Interview with Melanie the Shamrock Genealogist

It’s that time again! Here at The Hipster Historian, I love interviewing anyone who loves history, genealogy, and death positivity — my trifecta of passions. I’ve interviewed DNA experts, yoga genealogists, and others; and today, we have yet another amazing genealogist, Melanie from The Shamrock Genealogist. Keep scrolling to hear about what genealogy means to her and her tips to new genealogists.
Melanie McComb
Melanie McComb
 What is the Shamrock Genealogist?
The Shamrock Genealogist is the name of my genealogy blog and also how I identify myself to others in the genealogy community. I officially started the blog a little over a year ago as I wanted to start documenting my family history and my genealogy journey.
How did you get started in genealogy?
I was assigned a project in my college genetics class to interview members of my family and create a family tree. I asked mostly medical questions to help identify potential issues to keep in mind. I started digging into my paternal grandparents and asked my parents, aunt and uncle additional questions about where they lived, where they worked, etc.
What advice would you give to other genealogists?
I would give the following tips:
  • Slow down and review each document. It’s not a race to get to the earliest generation. There are so many goodies you find along the way by analyzing each document.
  • Create a research log. I suffer from genealogy ADD and I always felt like I was jumping from ancestor to ancestor without really accomplishing much. I’m starting to write research questions and focus on those questions without getting distracted by BSO’s (bright shiny objects), such as Ancestry hints, etc.
 Why is genealogy important to you?
Genealogy is important to me because it’s a way to document our ancestors’ lives and remember them. I think there is a part of us that wants to be remembered and not be forgotten.
Melanie McComb
Tell us a story about your families (or clients) research!
I recently discovered through a DNA match that my great-grandfather had a son in Ireland before he married my great-grandmother in America. My father and his siblings did not know this. The DNA match (who is the daughter of the son born in Ireland) tells the story that he was not allowed to marry her because his parents would not allow it. He was sent to America about 2  years after his son was born to live with a cousin. I’m pursuing possible leads to see if I can help identify the mother of my new half great-uncle.
What is your favorite thing about genealogy?
My favorite thing about genealogy is that you are never done. There is always some new collection, a new database that’s uncovered. Our ancestors’ lives are so rich and we’re finding out so much about how they lived.

Thank you so much to Melanie for the interview. You can find her at The Shamrock Genealogist,  on Facebook here, and Instagram and Twitter. Find The Hipster Historian on Facebook & on Instagram. #onfleekfamilyhistory

Personal Chatterings

What Happens When….

Earlier this year I launched the start of my business, Life Stories Transcription Services. It has been a labor of love putting this endeavor together and I have stayed up some late hours deciding if I really wanted to do this. When push comes to shove, it is what I want to do because genealogy is my passion and my life. Because I have poured so much into this business, it has been like a child to me. It is what I am working to keep alive and well. To do this, I keep in touch with my clients, make deadlines and do the best work possible. I take pride in this work as it tells the stories of those that are past.

Life Stories Transcription ServicesLast week as I was heading into my night-job (I wish genealogy was my only one!), I received a notification that my Facebook page for Life Stories Transcription Services had gotten a new notification and a review for my business. As I had finished a few clients recently for my work, I was excited to see what they had written. Eagerly, I clicked on the review and to my horror, I read this:


I was stunned. Up until this point of my life, I had never been accused of being racist before. I try my best to be an ally to POC and minority communities and give them the voice for their stories. The more I read this review, the more I thought that perhaps this individual may have gotten me confused with someone else or was trolling me. Then it dawned on me, I had never actually had any communication with her nor knew who she was. *cue sigh of relief*

Even though (after much discussion with friends), I realized that this was a scamming-type review, it still sat wrong with me. No one likes to be accused of racism. Even if we aren’t blatantly racist (as I am accused of), each day we make choices that can be subtle racism (or sexism, ageism, etc.) and these are things we can change, so that we won’t (probably!) ever be accused of doing something to someone just because the color of their skin.

Each and every one of us who owns a small business is the representatives of our business, in both our private and public lives, so don’t be like the folks who post their personal opinions on their business pages and ruin your business just because you couldn’t keep your mouth shut. If you have a racist opinion, honestly, the best you can do is not say it, or really even think it. Your racism has no place in our society. And that’s a fact.

Have you ever had a bad review on your business? How did you deal with it? Share in the comments below!

Find The Hipster Historian on Facebook & on Instagram. #onfleekfamilyhistory



The Biography of Susan Elizabeth Bench Wall — Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, we bought Part 1 of the biography of Susan Elizabeth Bench. Today we are feature part two of her biography, written by her own hand. We last left off when Susan’s mother, Maria Watson Kirby had passed away. In this section of her biography, we learn more about her father’s mission and what he brought home from it.

Note: This particular entry does have a disturbing recollection in it, please be aware of that in your reading and understand the time and place of which this was written.

