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!

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Interview with Sara the Skeleton Whisperer

It’s been a couple of weeks since we’ve had a blog post at The Hipster Historian, but summer vacations, pirate camps (yes, really), and “real life” jobs have gotten us a little busy here.  But we are back with a new posting schedule (3x a week) and a surprise new venture (a podcast!) on the horizon. Be sure to check back as we update you with the newest later this week. In the mean time, meet the newest interview in our Genealogy in the Works series, Sara Cochran — The Skeleton Whisper.
Sara Cochran Genealogist and Proprietor - The Skeleton Whisperer
Sara Cochran, Genealogist, and Proprietor – The Skeleton Whisperer
What is the Skeleton Whisperer?
 The Skeleton Whisperer is a genealogy research business, and I rattle the bones in the family closet, lifting the veil on long buried secrets and stories. I do this by offering record retrieval in Southern California as well as general family tree research. I’ve researched in most of the United States as well as Ireland. I also speak at local genealogical societies on topics like organizing your family photos and getting the most out of newspapers.
How did you get started in genealogy?
Like many genealogists, I have my Grandmother to thank for getting me into genealogy. She had gathered up some of the family photos and organized them into albums, which I got to see at a family reunion.  Seeing the faces attached to the names and stories were really captivating, I was instantly drawn in and wanting to know more about them!  
Tell us a story about your family or a family you have researched!
A client of mine hired me to learn more about someone in her family tree; the family legend was that he went insane and murdered his family and she wanted to find out if the legend was true.  I located several newspaper articles about the incident which ended up confirming the legend.  It was July of 1893, and Wisconsin was in the grips of an unprecedented heatwave, which was ruining the crops. William, who felt he had run out of options to support his family, simply couldn’t cope any longer, murdered his wife and children before attempting suicide.  He ended up spending the rest of his life in an insane asylum.
What would you say to other genealogists?
My best advice is to be inquisitive and intentionally seek out the whole truth of your ancestors’ experience.  It’s very easy to find a single piece of the puzzle and stop there, but it’s very rare to learn the whole story all at once.  I have a Catholic ancestor who divorced her husband in the 1930s, which was pretty unusual. I wondered for a long time why she made that decision – so I kept digging and eventually learned that, among other things, that he was physically abusive to her and their children.
What is your favorite thing about genealogy?
I’ve always been fascinated by the ancient Egyptians, who believed that as long as you were remembered, you were immortal. I like to think that when we seek our ancestors and learn their stories, we give them that immortality. But even more than that, I love watching my clients discover connections to their roots and see similarities between themselves and those long-gone family members. I’ve seen real healing happen as my clients learn the reasons behind decisions their ancestors made. It’s humbling and inspiring.
Thank you so much to Sara the Skeleton Whisperer. If you want to check out other interviews in our Genealogy in the Works series, click here and be sure to e-mail us at thehipsterhistorian (at) gmail (dot) com if you know of anyone that would be perfect to feature on our blog.

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Genealogy In The Works: Found Photos with Kati Dimoff

Have you ever read a story that was just so fascinating you had to know more? I knew when I read this story about Kati Dimoff of K Dimoff Photography who found undeveloped photos in a vintage camera of the Mt. St. Helen’s explosion from 1980 — I just had to get in contact with her.

And, lucky for all my readers she responded and we have an interview with Kati Dimoff on the blog today. Be sure to read on and leave comments below about what Kati does and what you think of the Genealogy in the Works interviews. Thank you again to Kati for the interview.  -BC

Kati Dimoff
Photographer Kati Dimoff

How long have you been developing photos from vintage cameras and what prompted you to start doing this? 

When I’m in thrift stores, I’m always looking for vintage prints or slides.  A few years ago I found my first roll of undeveloped film during a search, and I’ve been checking for them ever since.  Every time I’m in SE Portland, I stop into the Goodwill on Grand Ave and check all their film cameras for exposed but undeveloped rolls of film. If I find one, I buy the camera and take the film to Blue Moon Camera and Machine in the St Johns neighborhood to have it developed.

