(Quilt History Research)


photo of Eagle quilt
Four Corner or Mirror Eagle Quilt
Circa 1870 – 1900



(Quilt History Research)

Part Two


Ancestor Contact




You’ve been researching your project for awhile and you feel good about your progress, but you have unanswered questions and you want to tell a complete story -- the next step is – ANCESTOR CONTACT.    


Finding the Ancestor



  • Obituary – Obituaries normally contain a list of ancestors and their city/state. 
  • Publications – Family members might be mentioned in publications associated with your research subject. 
  • Co-Workers – Find people who worked with the subject of your research project. 
  • – Fee based service. Helps you track down ancestors – this is excellent for doing pre-1940s research, but I still use the Newspaper and Publication Search to find ancestor connections and obituaries pre- and post-1940s. 
  • Google Search  - Type in the name of your ancestor:

                                 Jane Jones, Town, State 

  •  - – This search engine helps once you know the name of your ancestor and at least the state they live in.  Associated with this site is a “fee-based” service called Intelius that will help you when you reach a road block, need a complete address, or if you want an e-mail address. 


Making First Contact


Phone, E-mail, or Letter


First contact:  Say NO to the phone - Letter or E-mail is best. 


There would have been a time I would have said to make first contact via the phone, but in this day and age, it might, depending on the age of your ancestor, scare the “inclination to help” right out of them.  It’s not you -- identity fraud and/or phone solicitation are the culprits - it turns the majority of people off to get “cold-called” this way.


I always make first contact via letter or e-Mail.  In my first contact “letter” package I:


  • Introduce myself.  My name is Susan Wildemuth and I am a quilt history and art needlework writer and researcher. 
  • Tell them my purpose.  I am in the process (or on the path) of doing a research project concerning your ancestor Sally Jones.
  • Give them a brief list or a general idea of what type information I am looking for.  I want to write a piece about your Aunt Sally and am hoping you can fill-in some of the blanks and if you can’t is there another family member that would be interested in helping me? Would you be willing to share Aunt Sally’s back story? Why quilting or art needlework?  Why did she write her column Needles and Pins, but at the height of its success stopped writing it?  Etc. Etc.
  • Ask if there is a photo/scan available of the person you are researching or of material important to your project such as a factory.  I always ask for this right off the bat so it gives them time to be looking as you are corresponding with each other
  • Include my Contact Information.  Name, Address, Phone Number, E-mail Address, Web Site.
  • Include a sample of a published clip or a web site address.  This makes you seem REAL to them and makes them more relaxed in dealing with a complete stranger.
  • Include my photo.  I usually insert this at the end of my letter – right in the letter.  This makes it personal – you are giving them the opportunity to SEE YOU.
  • Include a “Do you want to be interviewed sheet.” I like this because it gives them a “feeling of control” over the situation.  On this sheet I put something like:


Please check one:


Yes, I want to participate


No, I don’t want to participate, but here is the name of a person that might be able to help you.


No, I do not want to participate at all. 


Please check one:


What is the best way for us to talk with each other?




E-mail.  Here is my e-mail address:


Phone.  Here is my phone number:



  • SASE – Always include a self-addressed stamped envelope.   They are doing you a favor and if you want them to respond – you need to cover the cost.
  • Pay for Extras.  Offer to pay for any expenses such as envelopes, stamps, scans that may take place in their efforts to help you with your project.  Many times they will tell you no, but you need to offer, just the same. 


Ancestor Contact is a wonderful way to obtain answers to your unanswered questions and a tool to help you create a well researched, well rounded piece.  Be kind, be courteous, and be respectful – if they say this is off the record, which does happen, then you DO NOT include it in your research project. 


There is one more point that is very important -- oral or family histories can be subjective, but they are well worth the effort and add new information and insight into your piece IF they are backed up with primary and secondary source documentation.