John Longman Bench and his 3rd wife Clara Ann Steer
John Longman Bench and his 3rd wife Clara Ann Steer

In 1882 father (John Longman Bench) was called on a mission to England. He was to go for two years. We all went to see him off in Salt Lake City, Utah. Both boys were to live with our Bench grandparents in Manti and I was to live in Salt Lake City and work. Father left on the 16th of October, three days before my 18th birthday. As long as I live I will remember that day. There were sixty-three elders at the depot to go to the European mission. I felt like I had not a soul on earth. Just as father kissed me goodbye George G. Cannon, who had been bidding the elders God speed, saw me standing along crying, he came over to me, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Don’t cry, the Lord will return your father to you.” And he did in two years time.

George G. Cannon
George G. Cannon

Before leaving, however, father found me a home to live in and work for the winter. A man by the name of J. S. Lewis and family. I only stayed two weeks. I am sorry to say he had been very free with me, so I left the home one night just at supper time. I bundled up my belongings and waited until the family was all around the table, then I left and went to my Grandmother’s Kirby. I had four blocks to walk along after dark, but I knew I was not alone for I felt all the time my guardian angel had charge of me. Grandma had gone out so I sat there on the doorstep until she returned. I told her my story, between sobs. Then, next morning she went with me across the street to Mrs. Mary Weiler, a dear friend of grandma’s and I was hired out for $5.00 a week. She kept boarders, mostly students at the U. of U. (University of Utah). I lived with her family for a year and a half and was treated like one of them. Mrs. Weiler was a wonderful woman. She taught me so many things in housekeeping and cooking. I took care of my money and was able to send father five dollars when I could and I kept my two brothers in shoes and other clothes.

Ann Longman
Ann Longman

Grandmother Ann Bench (née Longman) was not well so I was asked to come to Manti, Utah to help take care of the boys, which I did. On returning home I went to work for a Mrs. Laurnrency Laury for four months at $5.00 a week. In 1884, father returned home from his mission and he brought with him a very sweet girl by the name of Lavisa Griffin, whom he married 24th of April 1885 in the Logan Temple. Our family had a loving mother once again for a time. We were all very happy for about two years but fate did come our way again for she passed away in 1886, November 21, leaving us without a mother again. While she was with us I did some temple work. During these days I had some social life. I went with a crowd of young people, the nicest in Manti. One, especially, a young man Jay Jensen and a fine fellow whom I kept company with as you would call a boyfriend now. We had some very good times together.

To read part one, click here. Find The Hipster Historian on Facebook & on Instagram. #onfleekfamilyhistory




An Interview with Lori the History Yogini

Every day I learn more and more about different genealogists and those that are in love with the idea of ancestry and family history. It comes through Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and many other social media platforms. I’ve been able to meet so many fascinating folks and I can’t wait to meet more. Today’s interview in our Genealogy in the Works series is brought to you by the History Yogini, Lori Larson.

Lori Larson
Lori Larson

How do yoga and genealogy intersect in your life?

Yoga teaches us to live in the present so we do not suffer from past woes (depression) or future fears (anxiety). When you’re on the mat and moving through poses, intentionally breathing as you go, the mind does an amazing thing—it focuses on what you are doing and not much else. The poses are designed to quiet the mind to set you up for meditation. Well, if there’s one thing we know about

Well, if there’s one thing we know about genealogy, it’s that we’re not living in the present time. BUT, there is a deeper connection at play here. Through meditation, yoga has taught me to dive into my inner psyche, bringing me more in tune with my “true self.” This is the inner knowing and intuition that we are all capable of tapping into. But, in order to find our true self, we have to have an understanding of where we come from. We are not plopped on this planet without a past. (I’m not even talking about the idea of reincarnation.)

Lori Larson Quote

We are placed within families, whether biologically or through adoption, that have a long history with all sorts of experiences. So, although yoga teaches us to be in the present, it is also beneficial to understand our ancestors’ lives to accurately understand our true self. The linking of our body, mind, and spirit represents the deep bond all living things share—we’re all connected. Not only are we connected to the people around us, the earth below us and the plants and animals that live among us, we are also connected to the people who came before us. As the scientist, Carl Sagan explained energy is never destroyed, only transformed. For me, History Yogini is a journey of
self-discovery through my ancestors.

Playing in nature is my favorite thing to do
Playing in nature is my favorite thing to do

How did you get started in genealogy?

There tends to be one kid in the family who is more interested in listening to what the adults have to say. That kid was my dad. As the eldest in his family, he’s always been perceived as the wise sage everyone turns to, even in his youth. His retelling of family stories really generated an interest in me to discover more about these people. It’s always fun to learn through documentation that some of these stories have a lot of truth to them. You just never know with family lore. Now, I enjoy sharing my finds with dad as we both dive deeper into our shared past. I began working at a library in my early-20s that had free access to Ancestry so I would spend breaks and lunch times punching in relatives’ names and that’s when my family tree started to grow.

My dad also taught me to hike. Here we are with my son Max at Lena Lake in Washington State

What is your current study or area of passion?

I’m fascinated by the study of epigenetics, which helps us understand the expression of genes. I don’t
claim to be a scientist, but I think we’ve just tapped the surface on what we understand about heredity. Today, if someone carries a cancer gene their lifestyle can dictate whether that gene ever gets expressed. If an ancestor experienced famine or war, their genes are altered by these traumatic experiences. Diving deeper is the theory of behavioral epigenetics, which claims those same relatives that experienced the trauma of famine or war also stored their emotional reactions in their cells which leave molecular scars that attach to the DNA.

