COLFAX – To some, a quilt is just a piece of fabric to warm the body during the freezing, Iowa winters. To others, it is a scrapbook, stitching generations of family memories together. But for one Colfax native, a quilt patched him with a distant relative.
Back in 2012, the Colfax Historical Society happened to come across a unique quilt that was made from the Baptist Aid Society in Colfax, somewhere between 1907 and 1908. The handmade quilt features nearly 500 names, from the mayor of Colfax, Gen. James Weaver to Central College graduate, Rev. John Barton.
To Colfax Historical Society president Kevin Williams, a few names on the quilt immediately stood out.
“The name I noticed right away was the name of my great-grandmother and my great-grandfather,” Williams said.
After doing research on the names and his family’s geneology, Williams said the more he looked at the quilt, the more names of family members he discovered. Unbeknownst to Williams, one of those connections would soon make a stop at the museum.
“We were on the interstate, driving through Colfax. It was Father’s Day weekend and I thought we should swing by my great, great-grandparents’ graves,” David J. Abram II said. “I noticed there were cars in front of the Colfax museum. I said, ‘We should swing in.’ My wife said, ‘Ya, let’s do it.’”
Abram said he thought they might find some family artifacts or photos displayed in the museum. Little did he know, the Des Moines native would find a living, breathing distant relative as well.
“The first thing, I ask anyone who comes in here is ‘Do you have a Colfax connection?’ because most of the time, someone has something they are looking for,” Williams said. “He said ‘I had family who came to Colfax for coal mining.’ I said ‘I have family that came to Colfax with coal mining.’ I said ‘What’s the name?’ He said, ‘Abram.’ I thought, ‘We got to go to the quilt because I know there are Abrams on the quilt.”
Williams took him to the quilt and showed Abrams the various names tied to his. He saw his grandfather’s name, his great-grandfather’s name and other relatives. The two then soon realized that a Williams was connected to an Abram.
“David called me and said, ‘We are cousins.’ When we finally put things together, we found out we weren’t blood cousins, but through marriage of the two families, we shared this connection,” Williams said. “We have a Welsh connection because both of our heritage is Wales and they both came to Colfax about the same time.”
The historical society member discovered his great-grandfather’s brother, William R. Williams married Abram’s great-grandfather’s sister, Hannah Abram. Soon after, Abram brought his father to the museum to show him the quilt, and the two families began sharing the history of their common ancestry.
“What I found interesting was (Kevin’s) passion for his geneology and I have a passion for my family’s lineage as well,” Abram said. “Right now, both of us are like ‘How can we help each other get more knowledge on our families.’ I think that is the start of what could a pretty nice friendship over time.”
According to Williams, through this miraculous encounter, he was able to receive a copy of a photograph of his great-great-uncle. He said before their meeting, his family had no photos of William R. Williams.
“Things happen for a reason... There is a reason why I said, ‘Let’s check out this museum in Colfax, Iowa,” Abram said. “My gut told me we should turn around and go to the museum, and we did... Kevin and I would have never known each other, never met if we hadn’t pulled in there.”
Williams said, there is one more mystery that he would like to solve about the quilt – why was it made?
“Was it a fundraising thing or what? We may or may not ever have the answer to that,” he said. “Because it is from the Bapist Aid, I can picture these Baptist ladies working on the quilt. It could have been my great-grandmother was one of the people doing it.”
The 110-year-old quilt is still on display at the museum. Patrons who wish to search the quilt for a family name can visit the Colfax Historical Society at 900 N. Walnut St., from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Sunday and on the second Saturday of the month.
Contact Anthony Victor Reyes at email@example.com