Karen Purvis, Grandmother Faye, Tristan Purvis, Mel Purvis.
Karen Purvis, Grandmother Faye, Tristan Purvis, Mel Purvis.

They are one of the best labs in the country for developing old, expired, or out-of-production film. on may 26th, I bought an Argus C2, which would have been produced around 1938, and it had a damaged roll of Kodachrome slide film in it. Blue Moon developed it for me (Kodachrome was a color slide film, but since 2010 the process for developing it has been discontinued, so it must be developed in black and white) and when I picked up the prints on Monday, June 12th, there was a note on the package that said “Is this from the Mt. St. Helen’s eruption?”

Mt. St. Helen's erupting
Mt. St. Helen’s erupting

Some of the shots showed Mt. St. Helen’s way off in the distance with just the little puffs of ash from the beginning of the eruption, with the Longview bridge in view, so it must have been shot from just off Highway 30.

Two of the shots showed a larger ash cloud, with John Gumm Elementary school in the foreground (in St. Helen’s, Oregon). Another shot included a family in a backyard. That family turned out to be Mel Purvis, his wife Karen, his grandmother Faye and his son Tristan. Mel contacted the Oregonian and told them that the camera had belonged to his grandmother, Faye. I will be mailing to Mel the camera (and negatives and prints).

Mt. St. Helen’s is my favorite place. I grew up on the Oregon coast and would have been almost 2 years old when Mt. St. Helen’s erupted. My parents remember ash falling in our yard even though we were hundreds of miles away. It’s always been a formative childhood event (even though I don’t personally remember it).

My family makes a day trip up to Loowit Lookout every summer. It feels sacred there. The landscape, both what is still damaged and what has grown and come back since the eruption, is awe inspiring. So, when I realized my found film had images of the eruption, it felt like it was meant to be. Also, I was curious how it could be that anyone would shoot images of the eruption (which was such an iconic time here in the Pacific Northwest) and not run right out and get them developed. Instead, leaving them in the camera and somehow forgot about it for 37 years.

I’m a very sentimental person, and I love old photographs. This chance happening has been really special. I think people need to see some good news. The photos themselves aren’t that special in terms of new perspective on the eruption, but the serendipity of it all and the fact that the family was found so quickly is what makes the story. Mel Purvis’s mother passed away last Saturday (she’s the one who would have taken the family photo on mel’s grandmother’s camera). One of my friends commented that his “Mama called to tell her son that she is ok!” Could it get any better than that?

Other than your infamous Mt. St. Helen’s explosion photos, what other types of pictures have you found?

I have found photos of people’s pets, vacations in England, the Portland International Raceway in the 70s or 80s, vacations in San Francisco.

If someone wanted to start doing the same thing you are doing, what would you suggest to them?

Estate sales and thrift stores are great places to look for vintage prints and/or film.

Argus C2, c. 1938
Argus C2, c. 1938

Tell us more about your photography business and how you got started? 

I’ve been shooting professionally for 8 years now. I mostly work with families, though I also do commercial work. I want your photos to feel like the early childhood scene sequence in Terrence Malick’s film, The Tree of Life —  earnest,  timeless, like life is moving at three-quarter speed. Hair and curtains caught in the wind that is almost as loud as the blood rushing in your ears and the leaves rustling above. Weighty and heart-achingly beautiful.

What part of history and genealogy fascinates you the most?

I’m just very sentimental. I want to fill in all the blanks!

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Genealogy in the Works: The Genetic Genealogist

This week we are interviewing one of my favorite genealogists and genetic experts, Blaine Bettinger author of The Genetic Genealogist. I first came across Blaine’s work with his book The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy that my mother purchased me for Christmas this last year. On a quest to understand more about what makes me, well, me, I delved into the science behind DNA and absolutely loved what I found. Read on to find out more about the man behind the genes.

Blaine Bettinger

How do genealogy and DNA intersect for you? 

Although I was a genealogist for many years before DNA arrived on the scene, it was DNA that really made me a genealogist.