So, not only do ancestors pass down the physical effects of what they experienced, they also pass down the emotional effects. Now, it goes both ways, if grandma was raised in a deeply loving home then that positively affects her DNA. Their experiences are never truly gone; they get passed on to us. This means we have the capability to control our future trajectory and that of generations by how we choose to live today. All the more reason to get a handle on this modern fast-paced stress we all feel. Might I suggest some Yoga?

Tell us a little quick story about your family history!

Nasieff in store
Nasieff in store

(Photo: Samuel Nasieff, second from left, in his dry-goods store.)

Both of my paternal great-grandfather emigrated from the Middle East so this makes following their family lines nearly impossible. Anything I discover leaves me flying high for some time. One discovery I made was my Great-Grandfather Samuel Nasieff came to this country from Beirut in 1903 as Salim Hamad. He and his cousin Joseph had a combined total of $60. Sam eventually made his way to Springfield, Missouri and became a merchant, as was common for Middle Eastern immigrants in that era. My grandma, his daughter, said they were booted from Springfield because Sam read from the Quran and the KKK didn’t care for the uppity Muslim man. So, he took his family and set up a dry-goods store in the mining town of Picher, Oklahoma.

Baderdeen in Arabic
Baderdeen in Arabic

Another discovery was the origin of my maiden name, Baderdeen. Every single person in this country who carries the name Baderdeen is directly related to me. My dad was always led to believe it was made up, as was common when immigrants came to America. But, a Lebanese man was giving a talk at work, and I decided to ask if he had ever heard the name Baderdeen in Lebanon. What would it hurt? Sure enough, he HAD heard the name Baderdeen and even had cousins with the name back in Lebanon. It was a total shocker for my family! It means “The dawn of religion,” which is pretty funny because I come from some scoundrels. So, it turns out my Great-Grandfather Fred (who had a Turkish tattoo from the time he was conscripted into the Ottoman army as a young teen) really did leave Turkey as a Baderdeen. I’m still proud of this discovery, and I can’t wait to meet a Lebanese Baderdeen someday.

What advice would you give to genealogists?
Be cautious about sharing what you find digging around in your family tree until you learn more. One instance, I nonchalantly mentioned to my aunt while sitting around the bonfire that her mother had been married to someone else before her father. “Whaaaat, mama was married before?!?!” My dad knew the story but my aunt obviously did not. So, here I was the bearer of a family secret I wasn’t even privy to. Yeah, that was the naïve genealogist in me. I know better now.

Why is genealogy important to you?

Max, standing next to a quote from his paternal Great-Grandfather in an exhibit at my office
Max, standing next to a quote from his paternal Great-Grandfather in an exhibit at my office

As my family’s self-appointed historian I feel called to preserve our history for my relatives. And let’s
face it if I’m not doing it nobody else is! It’s an honor to be recognized as the person to go to when
cousins have college assignments or as we’re sitting around the bonfire on the 4th of July and questions arise. Also, I have a six-year-old son, and I hope to study my husband’s side of the family more so he has a strong understanding of who he comes from. I wish I could give the author credit, but I’m not sure who wrote it. This quote speaks to the “why” so beautifully for me. “We are the chosen. In each family, there is one who seems called to find the ancestors. To put flesh on their bones and make them alive again, to tell the family story and to feel that somehow they know and approve. Doing genealogy is not a cold gathering of facts, but instead, breathing life into all who have gone before. We are the storytellers of the tribe.”

Do you have any questions for The History Yogini? Ask them in the comments below! Find The Hipster Historian on Facebook & on Instagram. #onfleekfamilyhistory


The Name Game: Rebecca

Every time I start a new family tree for a client, I marvel at the variety of names and dates before me. Each one of those individuals was an actual person and lived a life. Some of the names are familiar, and others are a bit more unique (like Seattleton). In this post series, I’d like to dedicate time each week to a particular name(s) that can be found in our files.

Fun Fact: One of the names on this list is actually my maiden name, though the individual isn’t me.

Becks Campbell

To start this fun exercise out, I’ve chosen my given first name, Rebecca.

Meaning of Rebecca

Rebecca Anderson (1749 – ?? )

Not much is known about the first daughter of Patrick and Hannah Anderson, but she was born in 1749 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The United States had yet to be formed at this point, it was only the colonies of the British empire that Rebecca and her family were living in. At this point and time, this is all the information we can find on her.

Rebecca Churchill (1875 – 1875 ); Nine Days Old

Out of all the Rebecca’s shared in today’s post, Rebecca Churchill was probably the youngest when she passed. At only nine days old, the first daughter of George Washington and Kazia Elizabeth Churchill lived and died where she was born.

