PEKIN — Pekin resident Jan Frazier, a quilt enthusiast, never thought much of her grandmother's large patchwork quilt while she was growing up.
All she knew was that it's old and made of velvet lining used for coffins. It's heavy, too, so most of the time it was kept in a cedar chest.
"I used it for a while on my bed and a couple times in the winter," Frazier said.
It wasn't until she showed it to a community quilting group on Christmas in 2011 when she realized the quilt might be something special.
The group was in awe of the unusual crosshatch stitching and fabric, which indicated it was very old. Frazier took one group member's suggestion of investigating the quilt's origin.
At that point, Frazier didn't know that the hand-pieced creation passed down from her grandmother in the 1960s would spark the rejoining of a family descended from three sisters of 19th century Pekin.
Frazier, an author who has written about her family roots before, started investigating the quilt by using what she knew, visiting funeral homes and upholstery experts to find out when and where it came from.
She found out the quilt's material was more than 100 years old, and it had an unusual style that even surprised the experts.
Frazier also showed her quilt to a certified quilt appraiser, Sandy Schweitzer, who listed it at $750.
Schweitzer stated in her report that the quilt was unusual and wrote in a letter to Frazier that the quilt was probably the heaviest she has ever appraised.
While Frazier was investigating the quilt in summer 2012, the Pekin Daily Times ran a story about her "One crazy quilt," and that's when events really started happening.
Diane Ayers, a Huntley resident who has relatives in the Peoria area, saw the article online and realized Frazier's quilt was similar to one she owned.
"I got in contact with Jan, who I didn't know, and told her, 'Guess what? I am your cousin,'" Ayers said.
Ayers' grandmother had told her the story of her great-great grandmother who worked on a quilt as a wedding project for her son. Two sisters joined her in that project and made two more quilts for their children. Frazier's quilt must have been from one of the two sisters.
"It's not coincidence," Ayers said. "Why would I be looking at the Pekin Times, which I do once every five years, on the day when her article is there."
Frazier was surprised when she found out there were more quilts like hers.
"It must have been one of the other sister's quilts," she said. But that meant the third sister's quilt was still out there, or perhaps lost.
Page 2 of 3 - To find out more, Frazier enlisted the help of her German cousin, Werner Gertberg, who connected with her three years ago.
Gertberg is working on a book documenting the history of the part of his family that uses the surname Dully.
"The Dullys came to USA in 1867," Gertberg said. "That's 150 years. That's enough reason to write a book about it."
He emailed Frazier in 2010 after he heard that Frazier was looking for a family connection with the last name of Dully in Germany. After meeting her and figuring out how they are related, he started researching the family tree to find out more about the Dullys.
Frazier believed the quilt was from her great-grandmother, who was a Dully.
She started asking other relatives about their quilts in pursuit of the third sister's quilt. She contacted her 82-year-old Peoria cousin, Don Nieukirk, who said he didn't know of anything like Frazier's quilt.
But while Frazier and Gertberg were visiting Nieukirk one day, a quilt underneath one that Nieukirk was showing them caught her eye.
"The pattern is a little different than our quilts," Frazier said. "But it has the same look, same feel."
Frazier was convinced Nieukirk's quilt was the third sister's quilt.
"I thought it was unusual that I had that for so long and never knew what it was," Nieukirk said. "I knew it belonged to my grandmother but the rest of this story came to light recently."
As of now, each quilt is staying with its owner. The Illinois State Museum offered to display the quilts, but the cousins said they're still thinking about it.
Dully family story
Frazier, Ayers and Nieukirk knew they had the three sisters' quilts. But they weren't sure of who these ancestors were.
Using Gertberg's research from the past three years and looking through family tree websites, the cousins were able to piece together the story of the Dully sisters.
Anna Maria Dully, Maria Elisabetha Dully and Elisabeth Dully, their names before marriage, immigrated with family from Palatinate of the Kingdom of Bavaria, in present-day Germany, to Tazewell County in 1867.
The sisters would spend their time gathering scraps of fabrics to work on handcrafting projects, including quilts.
One winter in the late 1800s, they made special quilts for the child of each sister.
As the family tree became larger through generations, the quilts followed their own lines of succession.
Anna Maria Dully's quilt went to her daughter, Caroline Redlingshafer. It then passed to Nieukirk's father, Marion Ivan Nieukirk, and then to him.
Maria Elisabetha Dully's quilt went to her son John Edward Vandyke, then his son Veldie Vernon Vandyke. It was then passed down to Ayers through her mother, Helen Lucille Vandyke.
Page 3 of 3 - Elisabeth Dully's quilt passed down to Frazier's grandmother, Katharine Zimmerman. After Zimmerman died, Frazier inherited the quilt.
The story of the sisters is important to the cousins because the quilts became a source of reconnecting with extended family.
"It brings a greater appreciation of the Dully family," Frazier said. "You want to know more about where you come from after this discovery."
While going through pictures, Ayers noticed physical similarities of relatives she knows to photos of past Dullys. She also realized the importance of documenting the stories of older family members.
"Once that person is gone, that whole narrative is lost," Ayers said. "They may know stories that they remember from being very small. Maybe it doesn't mean so much to you, but it may mean something to your kids or grandkids."
Frazier, Ayers and Nieukirk brought each quilt to Frazier's home on Nov. 9 for a family reunion.
"It's probably the first time the quilts are together since the Dullys made them," Frazier said.
The reunion was a local one, but Gertberg has been working with Frazier to plan a big Dully family reunion in the next couple of years, including relatives from Germany and the United States.
"There's a connection almost immediately with someone that you didn't even know," Frazier said. "We're reuniting the Dully family through the quilts that three sisters made for their children, for us."