She was a beautiful, young Irish maid, working in a wealthy English household. Her employer’s oldest son fell in love with her. When he announced intentions to marry her, his parents said they would disown him. He married her anyway. Then, bride and groom ran away to live happily ever after. “Her name was Mary Cordial,” my maternal grandmother Marilyn Matilda Dietz told me, that distinct glimmer of pleasure in her eyes—the one she always had when she retold this story. “And you are her legacy.”

This blog is a resource for those who want to--have to--find out more about who they came from.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Just Sayin'

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Thanks to my friend Iyanna for this image.

Monday, June 14, 2010

100 Years

Another good song about life...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Left Wondering

The cover page of The Wonder Book, copied from microfiche at the FHC.

When The Wonder Book arrives, I ask Mary at the Family History Center if she wouldn’t mind my taking a look right there and then on the center’s microfiche reader. She’s happy to oblige.

Quickly reading the dim screen, I learn the date of the Bullock’s emigration: April 28th, 1865. I also find a list of baptisms, courtesy of copied Bristol records, that reflect my Williamsburgh Bullocks. There are a few minor discrepancies--all of the children are said to be the child of Thomas Bullock and Jane Elizabeth Gare, with no mention of Jane Yarde; William’s and Charles’ years of birth are off by two years each (Did Thomas intentionally lie about their ages, I wonder); and Uncle Harry’s name is given as Fredrick Henry (not Francis Harry/Henry, per U.S. censuses and his death certificate). But otherwise, everything fits.

Then, I have a jaw-dropping moment. While reading p. 106, I find out that the author made this wish in print: “One of my great desires is to locate some member of this family before I leave this earth!”

Immediately, I check the date of publication. 1974. I check the author’s name and find (1912 - ). The blank means she was still alive at the time of the book’s printing, but that was 36 years ago.

“You should try contacting her,” Mary says, when I share this find.

The author would be 98 now. What’s the likelihood she’s still with us?

“Give it a try,” Mary suggests. “You never know.”

When I get home, I hop online to google the author’s name, only to have another jaw-dropping moment. I find her obituary, dated 2009.

“I just missed you,” I say to the screen in disbelief.

The obituary provides names of descendants. I try looking them up via Yahoo White Pages, and I find an address. I write a letter, explaining who I am, expressing condolences, asking whether anyone has assumed Zettie’s work and would like to compare notes. I provide my contact information.

That was back in early April. I still haven’t heard from the family, but I remain hopeful that at some point someone will contact me and let me know if Zettie’s wish might have been fulfilled by another Bullock researcher who’d come along sooner than I did. I really hope that it was.

Until then, I’ll be wondering.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Gotta Live Like We're Dying

Great song, great advice. Give it a listen...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Where To Begin?

If you want to begin researching your lineage, here are a few simple steps to help you get started.

First, buy a notebook with a good binding. A school “black marble” notebook works, as do the fancier perfect-bound journals sold in bookstores. Write GENEALOGY on the cover, plus the last names you plan to research. This will help you differentiate when you have more than one notebook (I have four now.)

Next, talk to family members. I’ll bet you know your grandmothers’ maiden names, but you don’t know your great grandmothers’. Mom and Dad can supply this info, and if they’re no longer with us, their siblings will be able to provide the information. Ask if anyone knows of a family historian, as one probably exists. Most of these are willing to share the information because—let’s face it—there’s a specific and very small demographic interested in your particular family research. Ask them what they know and offer to share information.

Write down everything you can learn about your grandparents, great-grandparents and so forth in your GENEALOGY notebook. No detail is unimportant. You’ll be surprised how tidbits about hobbies, careers, relocations and so forth will aid you in your research.

Then, try the free genealogy websites like See if you can find your relatives in the databases there. Keep in mind that user-submitted information can be and often is incorrect. For example, I found my Thomas Bullock married to a Jane McBride—definitely the wrong person—but the location in Brooklyn and the children matched perfectly; apparently, someone found Thomas in the 1880 Census, assumed he was the same one married to their Jane McBride, and submitted the information as correct when it was anything but that. (You know what happens when one assumes—and if you don’t, you should watch “Odd Couple” TV show reruns to find out.)

