For people who practice Christianity, baptism is the religious rite of sprinkling water onto a person’s forehead or immersing them in water, symbolizing purification and admission to the Christian Church.
Baptism is performed on young children in many denominations, and often the child, whether male or female, wears a white gown during their baptism. It is not unheard of for family members to pass the same gown down for use by the next generation, but Josie Boyle’s family has taken it to the extreme — as has Josie in producing a photobook listing each of the gown’s 43 wearers.
It’s not that Josie, the 14-year-old daughter of Ted and Angie Boyle, was particularly into the history of the gown. The photobook came about because she a member of the Peosta 4-H Pals, needed to do a 4-H project. “I already knew that the gown existed,” Josie said. I was brainstorming and my mom said, ‘Hey, we have this gown you were baptized in,’ and I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s cool.’”
Then it was time to get to work. Josie visited her great-aunt, Mary Jane “Toots” Boyle, in Cascade. “She’s like our family historian and knows everyone. We went to her house and she gave me all the contact information for everybody.”
With the names and numbers in hand, Josie and her mom began emailing and calling everyone to find out what they knew about the gown. Inspired by photobooks the family had of their vacations, Josie decided to enter the information into a book by using Snapfish, a web-based photo sharing and photo printing service.
“I think having a visual is real nice, to have a solid book you can keep for years and years,” said Josie.
She entered the photos and info as it came in, and also wrote it down so she could document the steps she took for her project. And those steps were many.
Josie learned that her great-great-grandmother, Julia Boyle, made the gown for her first child, Clara, for her 1906 baptism. The book contains photos of Julia, her husband, Austin, and their homestead near Bernard. Through the years and across generations, the gown has been worn for baptisms in Cascade, Dyersville, Peosta and Dubuque, and the Boyles are hoping it is part of many more baptisms, perhaps even Josie’s children.
Josie admitted that the vast amount of work that went into the project was not always a labor of love, that at times it felt more like a chore. Now that it’s finished, she appreciates the effort she put into it. “Now I can just look at it and think of all these babies that were baptized in it, and all of the churches it’s been. It’s nostalgic to look at it.”
And it’s not just the Boyle side of her family who has taken notice of her hard work. Josie entered the photobook and the gown — which was displayed in a shadowbox — in the Dubuque County Fair. The project advanced to the Iowa State Fair, where it won a blue ribbon and received the Iowa State University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Future Discovery Award. As the recipient of the award, Josie will receive a $500 scholarship if she chooses to attend ISU.
The process of the project was a learning experience on its own, according to Josie. “I learned the importance of starting your 4-H projects early in the year. This project took a lot of time, more than I anticipated. If I hadn’t started in February, I likely wouldn’t have finished it in time for the Dubuque County Fair. Also, if I hadn’t ordered the Snapfish photo book so early, there wouldn’t have been enough time for them to send me a new one to make up for the one that they cut incorrectly.”
It was a long, sometimes nerve-wracking process, but Josie chooses to focus on the positives. “Now that it’s done, I’m so happy I did it. I learned so much about the Boyle family baptismal gown and about my Boyle ancestry.”