Rebecca Woodbury Corning (1785 – 1881 ); 95 years old

Miss Rebecca Woodbury Corning was born in 1785, the same year that the newly created American government she was born into sent their first ambassador to Great Britain. Born in Preston, Connecticut to Uriah and Elizabeth Corning, Rebecca was third out of eight children. At the age of seventeen, Rebecca married Jeffrey Champlain. The two only had one child, their daughter Frances Amanda, born in 1806. Sadly, Rebecca outlasted her own daughter and husband and lived until the age of 91, when she died in Norwich, Connecticut, only five miles away from where she was born.

Rebecca Darby (1797 – 1859); 61 years old 

Note: Out of all the entries in today’s Name Game entry, this one struck me the most. You see, Rebecca Campbell isn’t the name I was born with, Rebecca Darby was the name given to me at birth, and it was slightly odd to see my own name on a clients family tree dating back five generations.

Marriage Intention of Eben Davis & Rebecca Darby
Marriage Intention of Eben Davis & Rebecca Darby

Rebecca Darby was born right before the turn of the 19th century to parents Rebecca & Captain Benjamin Darby in Leominster, Massachusetts. Not the first Rebecca in her family (her mother), this Rebecca came last out of six children. In May of 1814, Rebecca married a young man by the name of Ebeneezer Davis, from New Salem, Massachusetts and had nine children over the next few years. In her late twenties, not only did her own mother pass away but her young daughter, Arvilla Davis died at the age of two. Only a few years before she died, at age 54, Rebecca married Ashael Divoll. At the age of 61, Rebecca passed away in Lancaster, Massachusetts.

Rebecca Dunbar (1900 – 1968); 68 years old 

Rebecca Dunbar was born at the beginning of a new century, in the middle of a hot July summer in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania — most likely on her families farm. Her parents, Solomon T. and Elizabeth V. Dunbar had nine other children — four boys and five girls. By the time she was 19 years old, she had met her future husband, Martin Van Buren Phillippi and they were married on the 7th of July, 1919. Over the course of the next 15 years, Martin and Rebecca had five children before he died, making her a widow at the age of 33. Never marrying again, Rebecca lived out the rest of her life in Pennsylvania until she died in Orrville, Ohio where she passed away at age 68.

Rebecca Ferguson (1799 – 1861); 61 years old

Rebecca Ferguson was born in North Carolina around the turn of the 19th century. When she was 21 years of age, she married Joseph Hickenbottom in Adair, Kentucky, which at the time had many Chesnut trees, but as of this date has one of the only remaining American Chesnut trees in the world. Joseph and Rebecca had twelve children before she passed away at the age of 61 in Lockridge, Iowa in 1861.

Rebecca Fulton (1851 – 1933 ); 82 years old 

Death Certificate of Rebecca Fulton Fishel
Death Certificate of Rebecca Fulton Fishel

Simon and Elizabeth Fulton’s daughter, Rebecca was born in 1851, in Clearside, Pennsylvania. One of twelve children, Rebecca spent her life on her families farm until she met John F. Fishel and they married. Seven children (six girls and one boy) came to this union. Rebecca died at the age of 82 in 1933 when she got pneumonia and then died of influenza within the course of a month.

Rebekah Hall (1740 – 1815); 75 years old

Rebekah Hall was born in Alstead, New Hampshire in 1740, only five years after the town was charted by then Massachusetts Governor Jonathan Belcher as a line of nine forts that were intended to protect southwestern New Hampshire from native indigenous attacks. Rebekah was married to Jonathan Webster when she was twenty years old in Plaistow, New Hampshire in 1761. The couple had eleven children to their union before Rebekah passed way in 1815 at the age of 75 years old.

Rebecca Hickenbottom (1838 – 1916); 78 years old

Rebecca Hickenbottom was the daughter of Rebecca Ferguson and Joseph Hickenbottom and was one of twelve children born into the family on the 12th of July 1838 in Morgan County, Illinois. She married John Willis Toothaker when she was 21 years old in Jefferson County, Iowa and quickly had six children — two girls and four boys. Rebecca passed away at the age of 78 years old in Hoxie, Kansas.

Rebecca Tanner (1791 – 1824 ); 33 years old

Very little is known about Rebecca Tanner, the daughter of Nathan and Lucy Tanner. It is known that she married a man by the name of Ephraim Powers and may have had children with him, but how many is not known. After he died, family rumor goes, she married a ‘Latter Day Saints preacher and moved to Nauvoo, Ill., where she died.’ From what little information there is about Rebecca Tanner, it is believed she died at 33 years old in Nauvoo, Illinois.

Rebecca Ann Tate (1867 – 1938); 71 years old 

Rebecca Ann Tate was born to parents George Washington and Rosana Tate in Kanawha County, West Virginia. At age 18, Rebecca Ann married a young man by the name of William Addison Casdorph. To this union, six children were born. At the age of 71, Rebecca died from arsenic poisoning and was laid to rest in the same county she had been born into.

Rebecca Edith Tucker (1903 – 1982 ); 78 years old 

Rebecca Edith Tucker was born to William and Emma Tucker in Patton, Pennsylvania — a small borough of Cambria County. Rebecca Edith was one of eight children. Rebecca married William T. Hutchinson and had two children, John and Richard Bruce Hutchinson. In May of 1982, Rebecca passed away in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania.

