap quilts usually involve lots of small pieces and use up “leftovers” from other projects, and usually have a lot more “randomness” and variety than non-scrap quilts.)
Although my grandmother did make quilts, we knew that she had not made this one. We knew because the quilt was “signed” by someone else—a woman named Ida M. Grady. It was also dated 1934, which, talented as my grandmother was with all things sewing-related, was probably a little early for her to have made a queen-sized quilt, as Grandma was 8 years old in 1934.
By way of explanation, Aunt Jeannie said: “I hope you can find a place for [this quilt] or pass it on—Grandma could tell you who Ida M. Grady is. I think a relation of your great-great-Aunt Louise…?”
Unfortunately, as often happens, I waited too long to ask Grandma about Ida M. Grady. Before I “got around to it” with wanting to figure out the mystery of this quilt, my Grandma died in June 2010. My Grandpa didn’t know who the woman was, and neither did my mother. I do have other older relatives I could ask, but I’m not close with them to the point of actually picking up the telephone to just ring them up and ask.
Plus, research (rather than people) is really more my thing anyway. So I decided to see whether I could figure out who Ida Grady was on my own using some of my favorite tools for genealogy and local history research.
So, I made a mental list of what I actually did know about the mysterious “Ida M. Grady”:
- Ida was definitely alive in 1934, and she was also most almost certainly an adult at that time, because she made this rather large quilt.
- Ida seems to have at least known, and possibly been related to, my grandmother’s family.
- Since my grandmother’s family has all lived in Portsmouth, Ohio, since pretty much the dawn of time (OK just since the mid-19th century), it seemed pretty likely that Ida Grady also lived in Portsmouth. It was a good place to start, at least.
So I searched the 1930 U.S. federal census records on Ancestry for an Ida Grady in Scioto County, Ohio.
There was one. Exactly one.
Ida M. Grady, age 67, wife of Joseph T. Grady (age 76). Residence, 1410 Offnere Street. (That is on the east side of Offnere, roughly across from Melcher Funeral Home, in the block just south of Greenlawn Cemetery.)
At first, I thought there might be some connection to my grandparents with regard to the geographic location, as they had lived only 1 block away (literally one block east) at 1326 Park Avenue for over 20 years. But they didn’t moved to Park until 1963. (And like I said, Grandma was only 8 years old in 1934.) Might they have known Ida as a neighbor or gotten the quilt at an estate auction? I don’t particularly know my grandparents to have ever attended any such thing, but it was a possibility of something they might have done, especially if it was happening right around the corner.
Then again, Ida would have been pretty old in 1963 if she was 67 in 1930. So maybe not her. Maybe a descendant who inherited the house? Then again, my grandmother had 7 children in 1963, not a lot of extra money, and the ability to make her own scrap quilts. I can’t really see her buying a random scrap quilt at an estate sale.
Obviously, I kept looking.
I found Joseph and Ida Grady again on the 1910 census, living at 1416 Offnere. (I wonder if this was really a different house, or if there census-taker made a mistake or if there was some address renumbering. If doesn’t really matter.)
In addition to Joseph and Ida, the household also included their adult daughter Pearl Zeisler and grandson Howard Zeisler.
Wait… Pearl Zeisler. I know that name. Why do I know that name? I’ve heard it before… I’ve seen it somewhere.
On a picture. I’ve seen it on the caption of a picture. This picture:
(Omigod, don’t you just love the look on her face?) The above photograph, from my Grandma Coriell’s collection (yes the same grandma who owned the quilt), is captioned as depicting Pearl Zeisler, along with several children from my grandmother’s extended family, in 1953. (I do have all the names — they’re on the photo caption — but in the interest of privacy, I won’t list them, though I will tell you that the part of the infant on the right was played by my mother.) According to my mother, this photograph was taken at the home of my grandmother’s father Oscar (apparently that chair is unmistakable). The children are (some of) Oscar’s grandchildren.
Finally! A link! I already knew that my grandmother’s family knew Pearl Zeisler—I have photographic evidence of it. And so now I have discovered that Pearl Zeisler’s mother was Ida Grady, the mystery-quilt-maker.
Now we’re getting somewhere.
