Deborah O’Neill Cordes Looks to the Past to Write About the Future

Today I welcome my good friend and one of my favorite authors, Deborah O’Neill Cordes. Deborah’s book, Dragon Dawn will be a Kindle Countdown Deal—only 99 cents (99 pence in the UK)—from Aug. 16- Aug 22. Today Deborah talks about how genealogy has inspired her writing. 
It’s All Relative, Mr. Pitt
 by Deborah O’Neill Cordes
Genealogy is one of my passions. It’s a fascinating avocation for me, but it does have a down side, in that at times it’s become positively addictive. As a novelist with multiple works-in-progress, I’ve had to cut down the time I spend researching the family tree. And yet, I don’t believe I’ve frittered away the hours digging into past lives, because the information has provided the framework for several of my plots. If I hadn’t done genealogy, I wouldn’t have found some amazing and little known stories to weave into my novels.
 Ever heard of King Alaric I of the Visigoths, his brother-in-law, Athaulf, and the Roman princess, Galla Placidia? I first learned of their heroic tales during research into one of my most ancient lineages, which goes back to the fifth century A.D. Their stories sparked the plot of the Morgan O’Neill Roman time travel series, which I co-author with Cary Morgan Frates. And how about King Otto and Queen Adelaide? Their amazing historical romance provided the fodder for our Italian time travel series. But, perhaps, the most astonishing tale comes from the Stroganoff family of Russia, part of my maternal family. The bloody tale of an ancestor who was skinned alive seemed a natural thread to weave into my own sci-fi, time travel novel, Dragon Dawn, Book One of the Dinosaurian Time Travel Series. To make it even more interesting, I gave my Dragon Dawn heroine that ancient Russian surname, and astronaut Dawn Stroganoff was born!
Genealogy has also given me a foot in the door of Hollywood. But I’m not talking about movie deals or TV miniseries – I’m talking cousins. Distant cousins, that is! You see, a lot of us here in North America descend from the Pilgrims; in fact, the numbers are
probably in the tens of millions. Many have lost information about their family tree and don’t realize they have Pilgrim heritage. For years, I had no idea I had it, either. And then, a few years ago – bingo! – I found several lines with direct connections to the 1600s and early Massachusetts. Dozen of famous, infamous, and historical figures also descend from that small group of Pilgrim settlers, and I was amazed to discover I’m related to Lucille Ball, Richard Gere, the Fondas, Sigourney Weaver, Paul Revere, the Roosevelt family, and Benedict Arnold.
But what connection literally floored me? Why, Brad Pitt, of course! We both descend from Nathaniel Tilden and Lydia Huckstep, who were born in sixteenth century England, but who immigrated with their seven children to the New World in 1635, on the ship Hercules. I descend from their son, Thomas Tilden, while Brad Pitt descends from their daughter, Sarah. This makes us eleventh cousins. I’ve loved Brad since first seeing him in the film “Legends of the Fall,” but I most admire him for his philanthropic and environmental work, including his wonderful rebuilding project in New Orleans. My next goal is to find out if I’m also related to Brad’s “better half,” the actress and humanitarian Angelina Jolie. Wouldn’t that be amazing?
Did I waste my time pouring over genealogy records? Of course not! Wherever your passions lead, you’ll find enrichment, which can add so much to other aspects of your life. Once my works-in-progress are done, I’ll delve back into my ancestral world. I can’t wait to see what I discover next. Or what new projects blossom from my family tree.
Now, I’ve got a few questions for you – do you have a famous ancestor, or distant cousin? If so, let us know here! Or if you don’t have a connection at this time, whom would you most like to have in your family tree?  Best wishes, and thank you so much.
Deborah’s bio and website links:
Deborah O’Neill Cordes is an award-winning screenwriter and novelist of historical and speculative fiction. She is the author of the sci-fi time travel novel, Dragon Dawn, Book One of the Dinosaurian Time Travel Series, which blends fields of study she loves in equal measure; Deborah holds a bachelor’s degree in zoology and a master’s degree in history. She is also the co-author of the Morgan O’Neill time travel novels. Deborah resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two West Highland White Terriers, who, alas, are precocious terriers and therefore never white.
Deborah’s website:
Morgan O’Neill website:
Buy Dragon Dawn at: 
Dragon Dawn book blurb:
What if the extinction of the dinosaurs hadn’t occurred?  An alien stranded on Mars is determined to find out by sending human astronauts back in time to rewrite Earth’s past. But a female astronaut, through a strange twist of fate, survives the change in the space-time continuum.  After finding herself in a dinosaurian body, she must race against time – and the formidable alien – to restore the universe to its rightful course.


