Family Samplers: An unusual resource – and one you can still make

When we talk about supporting documentation, we generally think about documents – things on paper. But “documentation” can include fabric too! Family samplers, a form of needlepoint with information on the family structure and vital records events, can also provide evidence of birth, death, marriage and relationships.

According to the Smithsonian, the first known example of a sampler is dated to 1645. By the 1700s, they were used as a display of a woman’s level of education. The more complex the sampler, the stronger her needlework skills. Many were simply decorative, but others contained important details. References to the “family register” style of sampler suggest that they were most popular from the mid-18th to mid-19th century. (See and for details.)

Like family Bibles, these samplers – if they survive – provide valuable information. They were even included in pension files to support dates of birth and marriage. As genealogists, we still need to weigh the value of the source. Do we know the artist? How likely were they to accurately report the information they provided? In many cases, these young women were present at the events they recorded and could accurately recount their history. Images of samplers, under the right circumstances, can be definitely be used as supporting documentation in a lineage society application.

And if you’re looking a craft project to keep you occupied as we head into the cooler winter months, the sampler is a great option. Many needlepoint companies make a modern version as a kit. You can fill in your own tree to create a family record for future generations.

Published by Bryna O'Sullivan

Proprietor of Charter Oak Genealogy, Bryna O'Sullivan specializes in assisting clients with lineage society applications and with French to English genealogical translations.

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