Rebecca Van Alstyne (abt. 1790 – abt. 1820); abt. 30 years old

Rebecca Van Alstyne was born in Montgomery, New York in about 1790, the same year that George Washington gave the very first State of the Union address and the same year that Congress approved the first federal census of 1790. In October of 1807, around the age of 17, Rebecca married Martin Quackenbush. The two had two daughters before Rebecca passed away around 1820.

Do you have any Rebecca or Becky’s in your family history? Be sure to share their story with us in the comments below!

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The Biography of Susan Elizabeth Bench Wall — Part 1

A couple of weeks ago, I shared the story of Susan Elizabeth Bench, the polygamist who escaped to Mexico after being arrested for the crime of bigamy. Today, we bring you more from Susan, but instead of a first-person narrative story written by myself, we bring you the words of Susan herself, taken from her biography. If you have a biography or journal entry from one of your relatives that you would like to share, e-mail us at thehipsterhistorian (at) gmail (dot) com or share with us on our Facebook page here. Now, without further ado, Part 1 of the biography of Susan Elizabeth Bench Wall.
Susan Elizabeth Bench Wall
Susan Elizabeth Bench Wall
“I was born on the 19th of October 1864 at Manti, Utah, the daughter of John L. Bench and Mariah Kirby, of England, pioneers of 1852. I lived there through childhood and enjoyed my parents and grandparents very much. As a child, I remember going to Salt Lake City (Utah) with father and mother to the April and October conference (of the LDS Church). It would take us four days each way with horse and buggy or wagon. We would stay at grandmother Kirby’s. She made her home there-after years had married a man by the name of John Picknell who had a butcher business.
Grandfather (William Bench, 1815-1875) Bench worked all day at blacksmithing, but at the end of the day’s work, Eliza Bench, a cousin, and I would race to meet him as he came home. We had many pleasant romps with him, black and dirty, as he was, he would kick us all as we would try to grab him around the legs. He would run and we would chase him home. Grandmother always had an apple or cookie waiting for us as we went in with him.


William Bench (1815 - 1875)
William Bench (1815 – 1875)

Often father would go to his friend and we would ride with him or sit on the back of the wagon and let our feet hang out. I remember mother would go; she would always wait on the side of the canal if it was full of water until he returned because she was frightened of water. As a small child she would take me out and we would wait until father came back. I went to school up to the eighth grade. My parents always saw to it that I attended out (sic) duties such as going to Sunday School, Mutual, Sacrament Meeting. When I was older I sang in the ward choir. We sang at the dedication of the Manti Temple and our choir was known as a very good choir—the best of its time. I did some temple work, baptismal word for the dead and father baptized me for 500 souls one time.

Manti Utah Mormon Temple
Manti Utah Mormon Temple

I was fourteen years old when mother took sick on the ninth of January 1878. She was only sick for three weeks and died on the 21st of January. Her health had been poor and father contributed it to hardships in early life. Father was left along with only myself and my two brothers, John L., 8 years and William Edward, 2 years. Mother had had two other boys, Charles Watson and Urban Lorenzo but they had died in infancy. Mother died of rheumatic fever. I was old enough to know how to do a few things but mother had made the mistake in not teaching me to cook and I did not know much about it, so I kept house and did the best I could for father and the boys.

Susan's Mother, Maria Watson Kirby
Susan’s Mother, Maria Watson Kirby

Join us next week when we continue the story of Susan Elizabeth Bench.

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Interview with The Social Genealogist — Katherine Wilson

We are lucky enough to have one of my favorite genealogists here at The Hipster Historian for an interview. Meet Katherine Wilson, the Social Media Genealogist. Her work in creating resources as related to social media and research in family history has been invaluable to so many genealogists, including myself. Katherine and I met online after one of my first blog posts had been shared more publicly and have been friends ever since. I even got the honor of meeting her in person about a month ago when she was in my neck of the woods at the Northwest Genealogy Conference in Arlington, Washington in August. Read on to learn more about Katherine!

Becks + Katherine at the Stanwood Hotel Saloon
Me + Katherine at the Stanwood Hotel Saloon

What is social media genealogy and why do you find it important?

 My website is and it primarily offers 3 things:
  1. Free resources such as the Genealogy on Facebook list, the Genealogy on YouTube list, and links to forms and additional information for the beginning genealogist
  2. A list of my current lecture topics & fees,
  3. A means for potential clients to learn more about me and my consultation fees

Katherine Wilson

I chose the name Social Media Genealogy after noticing the phenomenal number of resources available through sites like Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter, etc.  This massive amount of information available online gives genealogists (both beginning and experienced) instant gratification in many of their initial searches due to the instantly-available network of like-minded people who are willing and ready to assist with our questions.  We post our questions on Facebook or Twitter and we’re almost always getting responses within the hour.  This ability to quickly tap into the collective global knowledge of the genealogy community is immensely rewarding, but it doesn’t come without its own challenge – we still need to carefully analyze the information we receive to ensure its validity. And it goes without saying that much of what we seek still isn’t online, so phone calls, letters, and visits to archives and repositories are still necessary as we continue to research the lives of our ancestors.