In 2003, I was in grad school studying biochemistry and I somehow saw an ad for a DNA test. It combined science and genealogy, the two things I love the most. It was actually an autosomal DNA test, unusual at that time. The results came back, wildly inaccurate I now know, but that started my obsession with genetic genealogy. mtDNA and Y-DNA testing soon followed, then asking family members, and much more.

A few years later I found that there were no online resources available for genealogists who were taking these early DNA tests, so I started my blog, The Genetic Genealogist, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary. I didn’t know it at the time, but starting that blog would change the entire future direction of my life.

How did you get started in genealogy?

In middle school, my English teacher assigned a short family tree, just 3 or 4 generations. This was before the days of the internet, so I had to actually call up relatives to ask about our family tree (thank goodness for the “good old days”!). I called my grandmother to help, and she recited numerous generations entirely from memory! I attached the extra paper to include all those ancestors.

Hamilton Caldwell/Colwell - my most Irish-looking ancestor photo!
Hamilton Caldwell/Colwell

She’s the reason I’m a genealogist. My paternal grandfather died before I was born, and I had little knowledge of or interaction with the very few people that remained. My grandmother was a gateway to that family and she gave me so much. Needless to say, I was hooked on genealogy after just one phone call.

What is your current study or area of passion?

It’s probably no surprise that it’s DNA. I spend every spare moment of every day thinking about, writing about, or teaching others about DNA. Thankfully I don’t see any end in sight!

Blaine + his sons
Blaine + his sons

Tell us a little quick story about your family history! 

In the 1890’s, my 3rd-great-grandmother was elderly and mostly blind. While visiting her daughter and son-in-law, they had her dictate and sign a will. However, the document she signed was actually a deed turning over the entire family farm to the daughter. The trick was soon discovered when the daughter’s brother – who lived on the farm – saw the transaction in the newspaper. Following a short court action brought by the mother and the brother, the deed was overturned. I have some of the court records, and they are fascinating. They contain a transcript of testimony, almost allowing me to “hear” my ancestors’ words. For example, my 3rd-great-grandmother gave the following testimony in court:

“I remember the day I went from my home to New Haven to visit my daughter Betty Van Alstine. My husband had been buried the 30th day of August, which was on Sunday, and two weeks from that day I went to visit her. It was about the middle of September….After we got there, Betty said something about my making a will or disposing of my property. I was there two weeks. William and Betty thought I had ought to do it, or wanted me to do it—make a disposition of my property. They didn’t say much the first week; it was the second week that they importuned me. Betty had told me never to deed away a foot of land while I lived; she said that just a short time before I went there. She was out to my house, back and forth, while her father was sick—both before and after his death. She told me never to sign a note; if I did I would have it to pay. I said to her: “Betty, don’t worry. I shall never deed away a foot of land while I live. If my children can’t trust me, I can’t trust them.” That was the first conversation.”

Some years afterward, the daughter apparently wrote several heartbreaking letters to her mother, apologizing and begging her to forgive her. They never reconciled and the mother died a few short years later. Although those letters existed as recently as 30 years ago, they’ve since been lost. Unfortunately, I never had a chance to see them.

What advice would you give to genealogists?

If at all possible, go to a conference or an institute. The educational opportunities are unparalleled, and it is so affirming to see other people as crazy as you are! These are gatherings of hundreds of people that also yearn to explore the cemeteries they driveby, and have boxes of family heirlooms they’ve been meaning to catalog and preserve for years!

Why is genealogy important to you?

I can’t begin to list all the ways that genealogy is important to me.

Our lives on earth are so fleeting. Studying and recreating the lives of my ancestors gives us a perspective that others may not ever gain. I think we see life as relationships, as friends and families and acquaintances, and we realize that although we may leave a legacy behind, it is over all too quickly. All too soon, the two dates on either side of the hyphen are filled in.

Blaine Bettinger

I think that some people have a genetic drive to be the story collectors and storytellers. Genealogists preserve and share the past to help future generations. Maybe there’s even an evolutionary reason we have this drive. For most of human history we collected these stories mentally and shared them orally, and now we use paper and software.

