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Old Quilt Provides a Glimpse of History

Heirlooms often hold clues for genealogy researchers

On my next trip to Lincoln County, I tried to find a marriage record for Eva. No luck. Then I visited my uncle, Bob Lewick, and mentioned the quilt — and Eva.

"Oh, she was our teacher at Pleasant Valley school for a couple of years," he said. Aha! Uncle Bob, now in his 80s, remembered Eva as teaching around 1934. But I knew that the country school records were available at the Register of Deeds office at the county courthouse, so off I went.

I was able to find that Eva Whiteside taught two terms at Pleasant Valley, from 1936 to 1937 and from 1937 to 1938. Eva had earned $400 for teaching 18 students in 1937; their ages ranged from 19 (my Uncle Clayton Lewick) to 6 (my godfather Dean Panzer). In 1938, she got a raise, to $480. The records included lists of students for each term, including birth dates. And there I found most — but not all — of the names on the quilt blocks.

Just like that, the blocks fell into place. Eva might have "commuted" to her teaching job in the country, but during the Depression it seemed unlikely she would have been able to afford a car — or procure the gas necessary to drive back and forth. It was more likely she "lived in" with one or more of the various families of the children in her school. That meant that she either could have joined a women's group and helped make the quilt blocks for someone, or that the mothers of the children in her school made the quilt for her as a thank-you or going-away gift.

In fact, those women might even have made the quilt right there in the school. Uncle Bob also told me that Pleasant Valley included a raised stage at one end, where a quilting frame was often set up. That made perfect sense; in rural areas, a school building also served as a meeting place for social activities such as dances, literary societies — and sewing circles.

So the quilt could now be dated to no earlier than the fall of 1936 to no later than the summer of 1938. The quilt was made by a women's group — either a social group of farm wives or the mothers of the children of the school, although I think, given the use of "Mr. and Mrs. Alvin Lewick" instead of "Emma Lewick" that the latter is more likely. The only question that remains unanswered is the intended recipient — although I have a feeling it was for Eva. It's just a hunch.

No matter. Perhaps someday I'll find the rest of the answers. But every day as I pass the quilt, I think of those women, stitching away on the stage of a country school. I think of my uncles attending that school, and their cousins and friends. And I think of a young single woman trying to make a living during the Depression and being befriended by the farm wives of the neighborhood.

That box of quilt blocks had a lot of stories to tell.

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