NOTE: You will need to confirm the information you find out in some secondary way before you can begin believing it’s accurate. Never assume.

You might want to start a trial subscription with a genealogical research site like, where you can access census records. When searching the census, work backwards. Find your grandparents in 1930, then 1920, then 1910 and on into the past. You may find them living with their parents (your great grandparents), and then their parents living with their parents (your great-great grandparents) in the 1800s, and maybe even those great-greats living with their parents, your great-great-great grandparents. (How cool is that? Very, no?)

Where possible, order supporting documentation. If you find out that your great-great grandfather died in Brooklyn in 1934, order his death certificate from the NYC Municipal Archives (it can be done online). This document will likely give you his date of birth, maybe even the place of birth, as well as the names of his parents and their birthplaces. Ordering a woman’s death certificate will often yield her maiden name.

Keep your supporting documents in a special place. I started off with a folder; now I use a binder with plastic sleeves, so I won’t have to hole-punch anything.

Once you’ve confirmed the information you’ve found is correct, search for the new family you’ve found, looking for new leads. You’ll be stunned and pleased by how far back you can get, and how quickly.

Have fun searching! It’s very addictive, but it’s also very rewarding.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Louis Martin Dietz, 1878 - 1934

This is a photograph of my great-great grandfather, Louis Martin Dietz, in his Spanish-American War uniform, 1899. Thanks go to Charlie Dietz for sharing this and many other old family photos with me.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Daughter of a Witch

I'm proud to announce that I've received my acceptance letter from the Associated Daughters of Early American Witches, a genealogical society made up of women who can prove descent from a woman who was accused of, tried for or executed for witchcraft in Colonial America prior to 1699.

I discovered on a particularly steamy night last July that my 11th great grandmother (via my maternal grandfather's line), Rebecca Greensmith, was executed by hanging in Hartford, Connecticut for the crime of witchcraft. She was arrested after neighbor Ann Coles began having unexplained fits. Rebecca confessed to a number of Puritan high crimes, including dancing, "drinking sack" and having relations with the devil--and this after having being held in jail for weeks, denied food and subjected to continuous bible readings. She was hanged alongside her third husband Nathaniel Greensmith (who she indicted in her confession) on January 25th, 1662.

I am very much looking forward to the ADEAW convention, which will be held in Washington DC in April of next year.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Call for Stories

I’d still like to hear your best story about a genealogical find. What was it? Where was it? How did you find it? How did it rock your world? What new questions did it raise? Email me at, and you might see your tale posted here.

I’m looking forward to hearing your stories.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

2010 Census Redux

I filled out the form for the 2010 Census on Tuesday afternoon. I gave them the number of people in our household, their names, their ages. I did not lie about mine, as so many women have done since individual names and ages were first recorded in 1850. Reluctantly, I checked the race boxes, and only because I know my descendants will be paying attention to these details. I left the phone number and birth date fields blank. The Census Bureau doesn’t need to know that information. If they want those, they can consult the phone company and the Social Security Administration. They didn’t ask me about our household income, which was just fine with me—I wouldn’t have given them that, either. What I did give them was what future generations will need to find supporting documentation.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Thoughts on the 2010 Census

I received this via email from a family member several months ago. Having confirmed its credibility via Snopes, I will re-post the email here:

WARNING: 2010 Census - Cautions from the Better Business Bureau

Be Cautious About Giving Info to Census Workers, by Susan Johnson

With the U.S. Census process beginning, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises people to be cooperative, but cautious, so as not to become a victim of fraud or identity theft.

The first phase of the 2010 U.S. Census is under way as workers have begun verifying the addresses of households across the country. Eventually, more than 140,000 U.S. Census workers will count every person in the United States and will gather information about every person living at each address including name, age, gender, race, and other relevant data. The big question is - how do you tell the difference between a U.S. Census worker and a con artist?

BBB offers the following advice:

- If a U.S. Census worker knocks on your door, they will have a badge, a handheld device, a Census Bureau canvas bag, and a confidentiality notice. Ask to see their identification and their badge before answering their questions. However, you should never invite anyone you don't know into your home.