40 thoughts on “Deborah O’Neill Cordes Looks to the Past to Write About the Future

  1. Hi Deb and Betty–two of my favorite authors. I am a genealogical junkie, too, but pressed for time. After doing the DNA test, and eliminating the American Indian from my family tree, much to my disappointment, I did discover an Irish and Scandanavian connection that's fairly strong. Who knows what wonders await when I can delve back into the genealogical world?

    • Becky, thanks so much for stopping by. I have Irish and Viking heritage, too, so I'll bet we're distant cousins. Even though the American Indian connection didn't pan out, I think it influenced you to create your Native American/French hero, Joseph, in your novel, The Reluctant Debutante. He's one fictional hero I'll never forget.

    • I love Joseph!! My brother has done some of our family's genealogy, and I didn't realize how much French blood I have! I have always claimed Irish and Italian, but, mais oui, I am French, too. Thanks for stopping by, Becky!

    • Thanks so much, Terri! I keep wondering what tales I'll discover next. Too bad we only have one lifetime to explore and research. No, wait! You write reincarnation epics. Yes, I guess I'll have more time, won't I? 🙂

    • I believe in reincarnation. Do you think you can look to the future, Deborah, and see how your yet-to-be-lived lives will inspire you? Hey, Terri, maybe that's fodder for your next book! Thanks for stopping by.

  2. I do have a famous distant cousin — Deborah O'Neill Cordes! 🙂 One of these days we need to compare our lines through Robert the Bruce and the kings of Scotland, and find out to what degree we're cousins. For now, though, I'm proud to tell people that you're part of my family, no matter how distant that connection may be!

    • And I always tell people I'm thrilled to be cousins with author Juli Page Morgan. Yay! I can't wait to delve into the Scottish side, because I think we're probably twentieth cousins, or some such, which is so cool! Thanks for stopping by, cuz. 🙂

  3. You're making me want to delve into my own ancestry again. I did just a bit of research a few years ago and it really was fascinating. I can trace my father's family back to the early 1700's – though if I tried hard enough, I'd love to see if the Littlefields go all the way back to the Mayflower. Thanks for sharing, Deborah! What an enjoyable read!

  4. Betty, I'm late chiming in here (home is located in Pacific Daylight Time region), as we had thunder late last night, and I couldn't get to sleep until around 2 a.m.! Needless to say, I slept in this morning. Thanks so much for hosting me on Meyette's Musings. I am thrilled to be here again!

    • Deborah, it's always a pleasure to have you as my guest. You have initiated a very lively discussion here! I love hearing about everyone's ancestry, and what a great way to come up with characters! Thanks for sharing your story.

  5. Hi Christine! I was blown away by the tale of Adelaide and Otto, because it sounds like a fictional romance saga – and it really happened. It was a wonderful discovery, and Cary and I can't wait for the re-release of the Italian time travel series. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. I adore genealogy for sure and the lovely bizarre tidbits unearthed. Three times over in my family, a couple married with the same last names in different languages…sometimes not. I did. My mother did and her great grandmother did (which we confirmed when we mapped out our tree). We're weird. Any whooooo ..Love the post, your writing, and especially Dragon Dawn.

  7. What a fascinating discovery, Deb, being related to Brad Pitt! I just watched him last night in Seven Years in Tibet. I love the way you used your research to discover your current heroine. So interesting and never a waste of time when we find all those nuggets. All the best to you. : )

  8. Deborah, great blog post. You're such a fascinating person! I have lineage back to the Scots and King Richard. I bet somewhere down the line, we're related! Thanks for sharing with us.


  9. Hi, cousin! Terrific post. Well, you already know about a lot of my ancestors, so I'll mention Jacques de Noyon, a famous French Canadian explorer, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, a Dutch statesman, William Whitaker, English theologian and Master of St. John's, Cambridge, William Marshal. I've also discovered descent from Robert the Bruce and one, possibly two, Mayflower passengers. As for famous cousins, there's you and Juli Page Morgan, of course, and Judy Garland, George Washington, James Madison, Barack Obama, and Mr. Pitt. And if Richard Warren checks out, Richard Gere as well. 🙂

  10. Hi Brenna! I'm also descended from William Marshal. That may be the line we have in common; if it isn't, then we have another cousin connection. Woo hoo! Thanks for stopping by, and please let me know what happens with your newest research into Richard Warren and Richard Gere.

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