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Using the Quilt Index to Find Female Ancestors

Using the Quilt Index to Find Female Ancestors

The Quilt Index  “aims to be a central resource that incorporates a wide variety of sources and information on quilts, quiltmakers and quiltmaking.” What does this website database have to do with  genealogy? One of the biggest issues with researching female ancestors has to do with the lack of records. This is especially true when we focus our family history research on records that document men’s experiences rather than women’s lives. How do we find female ancestors? Researching female ancestors using what they left behind is a start. As you research, don't forget to take into consideration materials that document women like cookbooks, diaries, needlework samplers, and quilts. In some cases, there are databases that can help. 

Quilt Index home page
The Quilt Index website

The Quilt Index takes information and images from 90,000 vintage quilts and makes them available via a searchable database. Similar to genealogical databases, you can find  names, dates, and places recorded on The Quilt Index.

Information found on the Quilt Index is  from:

  • “...privately held quilts compiled by state and regional quilt documentation projects in the United States and internationally
  • ... museums, libraries, and private collections…”

Over 250 museums are represented on this website including  the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum, the Royal Albert Museum, and the International Quilt Study Center and Museum, just to name a few.

The Quilt Index provides the ability to search and browse their collection. Search for a quilt by clicking on Search in the top toolbar and then in the drop-down menu, select Quilts. In this search engine you can include terms such as name and place or even quilt specific information like fabric pattern. Results can be viewed by “basic info” or “full record.” “Basic Info”  includes the following fields:

  • Quilter group (or the name of the person who pieced the top and quilted it)
  • Period
  • Date
  • Location made
  • Project name
  • Contributor
  • Layout Format
  • Quilt Size
  • Fabrics
  • Constructions
  • Quilting techniques
  • Purpose or function (such as fundraising)
  • Notes
  • Inscription
Quilt Index Search
The Quilt Index Search Screen

The Full Record version provides more details including specifics about the construction of the quilt. Both versions include photos of the quilt.

The Quilt Index also allows you to browse by category or to view the entire index. 

This is a good example of a database where you should conduct multiple searches.  Don't just search on your female ancestor's name, conduct a search on the name of the place she lived, the name of a church or group she belonged to. She could have been a member of a group who created a quilt, but the individuals involved are not named.  

Consider reading The Quilt Index FAQs and About page  to learn more about the project. The website also has a wiki and essays about quilt topics that you might be interested in. If you find a quilt from your family history and want to use The Quilt Index image, keep in mind that you’ll need to contact the quilt contributor for permission.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.



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I have the quilt that was made by my grandmother's family and probably my grandmother before her 1914 wedding. It is one of my most prized possessions. My mother (her daughter) and her friends made many quilts during their retirement years at their retirement apartment complex.

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