Thursday, June 6, 2013

Family Tree Jigsaw Puzzles

Detail of The Wister Family Tree Quilt
International Quilt Study Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2005.059.0001

Researching the names on the Chester Criswell Quilt is a lot like researching a family tree.  The big difference is that with the quilt you already have all the names, you just have to figure out how they fit together.  Imagine all your family history records put into a big pile, and then you have to put them back in the right spot. Warning: Don't try this at home!

There are fourteen Criswells on the quilt. Last year I had about half of them in  place but there were still some mystery people. There were a number of Criswells located at Woodland that I just could not find.  I searched through census records on, checked the family Bible again, followed up Criswell cousins that had migrated to Ohio, no success.  I looked for Woodland as a place name, it was nowhere near the other quilt locations.

Then I had one of those eureka moments.  I logged on to that favourite genealogy site,, and located James, William, Jane and Elizabeth Criswell.   They were the siblings of the bride Mary Criswell that had all died before the year that Mary and Jesse Jackson Smith were married.

William Criswell's block made by Alice Criswell

Alice Criswell made the bridal quilt for her eldest daughter and had included blocks for each of her deceased children.  In the 21st century we keep death and dying at a distance and leave the management of death to professionals. If we experience the death of a child or a young person - or even someone our own age - it feels wrong and unfair.  In the 19th century death was closer.  People died at home, women died in childbirth, children died from illnesses that we never experience.  I think Alice was saying to her daughter Mary, your family is larger than the people you live with, don't forget the rest.

The mystery is not totally solved.  The dates attached to Elizabeth aren't right unless Alice became pregnant again when she was 58.  Susanna Criswell shares a block with Elizabeth.  Susanna was living in 1850 but there is no record of her after that date.  I think if she was living in 1852 when the quilt was assembled that she would have her own block.  Woodland could be a cemetery name, but Margaret Criswell, Woodland was definitely alive so I think Woodland is the name of the family farm.

William son of Andrew G and Alice Criswell
Born 1836    Died May, 1848
Manor Presbyterian Church Cemetery


  1. I really enjoy all the history behind this quilt. thanks for doing all this research.

  2. Hi Sharon, your family quilt is very beautiful and historic. It is wonderful that it has been treasured for all of these years. I am a Criswell, Scottish-Irish, my forbearers emigrated to the US in the 1790's, point of entry to US -Baltimore, Md. moved to northern Maryland than migrated west through Penn. and Eastern Ohio. My grandfather, Robert "Bruce" Criswell and his sister, Crissie did a lot of research in the 1920's with their cousins. One an Edgar Golden Criswell wrote a book about the family. It is well researched, he goes back 1000 years. I have one of the six copies. He gave it to my grandfather. I have scanned it. If you would like to me to send it to you leave a message on this blog. My branch of the family is not related to the Texas Criswells, THE ORIGINAL 300, who settled Austin, Texas with Steven Austin.

    1. Hi Anonymous Criswell, I am interested in your scanned book. My Criswells don't seem to fit in the big picture, more information would be most helpful.

  3. The book is titled:


    The author is, Edgar Golden Criswell born about 1880s around Pittsburg Pa. he was journalist, started his career delivering newspapers, got his break when he was sent to cover the Johnstown flood. Finished his career in NYC working for one of the large publishing houses. He wrote this book over 30 years. As I was told by a person who searched the, the location four of the copies are " 1) St Louis County Library; Denver Public Library; Wisconsin Historical society; and 4) Hathitrust Digital Library. It appears that it has been reprinted a couple of times. It is not available to view at the Hathitrust Library due to copyright restrictions" My family has #5 and I hope the descendants of the author has # 6.

  4. HI Sharon,
    I will select a profile. Marian


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