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.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Tribute to Aunt Jeanne

Grand Aunt Jeanne and me on May 27th, 2012

The beautiful lady sitting to my right in the photo above is my grandaunt, Jeanne Dietz Garrity. She was born in 1928, the oldest of three girls, and was my late grandmother Marilyn Dietz's older sister. An invaluable and enthusiastic source of family history, Aunt Jeanne (as I called her) not only provided names and dates for my great and my great-great grandparents; she elaborated on their lives in ways that brought them to life for me long after their passing.

Earlier this month, Aunt Jeanne went to join them, her two sisters, and her beloved husband, after 84 years of life.

She died on a Saturday. My husband and I had just taken advantage of Long Island Restaurant Week by having a spectacular three-course meal in Sayville. When we returned to the house, my mother met us in the kitchen with a sad face. "Is everything okay?" I asked.

"No," she said. And then she told me.

I feel fortunate to have called and spoken with Aunt Jeanne a few weeks prior. She'd sent me some family documents including her parents' marriage certificate, and upon review I'd noticed that my great grandparents had married in Hoboken, New Jersey. Why, I asked, had they married so far away from their family homes in Brooklyn?

"Oh, they eloped!" she said. Apparently, they'd just found out that Jeanne was on her way.

When I first told her what I'd found out about Mary Cordial, the great-great-great grandmother who'd sparked my genealogy habit, she was stunned. "I'm Irish?" she asked. She'd lived over 80 years without ever hearing this. "I had no idea Grandma Dietz was Irish. She always cooked German food!"

When Aunt Jeanne spoke, there was something in the way she enunciated her words that reminded me of my grandmother's voice. It wasn't an accent so much as an intonation, accompanied by the occasional soft, whistling s. Her tone was calm, gentle. I felt a lot of comfort while listening to her.

I'm so glad I was able to go to the family reunion that my first-cousin-once-removed, also named Jeanne, planned last May. Sitting in the screened-in porch with Aunt Jeanne, I was treated to numerous stories from her youth. The 1940 Census had only just been released the previous month and hadn't yet been indexed, but a researcher who knew the sought-after-family's actual street address might be in luck. "Where did you live in 1940?" I asked, in between tales. "With Grandpa Ernest," she replied, and she gave me the address. I found the family two days later, of course, right where she said they'd be.

That day, she told me how happy she was that I was interested in learning about our family. "I love hearing your stories," I replied. "Anything you want to tell me, please do." She leaned forward in her chair then, grinning. "I love you," she announced. And we laughed.

Marilyn and Jeanne Dietz, 1931, Bear Mountain

As children, Jeanne and Marilyn would walk with Ernest Ewald, their grandfather, to the Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery to plant flowers at the grave of his wife/their grandmother, Lizzie Burger. He survived her by fourteen years, and he felt the sting of her loss every day until he joined her. "Oh, my Lizzie," he would sometimes say aloud, when missing her became too much to bear.

On Sundays, Jeanne and Marilyn went to the Presbyterian church for services in accordance with the wishes of their mother, Ruth. Walking home, they would pass their paternal grandparents' house. One Sunday, their paternal grandmother Jane Bullock Dietz came running out to ask where they'd been. When they told her, she insisted they come with her right away to Catholic mass, because their father Joseph was Catholic and that was where they should be going. Of course, they went right along with her.

Jeanne also remembered being dropped off for babysitting at her Dietz grandparents' house one holiday season. Their Christmas tree was decorated and set up in a special stand that had been handmade by Louis Martin Dietz, the girls' grandfather. Having collected a number of wooden cigar boxes, Louis had repurposed them as components of a dollhouse with tiny hinged doors and shutters on the windows. Jeanne remembered crawling around on her hands and knees under the Christmas tree with Marilyn beside her, opening those little doors and windows, gleefully looking inside to see what might be within.

Jeanne and Marilyn Dietz, early 1940s, Queens, NY

She told me that one day when she and my grandmother were walking to school, a fellow student stopped and offered them a ride in his little blue convertible. He was sixteen and handsome, and although Marilyn didn't want to get in, Jeanne (then fourteen) insisted that they should. After they reached school, Jeanne hoped she might see Gilmore Garrity again later but decided she'd "never be that lucky." When dismissal time came, she went out the front door to find him there, waiting to drive her home.

Later, when Gil was in the service, she went to his base to visit with him. While she made her way up the walkway toward the building where they were supposed to meet, she heard a sudden commotion--men shouting, angry--so she slowed down. Gil came flying out of the front doors then, pushing aside anyone in his way, and ran straight for her. He'd seen her coming and, unable to wait any longer to throw his arms around her, had plowed through the crowd without heed.

She married him in 1946, and, like her Grandpa Ernest, survived him by fourteen years.

