Katherine Clara Wirrig Smith – my paternal grandmother

Katherine Clara Wirrig Smith 1914 - 1984

Cecelia Pearl Bryant Wirrig’s oldest daughter was my grandmother, Katherine Clara Wirrig Smith.  Katherine was born April 9, 1914 in Piqua, Ohio.

According to my father, Katherine liked to go to dances on the roof top when she was young.  That is likely where she met my grandfather, James E. Smith.  Unbeknownst to Katherine, James suffered from mental illness.  She then suffered from the results of it throughout her married life.  My grandfather was in and out of jobs, and at one point served a year in jail for breaking and entering.  During that year, Katherine and her children moved in with her parents. Cecelia and William Wirrig, and she started working at the mill sewing underwear.

Grandma Smith with my oldest son - 1983.

It was piece-work and she never made a lot of money at it.  My sister remembers, “Grandma worked, and walked to work, every day of her life.  She worked at a place making less money per hour, even when I was sixteen, than I was making working at the Dairy Queen.”

Grandma loved her grandchildren and she used to like it when we brushed her hair.  She was a very religious person and had a lot of religious items in the house.  Her house was the old convent across the street from St. Boniface Church in Piqua, Ohio, and there were little holy water containers hanging beside each doorway.  She also had little statues of Mary and Jesus scattered about.

She liked to cook a lot and made large family meals on Sundays.  She also liked to garden, decorate cakes, sew, knit and crochet.    My Grandma Smith taught my father how to crochet to entertain himself once when he was ill as a child.  She taught me how to knit.

Rose afghan my grandmother was crocheting for herself and my mom finished after her death.
Rose detail from afghan.

When she died we found many unfinished needlework projects stashed away in a cupboard.  She was crocheting a large afghan for her bed when she died.  It had beautiful decorative roses on it and she was very excited about making it.  After she died, my mom collected the finished squares, then finished several more, and turned them into a cover for my parents’ bed at home.

See The Stitches We Leave Behind under the Series tab above for more links in this 10-part series.

Cecelia Pearl Bryant and her Singer treadle sewing machine

This is the third in my 10-part series about women ancestors and needlework called The Stitches We Leave Behind.

Cecelia Pearl Bryant 1887 - 1971

The real story of sewing in my father’s family starts with Mary Katherine’s oldest daughter, Cecelia Pearl Bryant, who was a quilter and kept  a quilting frame in her dining room, folded up and pushed against the wall when it wasn’t in use.

Cecelia Pearl Bryant was born October 6, 1887 in Kentucky. Her family moved to the Salina, Ohio area when she was six years old. She was the oldest of nine children.  Her name was Ora Pearl originally, but she changed it to Cecelia when she converted to Catholicism.  Her family and friends called her Pearl.

When she was 22 years old, Cecelia Pearl had a son out of wedlock.  She had worked for a family named Hall.  According to my great aunt Agnes, Mrs. Hall was either pregnant, was in the hospital, or was deceased.  Cecelia later went to court to prove paternity.  She named her son Louis Hall.  But according to my great uncle Ben, she never talked about Louie’s father.

Cecelia Pearl Bryant and William Wirrig 1913

Cecelia moved to the city of Piqua and got a job in the mills, sewing, to support herself and her son.  Later she worked at an underwear factory, the Hosiery.  Cecelia met William Wirrig who was from a farming family north of Piqua.  They were married on November 6, 1913.   My father’s mother, my grandmother, was their first child.

Times were difficult when Cecelia and William were raising their family.  But although money was scarce, Cecelia always tried to give the children a nice Christmas.  She would make doll dresses for the girls.   A car accident and arthritis eventually prevented Cecelia from being able to walk later in life.

Cecelia with her pet bird Toby sitting on her head.

My father remembers, “She used to sew and sew and sew.  And talk to her bird.”

I never knew my great-grandmother Cecelia quilted until recently.  I don’t have anything that she made.  I hope to locate one of her quilts some day.

I do have the treadle sewing machine that my great-grandmother  Cecelia Pearl Bryant Wirrig used at home.  My sister and I used to sew doll clothes, that we designed ourselves, on it when we were young. Too bad I didn’t save some of those gems.

See The Stitches We Leave Behind under the Series tab above for more links in this 10-part series.

The Stitches We Leave Behind – Mary Katherine Bryant, Gone Fishin’

My father is the child. He is being held by his great-grandmother Mary Katherine Martin Bryant. His grandmother, Cecelia Pearl Bryant is standing directly behind him and beside his mother, Katherine Clara Wirrig Smith, the young woman in the photo. The man in the photo is Mary Katherine's husband, Ulysses Grant Bryant, born during the Civil War in Kentucky. (Circa 1934 in Piqua, Ohio)

My father’s mother’s grandmother was Mary Katherine Bryant. She was born September 12, 1869 in Washington County, Kentucky, the fifth of twelve children.  She married Ulysses Grant Bryant, February 15, 1885, in Washington County.  They subsequently moved to Piqua, Ohio in Miami County, where I was eventually born four generations later.

