Against a blanket of thick Wisconsin snow, a newly placed black granite grave stands out amongst the rest. It belongs to Marjorie McFarland Stroud, who died Dec. 15, 1974.
It took 44 years for Marjorie’s remains to reach her native Stevens Point, Wisc. A metal urn with her cremated remains went unclaimed for four decades at Horton-Mathie Funeral Home in Greenport.
“When I purchased the funeral home at the end of 2002, I inherited a list of about 40 unclaimed cremated remains,” said Doug Mathie, who owns the funeral home. “We did due diligence to reach out and find [next of kin.] You can’t just surrender cremated remains to anybody.”
Why Marjorie sat on that shelf for so long after her death at age 67 is shrouded in mystery. A brief obituary appeared in the Dec. 19, 1974 issue of The Suffolk Times. “Services were held at the S.B. Horton Funeral Home for Marjorie M. Stroud, who died Dec. 15, 1974 at Eastern Long Island Hospital. She leaves her husband, John, of Greenport.”
The story of how Marjorie’s remains finally found a home begins more than a year ago. It became a mission for Edward Cannata to find out who Marjorie was — and to bring her to a final resting place.
An amateur genealogist, Mr. Cannata agreed last year to help his friend Susan Read research her ancestry. Mr. Cannata, 61, of Torrington, Conn. said he enjoys history and is fascinated by the stories he’s uncovered through ancestry research.
Ms. Read’s mother and twin uncle were put up for adoption in 1929 in New York City. Neither ever expressed interest in finding their biological mother. Through records, Mr. Cannata deduced that their mother was Eileen Hendy.
Eileen and Marjorie both attended Antioch College in Ohio and a work study program brought the women to Troy, N.Y., where they were roommates who worked at the Hudson Valley Coke & Products Corp.
There, Marjorie would meet and eventually marry John Stroud. That’s also where Eileen likely met the father of her twins, Gerald Smith.
“Marjorie ended up being the catalyst, the glue that brought everything together,” Mr. Cannata said.
He knew he had to track down Marjorie for more information on the circumstances surrounding the adoption.
“I had hoped to talk to her, to find out what happened,” he said.
Instead, he found the obituary. After reaching out to the funeral home to gather more information, he also found Marjorie.
There were no records of any children or nearby family — and no trace of John Stroud, who was 15 years her senior. Property records indicate that they didn’t live in Greenport for long. They purchased what was likely a retirement home on Stirling Avenue in 1970, and records show the home was sold by 1975.
“Then the trail ran dry on John,” Mr. Cannata explained.
“Maybe he was too distraught, or couldn’t make that decision,” he continued, pondering aloud. “It felt like the right thing to do, to make sure that she got out of the funeral home.”
The cremains were eventually released to France Walker Stenberg, a second cousin living in Houston, Texas, who provided a notarized letter in order to claim her cousin.
Ms. Stenberg provided some insight into what Marjorie’s life was like through letters that Marjorie’s mother, Adele, wrote to her mother, Sara Hamilton. She was born in 1907 in Stevens Point, Wisc. In 1914, at age 7, the family moved to California. By the 1930s, Marjorie was writing for newspapers in the New York area.
Through Facebook, Mr. Cannata connected with Susan Cichy of the Hancock Cemetery Association, who located her mother, Adele, at a family plot approximately 30 miles south of Stevens Point.
“I was willing to put her there, just to have the poor woman buried after all these years,” Ms. Cichy said during a phone interview last week.
Mr. Mathie said he was happy to have played a role in bringing Marjorie to her final resting place. He was unsure what to expect when Mr. Cannata first inquired.
“We were comfortable knowing that she was going to a cemetery where her family plot was,” he said.
Of the 40 unclaimed cremains, 22 remain, Mr. Mathie said at the funeral home Friday.
“All of the veterans were interred at Calverton National Cemetery,” he said.
Mr. Cannata, who ordered Marjorie’s gravestone, said he felt compelled to give some closure to the stranger’s life.
“It was just a karmic moment of ‘You can’t leave this woman in this funeral home, that’s not right.’ I knew her story. I couldn’t leave her there,” he said.
In the spring, Marjorie will receive a proper burial once the frozen Wisconsin ground thaws.
“You don’t know what her wishes were,” Ms. Cichy said. “But she’ll be buried next to her mother, so I’d say it’s a happy ending.”
Photo caption: The site of Marjorie McFarland Stroud’s grave.