Havre Daily News
A quilt was Edith Svenson's treasure map, and she found her treasure in county courthouses, local cemeteries and through the mail. For nearly five years, Svenson collected the history of the 330 people whose names appear on the Fairchild Lutheran Ladies Aid "Friendship Quilt," made in 1930.
Svenson will present her final product, "Friendship Quilt" - the book - at a book signing at the Gildford Mercantile on Friday afternoon and at the Havre-Hill County Library on Saturday afternoon. Two other signings are planned later in the month. The quilt will be displayed at three of the locations. She is baking cookies for each event.
The quilt was stitched to raise money for the Ladies Aid charity. Svenson believes people paid to have their names included, buying them the chance to win it. Svenson's mother, Constance Stowman Ergenbright, won.
Svenson's theory about the reason for the names is corroborated, she said, by the appearance of one man's name several times and the inclusion of North Dakota names which she thinks may have belonged to people working in the area seasonally.
"I wanted the book to be not only entertaining, but also a research book," Svenson said of her work.
She began collecting the history of the quilt after starting a genealogy of her own family. While working on her family history, she found histories of many of the Hi-Line towns, but none of Fairchild, north of Gildford. She was not sure how to begin a Fairchild history until she remembered the quilt, which her sister Shirley inherited after their mother's death in 1990.
The names Svenson researched were not confined to Fairchild residents, and neither was her work. Svenson's history extends to Gildford, Hingham and the defunct towns of Lilac and Goldstone as well as a general history of Hill County. Some names that were included belonged to family members still living in Norway.
"If your name was on the quilt, something was said about you, it's so inclusive," said Bonnie Williamson, Havre-Hill County Library director. "The families kind of helped to contribute their own stories."
Svenson kick-started her history by announcing it to the Havre Daily News in 2000, which published a story about her plan and helped her get in touch with many of the families and, in some cases, the people whose names are on the quilt, she said. Through those first contacts she tried to reach others, asking for written memories, documents and pictures to chronicle each person's piece of local history. For people she could not contact, Svenson did the legwork herself, looking at census data, Social Security Administration data and marriage licenses. Only a few of the 330 names produced no information at all.
Svenson's book begins with a general history of the area and then takes the quilt section by section, chronicling the people whose names appear and their families.
"I really tried to include some interesting tidbits," Svenson said.
In some cases, family history sheds light on general area history. For example, local historian Gary Wilson's book "Tall in the Saddle" about Long George Francis, said that after Francis' car accident he tried to make a splint from an apple crate but then slit his own throat when he knew he would not make it out of the blizzard to help. Wilson did not know where the apple crate came from, Svenson said.
William Goodman, son of John Goodman, whose name appears on the quilt, told Svenson his father was probably the last to see Francis alive. John Goodman was at Fresno that day in 1920 when Francis stopped to buy apples, Goodman's son told her.