Girl Scout My Heritage Badge
Girl Scout – My Heritage Badge

How did you get started in genealogy?


I was a hypercompetitive Junior Girl Scout who wanted more merit badges than anyone else, so I thumbed through the handbook to find badges I could work towards without having to wait for our entire troop to work on them together.  I came across the My Heritage badge, and it simply required that I create a family tree that included me, my parents and my grandparents.  When my maternal grandmother gave me information about the families of her parents and my grandfather’s parents, I was instantly drawn in and wanted to learn more about what happened before they were born.  That was more than 40 years ago, and my interest and excitement in the family stories just increased each time I discovered a new branch of the family.


Tell us a story about your family or a family you’ve researched!


I love researching my clients’ ancestors who were the “black sheep” of the family, and just this past week, I found a newspaper article detailing the exploits of a drunken man.  Apparently, this collateral relative of my client who was the town blacksmith was sitting at a bar, drinking heavily, and thinking about all those customers in the town who owed him money for work he had completed for them.  He recalled that one specific man who owed him more than $100 was still working down at the docks, so the drunken man asked another fellow sitting at the bar if he’d sell him a revolver, to which he agreed.  With the revolver in hand, the drunken man stepped outside the bar and into a telephone booth to call the local police and inquire about the worst thing the police would do to him should he march down to the docks, locate the man who owed him money, and shoot him.  Thankfully, the police were able to identify which phone booth the drunken man was calling from, so while one police officer kept the drunken man on the line, two other officers drove to the phone booth and promptly arrested him before anyone was shot.
Stories like this are what keeps genealogy exciting for me.  🙂
What advice would you give to other genealogists?


The greatest advice we should be handing out right now is “Step away from the computer!”  There are so many commercial genealogy companies trying to convince us that we can complete our family tree if we simply subscribe to their databases, but the reality is that there are countless repositories and organizations who have not yet digitized their collections, and those collections quite often contain some of the best information about our ancestors that goes well beyond the birth/marriage/death dates and places.
For example, while working on a client case earlier this year, I contacted the local historical society for the town in which my client’s immigrant ancestor had lived after arriving in the U.S.  This ancestor’s descendants had donated to the historical society a journal kept by my client’s ancestor’s brother while the family traveled from their home in Bohemia to New York in the 1830s.  The brother who wrote in the journal during the trip was 16 at the time of the journey, and his brother (my client’s ancestor) was 14, so we had a written record of what the entire family experienced on this journey, as well as their experiences in trying to find housing, food, and jobs once they arrived. This is a journal that is not online, and would only be accessible by contacting the local historical society.  It really is true that, while so many things are online, there are still so many others that are not.  Step away from the computer!  🙂


Why is genealogy important to you? 

I’m passionate about remembering the lives of our ancestors, even those who were not considered in their time to be famous or newsworthy. I’m passionate about recording the stories of those who came before us, whose multiple decisions eventually led to our existence.  This is deeply humbling and so very rewarding. My favorite part of genealogy is the stories – information we glean from manuscripts, journals, newspaper articles, land transactions, etc.  While it’s great to have all those dates and places of an ancestor’s birth and death, we must remember that there’s a dash between those dates, and that dash represents the best parts of our ancestor’s lives, the place where the greatest stories can be found.
You can find Katherine and her work at the following:

Is there a genealogist you think should be featured on our interview series, Genealogy In the Works? Share a name in the comment below so we can explore the people behind the names here at The Hipster Historian!

Find The Hipster Historian on Facebook & on Instagram. #onfleekfamilyhistory

Personal Chatterings

#DeathSalonSeattle Recap

This past weekend I had the lucky fortune of attending Death Salon: Seattle put on by the Order of the Good Death. If that name sounds familiar, I’ve mentioned it before. This event was put on for all of those individuals and organizations that are involved in the #deathpositive movement — including (but not limited) to: funeral home directors, writers, artists, and genealogists (like myself!) etc.  It was a wonderful experience and I highly suggest attending one if you can get to it (next year it is in Boston!)

Death Salon Seattle, logo by Silent James


Saturday started with a walk up to Red Square (below) on the University of Washington campus. Before we registered, most of us attendees talked among ourselves and made new friends.  It was an early morning (8:30 AM!), but us bleary-eyed deathlings were there and had a purpose — to learn as much as we could.

Good morning @university_of_washington_ it’s time for a @deathsalon 💀💀// #death #deathsalon #deathsalomseattle #deathgirl

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9:30 AM – Sarah Chavez –Death and the Maiden: Why Women Are Working With Death and the Future of the Death Positive Movement

Death and the Maiden logo by Lozzy Bones Art
Death and the Maiden logo by Lozzy Bones Art
  • Sarah Chavez’s talk on women in the death positive movement was a great starter to the conferences weekend. She spoke about our role within the death positive movement and how working in it is reclaiming our bodies, our space, our lives and our identities. With a little bit of history, Sarah talked about how death has always been a woman’s place until the last century when gender roles and industry forced a change and it became privileged men who were in charge of the dead.