And to me, one of the most important aspects of genealogy has nothing to do with dead people. It’s about the living, the many friends I’ve gained since immersing myself in genealogy. For whatever reason, most genealogists tend to be the friendliest and most fun-loving people I’ve ever met. I’ve found my people, as someone recently said to me, and I am loving every minute of it!

A big thank you to Blaine! You can find him at the wildly popular The Genetic Genealogist website here and on Facebook + Twitter. 

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


Genealogy in the Works: The Ultimate Genealogist Blogger

Genealogy waits for no man (or woman) and it’s been a few weeks since I was able to get an interview for Genealogy In The Works out on the blog. But wait no longer, today’s interview is with Thomas MacEntee from Geneabloggers.

Thomas and I met when I posted my first Genealogy In The Works with Patrick Barrett — you can view it here. Through friends, I was introduced to him and other like-minded genealogy bloggers and quickly came into a deep appreciation for what he does. I’ve even done a few of his prompts with Tombstone Tuesday.

Without further ado, here is Thomas MacEntee, founder of GeneaBloggers.

1. Your website, GeneaBloggers is one of the most well-known in the social media community of genealogists. How did this start and what did you/do you hope to get from that?

In late 2008, I was able to step back and see the coming convergence of Facebook, Twitter, improved Internet access speeds and genealogy to realize there would be a need for a site such as GeneaBloggers. I know I wasn’t the only genealogy blogger and there was a small hardcore group of bloggers who were also passionate about family history. So I decided to organize these bloggers into an online community to promote the concept of blogging family history, to promote various blogs, and to provide resources to get people started on blogging.

Thomas MacEntee, 2016
Thomas MacEntee, 2016

2. How did you get started in genealogy?

My first taste was in 1977 when the mini-series Roots appeared on television. I watched the series with my great-grandparents, and after each episode, we’d discuss our family history. I was told there was a “book” about our genealogy that had been printed.

Sure enough, in the late 1980s, I received a copy of this “book” when my great-grandmother died – it was printed in 1916 and traced my mother’s Putman line back to 1645 in New York.

I really didn’t pick up the genealogy bug until the mid-1990s when Family Tree Maker software gained in popularity as did

3. What is your current area of study or passion?

As a business owner of a small genealogy company, I’m trying to figure out how to communicate and create a sense of “urgency” to current and future family historians. Historically, genealogy has been something that older people pursue when they retire. We need to preserve family stories and artifacts NOW, not later and get all generational levels of the family passionate about family history.

4. Tell us a quick story about our family!

My family can be traced to Rhode Island (Robert Austin of Charlestown, b. 1628), New York (David Putman, arrived Schenectady 1645) and New York (Hugo Freer, founder of New Paltz, NY, arrived abt. 1675). I’m sure there are scandals like any family but I haven’t found too many of them so far!

5. What advice would you give to genealogists?

Go slow – this is not a race.

Be accurate – you want to leave a solid legacy, not sloppy work.

Cite your sources – know how you found information.

Connect with others and share – you are a steward for your family history

6. Why is genealogy important to you? 

Genealogy helps understand certain familial traits and behaviors and it also helps me put my family in the context of history overall.

7. What is your favorite thing about genealogy? 

I love problem-solving and cracking open mysteries about my families.

A big thank you to Thomas! You can find him at the wildly popular GeneaBloggers website here and on Facebook + Pinterest. Be sure to follow The Hipster Historian on Facebook here.


Genealogy in the Works – Reuniting Families

Happy President’s Day! It seems like this month has gone by so quickly – but most February’s do. We here at The Hipster Historian were able to get out to a cemetery in the county and take a few pictures (see here) as well as interview our newest member of the Genealogy in the Works family, Karen from the British Home Child Group International (BHCGI).

The British Home Child Group International is a group of genealogists and historians seeking to help those families who are searching for their long-lost loved ones.  As the website states,

“From the early 1860’s up to the 1970’s, children who were institutionalized in ‘Homes’ across the UK, were sent, to countries across the British Empire to be used as indentured farm workers and domestics. The majority of the up to 120,000 British Home children sent to Canada, arrived between 1869 and 1939. Mostly, they ranged in age from four to fifteen.”