- Census workers are currently only knocking on doors to verify address information. Do not give your Social Security number, credit card or banking information to anyone, even if they claim they need it for the U.S. Census. REMEMBER, NO MATTER WHAT THEY ASK, YOU REALLY ONLY NEED TO TELL THEM HOW MANY PEOPLE LIVE AT YOUR ADDRESS.

- While the Census Bureau might ask for basic financial information, such as a salary range, YOU DON'T HAVE TO ANSWER ANYTHING AT ALL ABOUT YOUR FINANCIAL SITUATION. The Census Bureau will not ask for Social Security, bank account, or credit card numbers, nor will employees solicit donations. Any one asking for that information is NOT with the Census Bureau.

- AND REMEMBER, THE CENSUS BUREAU HAS DECIDED NOT TO WORK WITH ACORN ON GATHERING THIS INFORMATION. No ACORN worker should approach you saying he/she is with the Census Bureau.

- Eventually, Census workers may contact you by telephone, mail, or in person at home. However, the Census Bureau will not contact you by Email, so be on the lookout for Email scams impersonating the Census. Never click on a link or open any attachments in an Email that are supposedly from the U.S. Census Bureau.

For more advice on avoiding identity theft and fraud, visit

Here’s an article about the same topic:

I have mixed feelings about the census. If we lose the power to say no to government agencies’ requests for personal information, we abdicate our freedom. Genealogical researchers, however, depend on the census to provide vital information about ancestors: ages, marital status, places of birth, and so forth. Shunning the census for fear of being victimized shortchanges future generations who will be interested in knowing more about our lives.

I encourage everyone to check the sites mentioned above and to protect themselves from fraud by knowing what information they should and shouldn’t give. And I encourage everyone to participate, even if only minimally. Your descendents will be grateful you did.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Who Do You Think You Are, Indeed

I finally had the chance to watch the first episode of “Who Do You Think You Are,” the new genealogy show on Channel 4. In this episode, Sarah Jessica Parker discovers her that one of her great grandfathers was a California Gold Rush miner, and one of her great grandmothers was accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials. All in all, a great show which reminded me a bit of “The Amazing Race” as SJP jets around to various locations. I wish I had the budget to visit all of my ancestors’ home towns!

There were a few moments in the program, however, that left me scratching my head. For instance, when SJP is presented with the obituary that mentions the miner died in 1849 and then the census showing him to be alive in 1850, the genealogist doesn’t explain that the information is given by the grandchildren of said miner and could well be incorrect. It turns out to be just that—he died in California in late 1850. (The old letter that confirms this is very cool—a truly rare find.) And I cannot believe that SJP was allowed to handle the 300-year-old document pertaining to her accused-of-witchcraft ancestor without wearing gloves! Did they waive the requirement because she’s a celebrity?

What I liked best about the show was watching her reactions to each discovery. I think most of us don’t realize that we have these remarkable people in our ancestry, people that participated in the events we now read about in textbooks. When I started researching my mother’s family, I thought I’d go back to England and Germany in the 1800s and stop there. Instead, I’ve found a Civil War drummer boy, a Revolutionary War patriot, a woman accused, convicted and hanged for witchcraft and two Puritans who came over with the Winthrop fleet in 1630. And I don’t think that’s an unusual family tree at all—just unknown to most folks.

It’s said that one in 10 people are descended from the Mayflower passengers. You, gentle reader, could well be one of them. You just need to do a little research and find out.

Sunday, February 28, 2010


I have to give a shout-out to the ladies at the Family History Center in Port Jefferson Station, NY. They are so friendly and helpful, and their enthusiasm is much appreciated!

Monday, February 22, 2010

New Genealogy Show

So Sarah Jessica Parker is descended from a witch, too. Who knew?

I'm very much looking forward to "Who Do You Think You Are?", the new celebrity genealogy show on NBC that will first air on March 5th at 8 p.m. Central Time. You never know what you might learn.

Full Color Historical Documents

These are the first few lines of an email I received a few days ago:

A Birth Certificate shows that we were born.
A Death Certificate shows that we died.
Pictures show that we lived!

You probably have several albums filled with photographs. Are they labeled?
If not, a hundred years from now some descendents will be looking at your photos, scratching their heads. Who's this? I don't know. Someone's mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter, grandmother, grandfather... I wish we knew.

