Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Eliza's Story

A few people have said much how much they enjoyed Eliza's story, so I thought I would show you how her story took shape.

The 1850 Federal Census for Chester County is a good location for starters.  The quilt was made two years after the census and farming families didn't move much.  Eliza Whiteside was living  with Eli and Mary McKissick, whose names are on another block in the quilt.

Eli and Mary McKissick are in their 40's.  Eli McKissick, age 9, is their son; John Criswell, age 11, is a bit of a mystery person, and lastly is Eliza Whiteside.  At this stage I don't know how Eliza relates to the McKissicks.  The household is in Lower Oxford Township, and the previous page has the Criswells' details so I know the two families are neighbours.

Next I moved through the censuses for 1860, 1870 and 1880.  In the 1880 census I discover my next useful piece on information - Mary McKissick, widow, is the head of the household, and Eliza Whiteside is her niece.

There is a servant and two boarders living in the house, so Mary McKissick isn't wealthy. She is still living in Lower Oxford, most likely in the same house she moved to as a bride.  Eliza is aged 50 and still single.

After searching for Eliza's name and year of birth I found her baptismal record.

Name of child, Eva Elizabeth Whiteside; name of mother, Sara Whiteside; name of father ________.
The church was St. Matthew's Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, not the local church in Chester County.  Sara was on her own in a big city with a new baby.  I know nothing else about Sara Whiteside.

So the facts of Eliza's story are an illegitimate birth, living her whole life with aunt and uncle, being a neighbour to the Criswell family and remaining single.

The next fact was the Eliza's block in the quilt.  I am certain that the pattern was symmetric and the maker forgot to 'Measure twice and cut once'.  The maker went ahead and used the slightly unbalanced applique to make her block; the block wasn't rejected but was included in the quilt.

The next part of the story telling is the magic part.  I go through all the factual details, I get an image of the block in my head, and then I go away and do something else, usually weeding the garden.  As I keep busy with pulling up weeds the bits of information swirl around, assembling into a pattern and then dissolving again.   The characters develop personalities, not in great detail, but enough for me to imagine how they would behave and what they might think.

And that's how I write a story.

Eliza Whiteside
died 19 October 1895


  1. Very interesting! I think it's very cool that you are researching each maker of each block! Lots of work and figuring out details. I'm enjoying hearing about all these people of the past. Keep up the good work!

  2. Thanks for all this information. I really have enjoyed the stories and in particular this one..


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