My Adventure Through Our Family Tree Branches

For over 50 years my Dad researched both his and my Mom's family tree branches - and loved every minute of it! Trying to fulfill the promise I made him the last month of his life, I have spent the past four years continuing where he left off - finding out about all the many family members who came before us, from the many branches of our family trees. The histories will still be published as my Dad always wanted. But what he wanted most was to share the stories of the people who came before us - the places they lived, the cultures of the times, the families they created, and the circumstances - good and bad - that would one day lead to us, their descendants. These are the stories of my Mom's families. . . .

Surnames in this Blog


Thursday, July 28, 2011

THURSDAY'S TREASURES - Flemming Family Baptismal Gown ca. 1880

Daniel Powell Thomas
in Family Baptismal Gown
November 1994
 [This article appeared in the LifeStyle section of The Birmingham News on November 7, 1994, page C-1]

Hand-me-down christening gown worn by 147 babies - so far

Susan O'Donnell is one of the first people called whenever the women in her family find out they're having a baby.
     And the expectant mothers have more on their minds than just spreading the good news. They want to make sure their baby will be able to wear the christening gown that has been worn by five generations.
     "They've got to get their name in the pot and reserve it for that month," said Mrs. O'Donnell, who keeps the gown at her house in Homewood.
     Her grandmother, Odalie Fortier Horst, sewed the gown by hand in 1880, and Mrs. O'Donnell's uncle, Charles Frederick Horst, was the first baby to wear it.
     Since then, 147 babies - five members of the first generation, 15 members of the second generation, 45 of the third generation, 67 of the fourth generation and 15 of the fifth generation have worn the gown.
     Daniel Powell Thomas - Mrs. O'Donnell's great-grandson and Mrs. Horst's great-great-great-grandson - was the last baby to be christened in the dress on Sept. 25 at St. Peter's Catholic Church. His mother, Susan Powell Thomas, his grandmother, Barbara O'Donnell Powell, and his brother, Matthew, all had wore the gown.
     "It's a beautiful gown," Mrs. O'Donnell said. "It's so elaborate I tell everybody it's a good thing it takes a woman nine months (to have a baby) or she'd never have finished it."

from The Birmingham News  article
     The full-length gown and petticoat are embellished with embroidery and lace that Mrs. Horst made by hand. "To me, that's what makes the dress exquisite," said Mrs. O'Donnell.
     The gown has been worn by babies in a number of states, including Virginia, Rhode Island, Illinois and Louisiana. Three sets of twins have been christened in the ensemble: one baby wearing the gown while the other wore the petticoat, Mrs. O'Donnell said.
     Mrs. O'Donnell and her seven brothers and sisters all wore the gown, as did Mrs. O'Donnell's eight children, 20 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.
     "When I was having my first baby (John Huber O'Donnell Jr.), my mama was freshening up the dress," Mrs. O'Donnell said.
     "My husband said we weren't going to put that old country dress on that baby, we'd buy him his own clothes," Mrs. O'Donnell said. "I told him that Mama was going to disown him, and he liked my Mama's cooking, so he let the baby wear it."
     So far, every baby has worn the gown, except for Mrs. O'Donnell's sister's granddaughter. The child lives in Chicago, and Mrs. O'Donnell was afraid to send it in the mail.
     "I told my sister if she wanted to come get it and take it back with her, she could," Mrs. O'Donnell said. "But I wasn't about to send it. I know you can get insurance, but what good is the money if you don't have the gown?"

     Although all the lace and embroidery is original, the gown has been repaired, Mrs. O'Donnell said.
     "Some babies weren't as kind as others, and it was beginning to look seedy around the neck," she said. "And the petticoat had to be patched because so many beauty pins had left holes in it."
     Following a tradition in her family, Mrs. O'Donnell was the first person to kiss Daniel following his baptism. The oldest member of the family always receives the first kiss she said.
     The kiss was extra-special because Daniel was Mrs. O'Donnell's birthday present.
     "He was born on my 85th birthday, just like Susan promised he would be," Mrs. O'Donnell said.
                                                           - written by Scottie Vickery

When my second son, Daniel, was born, I so wanted to honor my grandmother and the historic gown that our family held so dear. With my mother's help, I sent a letter to the newspaper to tell them about the dress and it's history in our family. To our delight, a reporter called me and we set up a time for Daniel to be photographed wearing the gown. She also interviewed Grandmom. Daniel was three months old at the time.

I don't know how many more family babies have been baptized since this article ran 17 years ago. My youngest child, now 14, and my nephew, almost 16, both wore it. That brings the number up to at least 149.

Since my grandmother passed away, the baptismal gown is being cared for by another family member. If you are a descendant of Odalie Fortier Horst and would like your baby to be baptized in the gown, please let me know and I'll get you in touch with its caretaker.
from The Birmingham News article


  1. What a beautiful gown -- and it's so wonderful to have all the information about it. This is just the kind of family treasure I love (but don't have one in my family!).

    I love your blog header with the tree outside the window.

    Welcome to GeneaBloggers. I look forward to your posts (and became a follower).

  2. Ein Schwerpunkt im Familienladen 24 ist die Freizeitgestaltung für die ganze Familie. Ein schönes Familienleben gibt Kraft für den Alltag und hilft, die kleinen und großen Schwierigkeiten des Lebens zu meistern.