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.

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.