Then I found the Grady family on the 1900 census. They lived on Offnere Street, but 4 blocks further south, at 1015 Offnere. (Man, these folks really loved Offnere Street.) That would have been on the west side of Offnere, just south of U.S. 52-east, where the road dips down for the railroad underpass, and where that little strip mall has been all my life (and now includes a Family Dollar store, apparently).
There were Joseph and Ida and their daughter Pearl, as well as another daughter named Nina.
But wait, what’s this…? Check out who’s living next-door at 1017 Offnere:
If you’re actually related to me, you probably recognize the names and you might be doing a little dance in your chair like I did. If you’re not, you are probably slightly befuddled (were you expecting a dead president or something?), so I’ll explain.
William and Katie Emnett are my great-great-grandparents. Their son, little George O. (George Oscar– everyone called him Oscar), age 5, was my great-grandfather. His daughter Sally Coriell was my grandmother, the one who owned the Ida Grady quilt that started this whole quest. Oscar’s sister Louise (also listed above) was the “great-great-aunt Louise” that Aunt Jeannie thought was somehow connected to this quilt…
So Ida Grady and my Emnett ancestors were neighbors. I suppose that probably explains how they knew one another. I suppose they might have known one another first and chosen to become neighbors (that happens! ask my husband). Actually, Joseph was a boilermaker, and William was a stove molder. I admit I’m not really sure what either of these entails, but they sound like they could be part of the same or at least related industries. (They certainly sound more similar than, say, a stove molder and a doctor.) Anyway, I’m wandering off into real speculation here, so let’s return to the facts.
At that point, I was content to believe that I had found the connection. I had certainly found a connection. The Gradys and the Emnetts were neighbors, so they must have known each other. (I even had cute little visions of Nina and Pearl Grady baby-sitting my great-grandfather and his siblings.) And at some point Ida Grady gave one of the Emnetts a quilt, which was eventually passed down to my grandmother.
So you’d think, “case closed,” right? I actually kind of did think the case was closed, but I was still sufficiently interested in this Grady family as to keep searching for more information on Ida. For instance, who were her parents?
I found her death certificate on FamilySearch — she actually died in May 1935 at age 72, only about a year after completing the quilt. The death certificate listed her parents as Alexander Dunkin and Elizabeth…well, it looked like Dunderpre to me, but that didn’t make much sense.
That just made me all the more determined to find other sources and find out what that funny-looking “D” word actually said.
Then I came across Ancestry member Karen Engleman’s online family tree, which included Alexander Duncan and his wife and their daughter Ida. (Without going into too much detail here about the parents, trust me, I did find some other things too, and this spelling of Ida’s mother’s name seems to check out.)
Ida’s mother was Elizabeth DeGear.
There’s that genealogist “spidey sense” tingling again. I know that name.
I clicked on Engleman’s tree listing Elizabeth DeGear’s parents. Peter DeGear and Catherine Hibsher. OK, now I know I’ve seen these names before. So I clicked down the list of Elizabeth’s siblings until I found one that was further familiar— Mary.
Mary DeGear and her husband Nicholas Gable. I know those two. It has been a while since I was knee-deep in much genealogy, so although the couple was ringing a major bell in my head, I still couldn’t place them.
(I was away from my main computer, with my genealogy software, at the time, so I couldn’t just call up these people in the family tree software and get the link right away.)
Children. Did Engleman list any children for Nicholas and Mary Gable? Ooh! They did! Just one on the list, but it was the one I needed to snap my brain into gear enough to solve the puzzle: George W. Gable.
George Washington Gable. I remember this guy.
He died youngish. Like 40. I remember thinking it was kind of funny that his wife Frances Adeline Ingles married another George W. afterwards. George W. Bonzo. (I’d be willing to bet his middle name was probably also Washington, but I never did learn for sure.)
And this second marriage prompted what in hindsight is kind of a funny story, but probably wasn’t at the time. When my grandparents were first married, my great-grandfather Oscar said to them (as the story goes) something along the lines, “You know you two probably shouldn’t have gotten married, as you both have Bonzos in your family tree…” (Initial mental reaction: A little late to tell us now, pops, don’t you think?) As it turns out, although my grandfather was descended from a Bonzo, my grandmother is not—she was descended from this Frances Adeline Ingles and her first husband George Gable, not her second who was George Bonzo. George Bonzo was no relation to my grandmother. But his wife was.