You can learn more about Sarah and her work at:

You can find Chanel at:

9:30 am  – Megan Devine –It’s OK that You’re not OK: Death Positivity in the Face of Grief

This particular lecture hit me harder than I expected. In most of our Westernized (i.e. American) culture of grieving, death and dying, we are expected to “buck up” and “be strong” under the pressures of death, loss, illness, violence and disasters. But what if we didn’t have to be? Megan Devine explore these thoughts in her lecture to us and really brought the point across that it is okay to be not okay.

You can find Megan here:

10:00 am  – Decolonizing Death– Matt Ignacioin conversation with Sarah Chavez

This was a fascinating conversation with Matt Igancioin about Decolonizing Death and the discussion behind the erasure of Native American death customs. He focused on what we could do to decolonize death rituals and really intersectionally talked about death in general. In addition to Angela Hennessy’s lecture, this lead the conference in being an intersectional death positive place.

11:00 am – Using Theatre To Start The Conversation about Death and Dying– Peggie Dickens in conversation with Elizabeth Coplan

While I wasn’t at the theater performances on Friday night,  Peggie and Elizabeth came and spoke to us about using theater to express death, dying and grief in a safe and secure manner. In fact, Elizabeth was in my lunch group for Sunday and was really able to speak to that.

11:30 am – Brian Flowers –Green Burial: The Intersection of Ecology & Ritual

This particular lecture was one of the ones I was also looking forward to as I am deep in research about green burial and what it can mean for me and others. Turns out that Brian Flowers and his green cemetery are located only about 15 minutes away from where I live (Bellinghamster shoutout!) and he spoke deeply to my feelings about green burial and why it is important.

1:30 pm Tanya Marsh –Regulated to Death: Re-Imagining the Funeral Services Market

Tanya Marsh’s talk on law and regulations took me back to my college days at Western Washington University and my media law class when she talked about the different regulations that are still in place in the death industry and that are strangling (no pun intended) it to death.

2:00 pm – Alternative Deathcare –Jeff Jorgenson in conversation with Nora Menkin

As the afternoon went on, to be honest, it was hard to pay full attention with a full brain of information on death and dying, but I was able to tune in for Jeff Jorgenson and his conversation with Nora Menkin about the struggles of running a green funeral home (the only one!) in Seattle. You can find information about both their organizations here:

3:00 pm – Death Cafe, a short film by Phoebe Holman

This lovely little short film spoke about the prevalence of Death Cafe’s, which are public gatherings where people meet for tea and to discuss their thoughts and fear surrounding death. Started by the late Jon Underwood in England, there are over more than 4,000+ Death Cafés worldwide. For more information on Death Cafes, click here.

3:15 pm – Recomposing with Katrina and Caitlin

The last lecture of the Death Salon was led by Caitlin Doughty with Katrina Spade, the founder of the Urban Death Project. Katrina Spade is started a new process that she is developing called recomposition, where the bodies of the deceased are composted into usable dirt instead of cremation or burial. I found this new technology fascinating and listening to Katrina Spade speak, I knew this is something that people could potentially be interested in. In fact, my husband had heard her speak on NPR a few months earlier and let me know his feelings on the subject:


According to the website, the mission of the organization is:

“Our mission is to create a meaningful, equitable, and ecological alternative for the care of the deceased. At the heart of our work is a system called recomposition, which gently transforms bodies into soil.”

You can find Katrina here:

This entire weekend reinvigorated my love of discussing the topic of death and dying and really helped me focus on what I wanted to bring to the table, mainly with genealogy and the death positive movement.

Have you ever been to a Death Salon before? Share your experiences in the comments below!

You can find The Hipster Historian on Facebook & on Instagram. #onfleekfamilyhistory


A Polygamist In Peril – Susan Elizabeth Bench’s Escape to Mexico

Author’s Note: This is not an actual letter from Susan Elizabeth Bench to her grandchildren but a historical narrative based off facts from Susan’s life as noted in her biography.

My Dearest Grandchildren,

I write you this letter to clarify some of my life as you have asked. The stories of my life I would not want to repeat for any of you, but they have shaped me into who I am today.

Back in 1886, I met you grandfather, Francis George Wall in Glenwood, Utah while he was a Sunday School counselor and I was the Sunday School Secretary. Early the next year, in the snowy days of February I made my way by wagon to Nephi with Francis. Once when we arrived in Nephi, we left our horses and wagon and took a train to Salt Lake City.

Susan Elizabeth Bench
Susan Elizabeth Bench

When we arrived in Salt Lake, it was a blinding snow storm, but we were able to make it for my Grandmothers (Honor Hannah Watson) home at 647 South Main Street. Francis and I stayed with my family for just one day before taking the train to the People’s Hotel in Logan.

On the 18th of February 1887, Francis and I went to the Logan LDS Temple where we were married by a C.D. Felstead. We stayed three days in the People’s hotel before returning to my Grandmother Honor’s home in Salt Lake City.

The next few days were a flurry of activity as we made our ways back to our respective homes, I didn’t see Francis (or as I called him, Brother Wall) again until November of that same year (1887).