When Aunt Jeanne and I last spoke on the phone, she was recovering after a recent hospital stay. She told me how nice everyone there had been, and how thrilled she was with the 54 Get Well cards* she'd received. She was weak, but determined. She noted, darkly, that she was the only one left of her generation, and spoke about how much she missed her parents, sisters and husband. Reminded of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren (seventeen of those, if my memory serves), she became cheerful again. She told me she loved me again, and that she needed to go and take a rest. I told her that I loved her, too.

I am grateful to have known her, and I will miss her. Always.

* Her daughter Jeanne told me today that the grand total was 84 Get Well cards, which I think is just perfect.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A Discovery of "Witches"... and a Society to Honor Them

ADEAW's Logo

When a family researcher shakes their family tree, sometimes unexpected ancestors tumble out. That's what happened to me in July 2009, when I searched "Rebecca Elsing Mudge" on Google and was confronted with a screen full of links to witchcraft books and articles.

I read the first one and then, stunned, paced around my home with a hand clapped over my mouth for over five minutes, reeling. My 11th great grandmother Rebecca Elsing, who'd remarried a man named Nathaniel Greensmith after Jarvis Mudge's death, was not only accused of witchcraft; she was tried, convicted and executed for the crime in Hartford, Connecticut, in January of 1662/3 after having made a remarkable confession including having had intimate dealings with the devil himself. Mudge Memorials, the book that catalogues the lineage of the descendants of Jarvis Mudge, said nothing about what had become of Jarvis's only known wife and mother of his two sons, Moses and Micah. Now I knew why.

But then there's that saying about life giving you lemons. I'd done a considerable amount of prior research at, where I'd found a list of various genealogical societies one might join. The one that really caught my eye that fateful day was The Associated Daughters of Early American Witches (ADEAW), a genealogical society for females aged 16+ years who can trace their lineage back to a woman or man who was accused, tried, convicted and/or executed in the American colonies prior to 31 Dec 1699. Now that would be a cool society to join, I'd thought.

There's no need to ask you to guess what I did next.

Membership in the society is by invitation only, which was problematic; I didn't know a single member who might nominate me. So, I took a chance and emailed the society. Thankfully, then Registrar General Dr. Kim Nagy instructed me about how to go about procuring an invitation from the President General Shari Kelley Worrell. A few emails later, I had an application in hand and was ready to apply. I became a member of ADEAW in April 2009. Since then, I've been honored with an appointment as Editor of The Black Swan, the society's national newsletter. I feel blessed to have found such a wonderful group of ladies who share this unique American heritage.

Founded in 1987 by Mrs. Caroline Engle, ADEAW is a small but growing society with a current membership of just under 500 members. The society meets once a year in Washington DC during mid-April. There, the ladies have the opportunity to get acquainted, hear a speaker discuss topics near and dear to their hearts, and honor their ancestors with a lovely closing memorial ceremony.

Are you a woman who has a "witch" in your family tree? If you have New England roots, you just might. Take a look at ADEAW's Approved Ancestors list. If you think you've found one, ADEAW might be the genealogical society for you!

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Mercy Killing

Case not exactly closed.

Don't believe everything you read in the paper, they say. Once again, they're right.

My grandaunt Jeanne gave me this newspaper clipping when I saw her at a family reunion on May 27th in Albany, New York. I gasped, as anyone would, when I read it. I'd been to the Burger/Ewald burial plot at Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery in 2008. When I took the photograph below of the headstone marking the spot where Caroline Ewald Kuhnle had been buried in 1958, I'd had no idea how she died.

But there was more to the story.

"It was a mercy killing," said Aunt Jeanne. "She had cancer, and she was dying. She asked him to do it because she couldn't stand suffering any more."

That's an important piece of information. Without it, Frank Shannon looks like a cold-blooded killer, a domestic abuser who finally took matters too far, as so many do. With the information, however, a complicated drama begins to form in one's mind.

How did Caroline ask him to do this for her? How long did they discuss this before Frank felt compelled to comply? How badly had Caroline deteriorated that Frank finally agreed that all of the horrors attached to stabbing her to death would be better than allowing her to continue suffering?

There was a lesson for me here about not jumping to conclusions based on newspaper articles.

Have you ever drawn a conclusion based on your research, only to later find out that conclusion was wrong? If so, I'd love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I'm My Own WHAT?

Genealogists and family researchers alike will appreciate the twisted family tree in this song. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012 Contest -- Enter Now!

Heads up! has launched a Facebook promotion to better their chance at winning Utah Business' People's Choice Most Admired Companies Contest.

In exchange for your vote, Ancestry will give you a chance to win a Genealogy Kit, which contains a 6 month Deluxe Membership, a DNA test kit and Family Tree Maker 2012 software. (Please note that you must be a member of Facebook to have access to the contest, and you will be asked to "like" Utah Business' page before you vote.)