So, getting back to the point at hand, let’s regroup. What have I told you in a roundabout way? If Ida Grady’s mother was Elizabeth DeGear, and my grandma Sally Coriell (who had Ida’s quilt) was descended from Elizabeth’s sister Mary DeGear…….then…..Ida Grady was in fact a distant cousin of my grandmother’s.
Oh, but it gets better.
Ida was related to my grandmother’s MOTHER Ollie. Frances Adeline (Ingles) Gable Bonzo was Ollie’s grandmother. Ida and Frances were first cousins.
But the earlier connection I found was to my grandmother’s FATHER Oscar, who lived next-door to Ida when he was a boy.
So there was a double connection between Ida Grady and my grandmother, the owner of Ida’s 1934 Sunburst quilt.
Here, this should help (when in doubt, draw it out):
(A teeny, tiny, romantic part of me has gone so far as to wonder—not even speculate, but just wonder—if Ida Grady could have even been the link that caused Oscar and Ollie to meet. Ida’s cousins bring little Ollie to visit and she happens to meet little Oscar who lives next-door. And in 1921, she married him. Stranger things have happened. Oh if only I had any proof! What a great story that would make. And it would certainly up the significance of Ida Grady and her quilt to me, if I could truthfully say, “Without this woman, 100+ of my relatives would never have been born, myself included…” But….pure dreamy speculation.)
I know this has been a long, convoluted entry. It was a long, convoluted journey, and you didn’t even have to hear the things that were only in my head. (OK, who am I kidding? You have totally heard — er, read — most of them…)
But I want to wrap things up with a brief but coherent biography of Ida M. Grady, the woman who made the antique quilt that “started it all”—-as coherent a biography as I was able to piece together (no pun intended) from various sources — which I should really list here, but in the interest of space…—in general, the sources were local government records on Ancestry and FamilySearch, Ancestry user Karen Engleman’s family tree, Ida’s obituary from the Portsmouth Daily Times (thanks for emailing it to me, Portsmouth Public Library!), and some data from Find-A-Grave. With a few edits, this comes from the information sheet I wrote up and submitted with Ida’s quilt for the Wright State University Women’s Center quilt show last week:
Ida May Duncan was born June 11, 1862, in Portsmouth, Ohio. Her father Alexander Duncan, a Scottish immigrant, died of tuberculosis in 1872, leaving Ida’s mother Elizabeth with a teenage son and 3 little girls. In 1881, Ida married Joseph T. Grady, a boilermaker. Ida does not seem to have worked outside the home; her occupation is always listed as housewife. She was a member of First Presbyterian Church, where she was active in the Missionary Society and taught Sunday School.
The Gradys had two daughters, Nina (b. 1883) and Pearl (1886-1974). Nina married Leonard J. Gehrling and lived in Ironton. Pearl married Fred J. Zeisler and seems to have lived in Portsmouth.
In January 1935, Ida fell on the steps at her home at 1410 Offnere and fractured her left leg. Ida died May 7, 1935, at Portsmouth General Hospital, from (according to her obituary) “complications following a broken hip and stroke of paralysis.” She was 72 years old and seems to have lived her entire life in Portsmouth, Ohio. She is buried in Greenlawn Cemetery, just up the street from her home.
Ida M. Grady completed this quilt in 1934, when she was approximately 71 or 72 years old, and it was probably one of her last accomplishments before she died in 1935. If she had not signed her name to the corner, I would never have stood a chance of learning anything about the quilt’s maker, who she was, or how she knew my family.
Morals of the story?
- Sign your art! If you make a quilt (or anything else), find an unobtrusive and non-destructive way to permanently add your name and the year
- Document quilts (or any art) you make or that you have. (I’m talking about writing down more info about the item than you reasonably could — or should — attempt to record physically on the item itself. More details! Provenance!) Do this while there are still people around who know the info, whether that’s you or a relative. (The International Quilt Study Center & Museum in Nebraska has some handouts on this. I’ve actually started my own “Quilt & Craft Documentation Archive” for quilts and other projects I’ve made. But that’s another blog post.)
- You can learn a lot even when you have what seems like just a little bit of information. Go forth and research!
I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing this story unfold (again, no pun intended- ack, I’m terrible!) as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it.