Mary Katherine’s granddaughter, my great aunt Agnes Wirrig, said her grandmother was illiterate, and that she used a lot of country terms and “Kentucky twang.”  Aunt Agnes said, “I’d go to the house and she’d say things that I didn’t understand at all.  If she’d want me to get out of the way, she’d say, ‘Tik ere’ (for ‘take care,’ or ‘get out of the way’).”  Agnes also said that her grandmother had an old-fashioned way of doing things, and she was a hard worker, but she never seemed to be an overburdened person.

Mary Katherine took her great-grandson, my father, fishing one time.  He remembers that they didn’t catch anything, but someone there gave them three large carp.  He said that she cleaned them and evidently cooked them, although I think as an adult he didn’t consider carp particularly appetizing.  He was about 10 years old at the time.  Mary Katherine Martin outlived her husband.  She lost the property their home was on after he died because, although I don’t completely understand it, according to my great-uncle Ben they were on old-age pension.  She spent her last years going from one of her children’s homes to the next to stay for a while until she died at the age of 78.

The story of needlework in my family, from my father’s side, undoubtedly goes back well beyond the days of Mary Katherine Martin Bryant, but she is the oldest link that I have specific information on through the memories of my father who was about 14 years old when she died, and my great aunt and uncles.  She certainly must have taught her daughters how to sew.

I have never seen anything that she might have made.

For other posts in this series see The Stitches We Leave Behind.

The Stitches We Leave Behind — Introduction

When I was in college the second time, this time earning an English degree, I took a concentration of Women’s Studies classes. This is the first in a multi-part series from a project I wrote while taking a Women’s Studies/English class called “Reading between the stitches.” You can find other series I’ve written, or am writing, about on my “Series” tab above.

Hand-stitched album cover for "The Stitches We Leave Behind" project


By Christine Grote February 20, 2006


I have humble roots.  Many of my ancestors were farmers, with a few craftsmen and women thrown in.  Although a few of my ancestors came to this country in the mid-1800s with the great German migration, many of them had been in this country since pioneering days.  Much of the needlework the women in my family did reflects a simple, utilitarian purpose, typical of the pioneering mindset, as opposed to elaborate and fancy quilts and needlework.

From a genealogical perspective, women in families are difficult to trace, but logic tells us that if there was a male ancestor here in this country, he had a female mate, although she may be unknown to me.  When I think about my women ancestors, I realize I may never know much about them, but I may have a connection to them even so.

I know how to do many kinds of needlework.  I sew, embroider, knit, and crochet.  Without exception, I learned these crafts from a female member of my family.  My mother taught me most, but my grandmother on my father’s side of the family taught me a few things as well. Reason stands to offer that the women who taught me were likely taught by their mothers and/or grandmothers.  This passing down of a talent or craft probably occurred from early times.  My needlework abilities have come to me through a curious, unidentifiable, circuitous path through the women in my family for generations.  It is my connection to them.

See The Stitches We Leave Behind under the Series tab above for more links in this 10-part series.

She made me

My mom was a mother from a very young age.  When her own mother was ill with a blood clot that migrated to her heart leaving a hole, and leaving my grandmother in a permanent weakened condition, my mom took care of her two younger siblings.

My mom's family. She is on the right in the front.

My mom became a mother in her own right when she was 20 with a husband an ocean away on a military base in Germany. Mom lived on her own in a small apartment taking care of my oldest sister and waiting for my dad to come home.

Mom with my oldest sister, 1954.

In the 50s my mom became a mother five times over in little more than six years. She changed diapers and fed babies for 55 years as my younger sister Annie was born disabled and required the care of an infant until she died at the age of 51 in 2009.

My family, 1959.

When her own mother aged and began to suffer from dementia, my mom mothered her, visiting her 40 minutes away weekly and seeing to her every need until she died early in 2010.

My mother helping my grandmother blow out the candles on her 90th birthday cake.

Now my mom mothers my father who has Alzheimer’s.

Mom and Dad with his new wheelchair. April 27, 2011

My mom is a courageous, intelligent, strong, indomitable at times, creative and loving woman who has been called upon all her life to use her many gifts and talents time and time again.

She made me clothes when I was young.

She made me toast when I was sick.

She made me custom drapes for my first house.

She made me baby quilts for my children.

She made go the the park to meet other children after we’d moved when I was in grade school and was too shy to go on my own.

She made me see the reason behind going to college when I hesitated, not wanting to part with my boyfriend in my infinite wisdom as a teenager.

She made me believe in myself because she always believed in me.

She made me into a mother.

She made me courageous.

She made me strong.

She made me.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone reading. I hope you are able to celebrate with or remember your own mother today with happiness.

Happy Mother’s Day to the other mothers reading this. Well done.