Three lucky winners will be chosen. Vote now by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

NO NEED FOR GHOSTS • by Sarah Wilson | Every Day Fiction

The Colonel Josiah Smith Cemetery, East Moriches, New York

I've written for (click here, if you dare), and I pop back into the site frequently to read. The following story made such an impression on me, I couldn't forget it... although I confess that I could not remember the title. Today, I went back and ran various words--dead, headstone, etc.--through the search field until it popped up. Since the story is so beautifully written (like poetry, said one reviewer) and is relevant to the topics covered here, I'll post the link for your reading enjoyment:

NO NEED FOR GHOSTS • by Sarah Wilson | Every Day Fiction - The once a day flash fiction magazine.

What do you think the dead are doing now? Post below, and let me know.

Monday, May 7, 2012

10 FREE Genealogy Links!

Nothing drives me crazier than clicking on a link for a "Free" genealogy site and then being asked for a credit card in order to view the results of the "free" search, which is usually so vague that you're not entirely sure that the information would be of value anyway. Genealogy is already too expensive a hobby without all these fly-by-night sites trying to cash in on our curiosity. (Besides, who wants to give credit card information to strangers over the internet?) So, I've compiled the list below of truly free links for genealogists.

1.      Family Search – When I first started researching, the site was not so great because it was laden with often incorrect, user-provided information. In the last three years, however, the site has been adding actual scanned church, census, and other records to its holdings. Now it's the best free genealogy web site online, hands down. After searching for your relatives by name, try searching databases by place. Most of the links are free, but some lead to sites like Fold3 or Ancestry, where you'll have to sign up for a two week trial period in order to see records. If you're diligent about canceling in time, go for it!

2.      Olive Tree Genealogy – I'll admit it right up front—I love OTG because I found my 7th Great Grandfather's 1695 christening and 1725 marriage record from the Reformed Dutch Church of New Amsterdam there by happy accident. If you have early American Dutch roots, there's a whole list of resources for you! OTG also links to genealogical resources for Palatine Germans, Mennonites, Huguenots, Walloons, Native Americans; ships passenger lists; Canadian genealogical resources and much more.

3.      Ray's Place New England – Let's hear it for Ray! His site, which boasts over 7,000 links, offers New England Vital records, cemetery listings, census records and much more. There are some obscure records for specific towns listed. If your family goes all the way back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, you need to take a look at this site.

4.      Castle Garden – Before Ellis Island, there was Castle Garden. If your immigrant ancestor arrived in New York between 1820 and 1913, there's a real probability that they passed through here on their way to a new life in America. This free database can be searched by name and years of likely arrival. Remember to test different name spellings, particularly phonetic ones, if you have no initial success. My experience tells me that they could be pretty creative spellers back then.

5.      Ellis Island – The one, the only. So many American stories began at Ellis Island that it would be a huge oversight to leave it off this list. Ditto for what I said above about searching names using different spellings if you can't find your people.

6.     Veterans Grave Lookup  Looking for a deceased veteran? Check out this helpful database from the US Department of Veteran's Affairs. I found the final resting places of two of my great grandfather's brothers using this database.

7.      Civil War Soldiers and Sailors  A full database of Soldiers, Sailors, Regiments, Cemeteries, Battles Prisoners, Medals of Honor, and National Parks. I've found a few relatives by using the databases here; I hope you do, too.

8.      Find-A-Grave The people you're looking for may already be catalogued online here. Although the site leans toward "famous" interment searches, you can access a general search (topmost link on the "Actions" sidebar on the left) as a member of the site, which is free to join. If you're feeling benevolent, you could upload your own memorials/pictures and help out other researchers looking for the same family. Maybe you'll meet a nice cousin or two as a result. 

9.      Free Federal Censuses – You don't need a paid subscription to peruse these! Click here for  1880 , here for 1930  and here for 1940.

10.  Free Genealogies on Internet Archive Search Wait—don't pay good money for a reprinted genealogy! Check Google Books first; most of the genealogies are free there. If the one you need isn't free but is more than 75 years old, mosey on over to the Internet Archive and run a search on the book's title. Chances are, it's there and it's free! You can also search specific terms such as "Jones Genealogy" and see what unknown digital treasures have been lying in wait for your review.

Have I missed anything? Please leave a link to the cool free site you use in the comments below!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Quote of the Day

“Dying is no big deal; living is the trick.” – Red Smith

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Wicked Discovery

Just want to share a link to an article I wrote this past week about my ancestor, Rebecca Elsing Mudge Greensmith, on Yahoo! Voices. Given the 700 word limit, I wasn't able to go into too much detail about how my 10th great grandmother suffered while in the custody of her accusers, but I hope to write a more descriptive account for my forthcoming genealogical memoir. In the meantime, please read and enjoy:

Hooray for 1940!

