The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

August 6, 2009

Quilts: A study in genealogy

By Katie Goodling

LEWISBURG — The Packwood House Museum, 15 N. Water St., Lewisburg, is sponsoring a three-day Quilt Weekend Aug. 21-23.

The event, along with the museum’s current quilt exhibit “Pennsylvania Quilts: Studies in Color,” on display through Oct. 24, looks to showcase the area’s past in regard to special events, culture and heritage.

One of the museum’s strongest links to the past is a quilt that was brought into the public eye earlier this year. The quilt, likely from the 19th century, is on display at the museum and features 312 names.

After these names were revealed in The Daily Item in May, quilt exhibit co-chair Ruth Burnham, of Lewisburg, was contacted by several people and stories about those listed on the quilt have begun to emerge. Any information helps in determining when the quilt was created.

“A woman in Mifflinburg sent me some important genealogical information. She listed five members of one family, and (for) the youngest of them, she gave me a birth date, so we know the quilt could not have been made before that date,” Burnham said.

Searching for knowledge

In addition to people sharing stories about the names on the quilt, others are reaching out to the museum for information about their own family histories.

“I got a call from a man in Pittsburgh whose name is Harold Donachy IV. The name Harold Donachy appears on the quilt twice — we don’t know if this was a mistake or father (and) son. But Donachy IV called asking me if I had any genealogical information on the Donachys mentioned on the quilt,” Burnham said.

The quilt also links the past and present. When Burnham researched the name Mrs. F. Donehower, she discovered the Donehowers “were merchants and had been merchants in Lewisburg (for) 130 years … not always the same kind, but still merchants.”

The Donehower name written on the quilt could be a part of the three generations of Donehowers who previously operated W.L. Donehower, a store on Market Street in Lewisburg, for 132 years.

Although the exact meaning and special event surrounding the creation of this quilt has yet to be discovered, Burnham has speculated the quilt dates to about 1900 because “1885 was the centennial of Lewisburg’s founding and (it) could have been made around that occasion. Or maybe it was a turn-of-the-century quilt. When things settle down, we are going to try to do some more in-depth research.”

The quilt exhibit

“When the Pennsylvania Germans immigrated here, they did not make quilts. They used woven coverlets, but they saw their English neighbors quilting, and they were influenced by that,” Burnham said.

Both the Pennsylvania English and German quilt makers had their own sense of style and taste of colors. According to Burnham, the English preferred using blue and the Germans “brought an emphasis on color ... a brighter, more vibrant color scheme.” A German quilt of pink and green and an English quilt with blue and white are displayed side-by-side in the exhibit, illustrating the similarities and differences in the two styles.

Another quilt on display may represent the quilt maker’s economic situation or a special time in their life. The quilt is made out of reds, yellows, greens and purples, but the colors are not distributed equally or symmetrically.

The purple appears heavily in the bottom corners of the quilt but isn’t as evident in the upper corners. This could possibly mean that the quilt maker ran out of resources to purchase the purple fabric or the purple patches may symbolize a person, place or thing, Burnham said.

The unevenness of the purple patch is one of the many mysteries a quilt can disguise which can only be discovered through study and public participation.

“We would like people to come and tell us about our quilts,” Burnham said.