No one in town knew where I had gone for those few days, because polygamy had started to be looked upon with disdain by non-members and member of my church alike. In fact, I lived “underground” (as it was commonly called) for three years, without ever publicly declaring my marriage to Francis.

Francis George Wall
Francis George Wall

Our first son, John Edward Wall was born on the 13th of February of 1890 in Manti, Utah. When John was only a week old, I was arrested on charges of bigamy and put under a $2,500.00 bond and ordered to appear in court in Salina, Utah by the United States Deputy Marshall to answer the charges of five years.

On the 21st of March 1890, my brother John drove the team of oxen with me in the back of the wagon box after a deep and hard snow storm while I took my son, John Edward, with me.

As it goes with the court, dates change and the next morning after arriving in Salina, I was informed I was to appear in Spring City on the 1st of June in that year.  After that appearance, the court date was again pushed back until the 27th of September 1890, this time in Provo, Utah — before a grand jury.

I was quite worried that they were going to put me away and that my little son, John Edward would be without a mother. The night before I was supposed to be in court, I stayed with the Farr family and told the wife that if I never came back to retrieve my boy that she could have him.

During all this time, Francis was nowhere to be found, as he had already made his escape to Mexico on the advice of our Church President, John Taylor. At this point, Brother Wall had never even seen our son.

While at court, I could hear all the other women give their testimonies in court about their polygamist lives. In fact, there was one woman, Bell Harris who had her small child in her arms during the whole ordeal, and she was sentenced to five years.

When my turn came, they locked the door as if I would escape and asked me all the questions they could think — I told the truth as my husband had instructed me to do so. After all was said and done, I was released on bail. It probably helped that the prosecuting attorney was Aunt Jane’s (one of my father’s polygamous wives — Jane Nickland) brother.

Provo Utah Courthouse
Provo Utah Courthouse

Just the very next year, in June of 1891, I left my home in Manti, Utah for Mexico to escape the persecution for practicing polygamy, which was now officially declared unfit for members of my church. John Edward was only a year and a half when we left.

From Manti, we traveled by train to Deming, New Mexico — which took three days. From Deming, I had to try and find anyone that would take me and my baby to Mexico, as no trains were running into the country at that time. I was able to find two men (Charles Shumway and Henry Marteneau.) that would take me there.

We were set to leave the next day, but little Ted (John Edward) broke out with scarlet fever, and it took us more than three weeks to leave. By that time, Francis had heard we were there and came up to meet up with a team and wagon to take us to our new home.

And that my dear children, is how I had to escape to Mexico because I chose to marry a man who already had a wife. I pray that this letter finds you well.

Your grandmother,

Susan Elizabeth Bench Wall

You can find The Hipster Historian on Facebook & on Instagram. #onfleekfamilyhistory





News & Reviews

The Confederacy and the Monuments — What We Need to Do As Genealogists

This post is one that I have been musing on for over two weeks, and I was not even sure that it was going to be written with all the seemingly conflicting points of view surrounding the issue….and because I did not know if I was the right person to do so.

But, I finally convinced myself that these words needed to be written because it is something that we as genealogists HAVE to address. Just like the issues of enslaved persons, transgender individuals, and same-sex marriage need to be spoken about in our community.

Statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville
Statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville

The events of that tragic weekend were pushed into place by “alt-right” organizers to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate icon Robert E. Lee located in Charlottesville, Virginia. A great mass of neo-nazis and white nationalists descended on the town on Friday night with tiki torches in order to intimidate those who didn’t agree with their stance and show their support of keeping the statue where they thought it belonged. The very next day, Heather Heyer was mowed down by a domestic terrorist hell-bent on keeping things “the way they were.”

Heather Heyer
Heather Heyer

As a genealogist and a lover of history, this incident, and the protests leading up to and following it grabbed my attention hard. In my quest to find individuals scattered across history, grave markers, historical signs and monuments have often been crucial to my work, without them, many of the people I have found would be lost to the sands of time.

To most people, this has come as some sort of conundrum or riddle. But it shouldn’t, the actions we should take are crystal clear. These monuments that celebrate treason, tyranny, and genocide, should be taken down, just like we did with statues of King George during the US revolution.

Pulling Down the Statue of George III, by John C. McRae
Pulling Down the Statue of George III, by John C. McRae

This does not for one minute mean we are going to forget or erase history. In fact, we can remember this history in a much more appropriate way than celebrating individuals who fought for slavery. Have you ever been to a museum? Take for instance the United States Holocaust Museum, The National Museum of African American History & Culture or The National Museum of American History.

Each one of these museums holds and showcases items from our countries history that no longer has an acceptable place in our growing progressive society, but are in places that we can understand the history through context and education.

Indiana Jones

To clarify, we aren’t moving interred remains and we aren’t going to forget their actions (and atrocities).

What we are going to do is move those conversations and places of remembrance into a more productive and proper place for all of our citizens, a place where people can still view the monuments and placards, but in a place where it is clear, we do not honor their actions.

You can find The Hipster Historian on Facebook & on Instagram. #onfleekfamilyhistory