Nantucket Roots

The “Vine and Hearts” Family Registers

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Nantucket family registers form an important part of a folk cultural tradition that developed in New England in the mid-eighteenth century. Family members turned to illustrated registers most often to commemorate a marriage, or to memorialize a recent death in the family. Registers typically appear as watercolor paintings depicting a central tree motif with climbing roses or flowering vines growing out of a pair of planted hearts. The names of the couple celebrated and the date of their marriage are shown in twin hearts planted in a mound of earth, while the names and dates of their offspring adorn the buds and leaves shooting out from the vines above.

Nantucket family registers developed a particular style using the familiar island emblems of the white rose and the salt-spray rose (rosa rugosa). The motif of a pair of climbing roses found in most registers derives from a traditional folk image and literary emblem possibly still current in Nantucket and coastal New England in the middle of the eighteenth century. The dual heart image may have originated with dyed palampores, a kind of superior dimity cloth imported from England and India. Nantucket family registers passed down through mutiple generations, often with the addition of births and deaths of individuals not yet born at the time of original composition. They represent a unique aspect of the New England folk tradition.


The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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