Your photographs are not only mementos of good times you've had. They're historical documents. Set aside some time this weekend to write the names and relationships of the people pictured down on the back of each photograph. I can guarantee your great-great-granddaughter will be grateful for it and thrilled to have a certain picture of you. Believe me--I've been there.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Marilyn Matilda Dietz, 1929 - 2003

This is a photograph of my grandmother, taken in the late 1940s.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Blog Renamed

This blog will now be known by the name of my first post: Finding Mary Cordial. It's fitting, I think, as Mary was the reason why I began my search for family.

I’m still interested in hearing about your best genealogical find. What was it? Where was it? How did you find it? How did it rock your world? What new questions did it raise? Email me at, and you might see your tale posted here.

I’m looking forward to hearing your stories.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Name Change TK

I've just discovered that my blog name is already in use.

Because I'm not one to ride coat tails (or worse yet, be accused of trying to ride them), the name of this blog will change as soon as I think up something appropriate.

Journaling for Tomorrow

I was sitting in a popular coffee shop today, passing the time, when I noticed a book on the sale rack--one that invited people to list their favorite things, movies, people, etc. inside its pages.

What a great idea, I thought. So often, we journal about the everyday grind and we forget to write down the precious things about our lives. Keeping a journal where we list our favorites, our passions, and our joys gives future generations insight into the kind of people we were.

You don't need to purchase this particular book to accomplish this mission. Many of the big chain book stores offer journals at bargain prices--under $5. I recommend purchasing one and then filling it with the things that thrill you. Poems. Photos. Lists. Print outs of emails. You could also write down your genealogy as you understand it--parents' names, grandparents' names (don't forget maiden names). If your parents and grandparents are still living (or their siblings), ask them for the names of their grandparents. Include birth and death dates. Places they've lived. Occupations and noteworthy pursuits, too. All of this may seem mundane to you, but to your great-great-great grandchild, all of this is genealogical GOLD.

Just my tip for the day.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Armchair Genealogy?

You’re probably wondering why I chose to name this blog “The Armchair Genealogist.” It would seem a derogatory term, considering the fact that those who opine on people’s psychological situations are referred to as armchair psychiatrists. I don’t mean it that way at all.

In my way of thinking, an Armchair Genealogist is a person who wants to find out more about who they come from and how they came to be wherever it is they may be. Armchair genealogists don’t hold certificates in genealogy…yet. They research online, subscribe to vital records sites and make pilgrimages to libraries both near and far. They share information with others. They are utterly addicted to their search for family, which for many is a lifelong quest.

I’d like to hear your best story about a genealogical find. What was it? Where was it? How did you find it? How did it rock your world? What new questions did it raise? Email me at, and you might see your tale posted here.

I’m looking forward to hearing your stories.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Finding Mary Cordial

She was a beautiful, young Irish maid, working in a wealthy English household. Her employer’s oldest son could not help but fall in love with her. When he announced his intentions to marry her, his parents were outraged. They said they would disown him if he dared to proceed. He married her anyway. Then, bride and groom ran away together to live out their own version of happily ever after.

“Her name was Mary Cordial,” my maternal grandmother Marilyn Matilda Dietz Phillips told me, that distinct glimmer of pleasure in her eyes—the one she always had when she retold this story. “And you are her legacy.”

My grandmother, known to her grandchildren as Nanny, shared Mary’s legend with us many times over the years. We all listened with interest—who wouldn’t be interested in this tale of forbidden love?—but for whatever reason, we never asked for the finer details. So when Nanny died on July 16th, 2003, we were left—although we wouldn’t acknowledge it for five more years—with a big bagful of unanswered questions.

How exactly was Mary Cordial related to us? When was she born? Where was she born? When did she and her husband immigrate to the Unites States? Who were her children? And who’d told Nanny this magnificent tale?

Thus began my quest to find Mary Cordial. In the coming weeks, I’ll reveal the steps I took -- the wrong-turns, the busts, the pay-offs -- and how this search led me to what may well be the most rewarding addiction known to mankind: genealogical research. I'll also share tips, success stories and photographs, and perhaps even muse aloud about life, death, God, science, the afterlife (?) and other relevent topics. So, come -- join me in celebrating the great hunt for our ancestors.