The family christening gown

Most families use a new christening gown with each baptism, each family, or each generation. My family used one gown from 1858 through at least 1990. I know because my mother made a list.

The gown was made by my mother’s mother’s father’s[1] mother Laura Matilda (Henshaw) Crane for his older brother, Charles, in 1857. It was then worn by my great-grandfather at his baptism in Bainbridge, Indiana, in 1858 – a ceremony at which his grandfather, Rev. Silas Axtell Crane, officiated – and by a younger brother, Clarence, in 1861.

My family used one gown from 1858 through at least 1990. I know because my mother made a list.

The gown descended through Harry Crane’s branch of the family, and he and his wife Ida baptized their two daughters in it: Alice in 1881 and Laura in 1883. Alice baptized her daughter – my mother Lois – in 1907 and her son Lauren in 1911. Lauren’s only child, Suzanne, was baptized in 1940, as was my elder brother, David. Then came me in 1947. Our middle brother, John, did not wear the gown because he was baptized in Trinidad just after Pearl Harbor, which is another story for another time.

Sitting on my mother’s lap, 1947.

Suzanne had her eldest son Lauren (named after his grandfather, who was killed in the war), baptized in 1961. David had all three of his children baptized in the gown: Edward in 1961, Kristen in 1968, and Steven in 1970. John had all four of his children baptized: Karyn in 1964, Brenda in 1965, Carl in 1971, and Holly in 1977. That is where my Mother’s list ends, but I have been polling my nieces and nephews about their children, and just confirmed that my mother’s great-grandchild, Jeffrey, Brenda’s oldest, wore the gown in 1990.

The gown is cotton, 32” long, with an open work bodice and high waist. The skirt has tiered horizontal pleats and open work on the hem. There is also a bonnet with cotton lace over a silk lining and tie ribbons. Making a video of the gown for my family’s collection is “on the list.” When done, it will be available to the public on my Facebook page.

Note

[1] Henry Axtell Crane.

Alicia Crane Williams

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

20 thoughts on “The family christening gown

  1. I also have a family gown but not so old. My grandmother made a gown for my mother. It was presumably worn by all 3 of her children between 1910 and 1917. I wore it in 1948. My daughters wore it in 1969 and 1972. My grandchildren worn it in 2000 and 2002. It was cotton and was showing wear. It also had a very small neckline and it was obvious that further children in the family wouldn’t be able to wear it. I have had it preserved by the New England Textile Services in Andover Mass and is now in a display box to be kept by further generations.

  2. I hand sewed (not a machine stitch in it) and embroidered a Christening gown, slip, bonnet, booties and jacket for my son’s baptism. He now has that set. As far as I know, no other child has been baptized wearing it. His older sisters wore a christening gown that their father and uncle had worn for their baptisms.

  3. There is a similar christening gown in my husband’s family. It was first purchased for his father, the eldest of three siblings, in 1912; then used for my husband and his four siblings and possibly some cousins; then for grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the latest baby having worn it in 2006. A list of babies christened in the garment is tucked inside the carefully packed gown, patiently waiting for the names of the eventual fifth generation to be added.

  4. I asked my girlfriend, a wonderful seamstress, to make a christening gown when I was pregnant with our first child. All four of our children have used this beautiful “new” gown. I hope we have the start of a similar tradition.

    I had also seen an article that spoke to these AND the tradition of embroidering the initials and dates of all the christenings the gown participated in. Your document is a great alternative.

  5. We too have a family christening gown. Unfortunately I don’t know its original provenance. The first documented use was my grandfather in 1891. It was used for my mother, myself, two of my three children, and my eight grandchildren as recently as 2020. One son missed out because we had his baptism a few months later than usual and he was just too big to fit. It is a lovely tradition that we carefully preserve

  6. Our family has had a christening gown for at least over a hundred years. My great-grandfather was baptized in it as were his brothers from 1876 to 1885. My grandfather and his sisters were baptized in it from 1910 to 1919. While my father’s parents were Quaker at the time of his birth so he there was no infant baptism for him, my father borrowed the gown from his aunt and took it from Connecticut to Kansas for my baptism and my sisters from 1980 to 1988.

  7. The christening gown in my family only lasted 3 generations before it had deteriorated. We framed pieces of the elaborate embroidery on the skirt for each descendant. On the back of each framed embroidery there is a tiny picture of the first baby (my mother) wearing the dress as she is held by her grandmother in 1922.

  8. How lovely to read your christening gown story! I am fortunate to be the custodian of our family’s gown which only goes back to 1907. It was made by my grandmother Harriet StPierre White for her first-born, my mother, Harriet Elizabeth White Treu, “Betty.” My grandmother was a ladies tailor and the gown has tiers and tiers of tiny pin tucks on the skirt, sleeves, and bodice. I will have to take pictures and measurements. Thank you for your story.

  9. What a beautiful gown and happy baby! Thank you for this. A college friend (now deceased) lost the family christening gown to a family conflict, so she had her wedding gown made into three separate gowns, one for each of her grandchildren,with their names and the dates of their christenings embroidered inside in the hem. (Are names embroidered in your gown also?) Especially since they will all grow up without her, that seemed to be a very special gift.

  10. Great story! Always enjoy your posts. My wife’s family, the Blanchards of Massachusetts, had a similar thing with a baby crib. Beginning about 1915, my wife’s grandmother received a used crib for the first of her 4 children (who each slept in it), then it went to the first daughter for her first child, then the second girl for her first, and so on (refurbished over time), until it passed to my wife for our first child. It is now in possession of our daughter, who has two sons…hopefully, the tradition will continue with them. Of course, the crib is now used more for a photo op for the tradition, rather than actually being used, as by modern standards it’s considered unsafe.

  11. I made a gown for my neice 60 years ago that had been used for every child in my sister’s family since. Five children times about five of theirs and now the great grandchildren.

  12. Lovely story about your family’s christening gown (especially the picture of you in it). We have a family gown that it not quite as old as yours…but old enough to have started falling apart! It came down to us through my maternal grandfather’s family, though we are not actually sure whether Grampy wore it. He was the youngest of several children in a not particularly religious family and his mother couldn’t honestly remember whether he had been baptized, so he underwent “conditional baptism” at the same church where I was later baptized. My brother wore it a year after I did, and even though he was a month younger than I was when baptized, the top button had to be left undone because of his thick neck!

    When it came time for my first child to be baptized, he was too big (he’d been born just after Pentecost and nearly six months old by the time the next baptismal feast rolled around) and the dress too fragile for him to wear it. So I made a new one, with a smocked shell motif across the bodice, which was worn with the original petticoat, made of a sturdier cotton with lace on the hem. We have a corner knickknack shelf featuring three pictures, each of my mother holding a baby in its christening gown—me, and both of my sons—with our respective silver cups next to our pictures.

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