My grand-aunt and grandmother, 1940s 

Armchair genealogists across the country are rejoicing over the news that the 1940 United States Census was released on April 2nd, providing those with more recent brick walls to blast through yet another opportunity to shake their family trees and watch some reluctant relatives fall out.

Below are some helpful links to get interested researchers started:

     Wikipedia: 1940 United States Census outlines what exactly you'll find out.

It's going to be a while before 1940 is fully indexed, so unless you know exactly where your relatives might have lived (perhaps the same house as in 1930?), you may need to do a "census crawl"—meaning you'd go page by page, looking for your relatives in the city or town you suspect they lived in—in order to find them. Or you can wait, like I intend to do. In any case, happy hunting!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Don't Be A Bunny (Good Advice, Worth Reposting)

I want you to take a good look at the man above. His name is Bunny, and he is the poster boy for what happens to people who don’t write their full names on the backs of their photographs.

According to Grand-aunt Jeanne, Bunny was Annie Bullock’s boyfriend back in the day. There is a second, undated picture of the couple standing together in the yard, although you could not tell by their expressions or postures that they are romantically linked.

Annie Bullock and Bunny

Apparently, Bunny gave a single copy of the professional photograph at the top of this post to his sweetheart Annie but didn’t sign the back (which is understandable—she knew who he was). But time marched on. Jane retained the photo after her sister Annie moved away or died (Grand-aunt Jeanne doesn’t know Annie’s ultimate fate), and the picture later passed on to my fellow researcher Charlie Dietz’s parents. Thanks to Charlie’s mother, who wrote “Bunny” on the back of his photo, we know at least that much about him. But that is all.

I wonder what Bunny’s real name was. I wonder if he and Annie married, or if they broke up and moved on, or if one of them died, tragically ending the relationship. I will wonder forever. Why? Because I can’t track Bunny down with just his nickname as a clue.

If anyone knows what became of Bunny, I’d appreciate you dropping me a note. I can be reached at

Today’s lesson: Don’t be a Bunny! Write your full name on the back of all professional photos, and try to give some sort of info on the backs of the rest. Your descendants will appreciate it!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Quote of the Day

"Time is the fire in which we burn." – Soran (played by actor Malcolm McDowell) in the motion picture "Star Trek: Generations"

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Doctoring Genealogy

I was sitting here, wondering how I could make genealogy sexier, when I stumbled across this gem (in six parts) on YouTube. Click on the links below, and enjoy.

Who Do You Think You Are? -- David Tennant, Actor

Don't say I never gave you anything. ;-)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Writing A Family History

For those of us who've struggled with how exactly to go about organizing that teetering pile of notes and documents into some understandable form that might be shared with future generations, there's a video from BYU-TV with lots of good advice. Warning: It's a little dry, but I recommend patience, as well as having a pad and pen handy for taking notes. 

BYU TV - Writing a Family History (24 minutes):

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Quote of the Day

"We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience." ~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955)

Friday, March 9, 2012

Reinventing (Finding) Mary Cordial

Bill Dietz and his sister Marion Dietz Putland, 1940s.
They are two of Mary Cordial's many grandchildren.

Those of you that have been regularly visiting might have noticed a significant change in this blog as of today. In case the obvious needs to be stated, my genealogy has been removed.

Why? Recent investigations into modern publishing options have led me to realize that information is being routinely swiped from Internet web pages, blogs and message boards for eBook publishing by dishonest individuals on a quest to make a quick buck. Examples? Several free Kindle cookbooks I've downloaded from Amazon over the past month have proved to be nothing more than blatant cutting/pasting from free recipe newsgroups—the "author" didn't even bother to remove the original poster's ID at each recipe's top. Add to this a recently downloaded "internet meme" eBook in which the author flatly admits he has stolen all the material from a popular web site. Add to that a recent article detailing how other scam artists are stealing erotic short stories off free fiction websites and publishing them as Kindle eBooks.

You can see where I'm going with this, I'm sure. Genealogy is an expensive hobby, and it would really, really tick me off to see my work plagiarized, so instead of courting the inevitable (as it seems to be) I've decided to take down my genealogical notes and publish them in my own eBook because, let's face it, if anyone deserves to be making money off my work, it's me.

Therefore, Finding Mary Cordial will now cease to be a disseminator of specific genealogical information with relevance to a few select people (family members and supportive friends) and will now evolve into a forum for the many who, like me, love the genealogical hunt and long to either get advice or share advice on how to proceed in their research. Going forward, I plan to compile genealogical resources, post relevant videos, and maybe even publish an article or two from a guest blogger.

That having been said, your suggestions and contributions are very welcome. Please contact me at to ask questions, suggest links or volunteer your knowledge in an effort to help others in this wonderful hobby of ours. I look forward to hearing from you.