Thursday, October 31, 2013


In the past few weeks our family tree has been amended to record two important events - one death and one birth .  On September 22, my uncle David Nichol died.  On October 4th, my grandson Oliver Douglas Maminski was born.  Condolences and congratulations overlapped, and somewhere between a sad farewell and a thrilled hello,  I marked the changes on the heritage website where our tree is planted.  When a death date is entered, a solemn black band appears in the upper left hand corner of a person's photo.  When a new baby is added to the tree, a festive bunch of balloons floats above the child's name.

David Nichol (1940-2013)

Oliver Douglas Maminski, born in Edmonton on October 4th

Charting family history today may as quick and easy as click and save, but looking through a book of "Quilt Masterpieces" by Susanna Pfeffer reminded me that in the past women used a much more painstaking method, working needle and thread to accomplish the same task.  I discovered the cemetery quilt of Elizabeth Roseberry Mitchell in this book and the graphic depiction of a graveyard on a bedspread made me consider how we go about commemorating a life.

"Graveyard" 1839, pieced, embroidered and appliqued cotton, 85" x 81"
Embedded in a field of Lemoyne star blocks, the cemetery is shown from an aerial perspective, with the coffins of the maker's deceased family members positioned in the center square.  Living relatives were represented as caskets-in-waiting, lined up along the borders of the quilt.  When someone in the family died, their personalized casket would be removed from the border and resewn in the central graveyard plot.  When a child was born into the Mitchell family, a new coffin was cut from fabric, labelled and added to the quilt edge.  The idea of stitching a patchwork blanket of death may seem ghoulish today, but no doubt it provided comfort for the woman who made it, both in the slow labour of crafting the quilt and later, while sleeping under it.  She lived in Kentucky at the time the quilt was created, but her two sons, an infant and a teenager, were buried in a cemetery plot in Ohio.  The quilt depicted the layout of their final resting place, complete with a rose-lined entrance, arched gate and picket fence.  When Elizabeth Mitchell went to bed at night and pulled the graveyard quilt up to cover her body, she must have felt closer to her beloved family members.  

"When he shall die
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun."

- William Shakespeare, "Romeo and Juliet"