The BHCGI  is something I hadn’t heard of and I just had to interview with Karen to get to know more about the hundreds of thousands of home children who have been lost to history. Read on to learn more.

1. What is the British Home Child Group International and how did you get involved?

The BHCGI is an organization that myself and 3 others founded in 2015. Our mission statement is to provide free research and genealogical tips and to reunite families of British Home Children world-wide. Through our Facebook page and website we help those seeking information. We have some amazing researchers who are always willing to help.

2. How did you get interested in genealogy?

From a young age I was always interested in my family history.  My dad started in 1969 when he learned that our surname had been changed from Gandley to Stanley.

3. What is your current study or area of passion?

I have a few areas that I enjoy researching, of course British Home Children, but I find the history of my Province (Ontario) quite fascinating. I am a volunteer with the Sharon Burying Ground which contains members of the Children of Peace, an offshoot of the Quaker’s. They played an important role in the area.

They built the Province’s first homeless shelter, started the first civilian band in Canada and developed the first farmer’s co-operative. The Children of Peace also played a critical role in the development of democracy in Canada. I also enjoy researching the First World War. I am quite proud that Lt. John McCrae, the writer of In Flanders Fields, went to my high school.

Sharon Burying Ground
Sharon Burying Ground

4. Tell us a little quick story about your family history! 

I enjoy researching the “black sheep” of the family. As I said earlier my great grandfather changed our surname from Gandley to Stanley upon entering Canada in 1906, but after he came back from serving in the First World War, he disappeared never to be seen or heard from again.

Eventually I found that he went back to England, changed his name back to Gandley, married another woman and had 4 more children. I thought the story of my other great grandfather Thomas Shorter who was a butler in England and Ireland was a pretty simple story, until a few years ago I was contacted by a gentleman in England whose grandmother was a parlor maid in the same household as my great grandfather in the 1901 UK Census.

A year later, she had a baby boy, naming him after the butler. Why did she name him after the butler, was he kind to her in her time of need, or was he the father? Well, it turns out the Butler did do it and I have a new great uncle and family.


5. What advice would you give to genealogists?

My advice to genealogists would be to think outside the box, not everything is black and white and to have an open mind while researching. I would also encourage people to talk to their more senior family member’s, they can be a wealth of information that may help you in your research.


6. Why is genealogy important to you?

Genealogy is important to me as it reminds the living of those who have passed. It honours the struggles and joys of your ancestors and what they went through to where you are now. It’s a passion that can be very rewarding.

Give a big thank you to Karen for her interview. Check out the British Home Child Group International website here and be sure to check back next week for our next Genealogy in the Works interview.




Genealogy in the Works: Infertility and Genealogy

I’m absolutely loving the interest generated by the Genealogy in the Works series here at The Hipster Historian. It has been so much fun interviewing everyone and I can’t wait to share future stories with you. Have you missed the last two weeks? Check out my interview here and Patrick Barrett’s “Being Gay in Genealogy” interview here.

Today’s interview happens to be with a long-time high school friend, Kirsten (Graff) Beyer. Kirsten and I became friends when I moved friendless to a new state,  a new school, and a new life at the beginning of my 9th-grade year. Kirsten was always kind to me and even though our interests and passions have changed over the years, Kirsten and I remain friends with a common issue. Read on to find out more.

Kirsten and her husband Sean, 2016
Kirsten and her husband Sean, 2016
1. How did you get interested in genealogy?

As a child, I was always fascinated by history and antiques. My love for genealogy though came specifically at age 10. I remember sitting out on the front porch with my mother one evening, talking and reminiscing about family memories we had. She shared stories of her father (who passed away when I was just a year old), and her grandparents. I remember feeling intrigued and wanting to learn more.

Sensing my excitement, she asked me to wait while she went into the house. A few moments later she returned with a box full of files, papers, photos, and books. She shared that before her father passed away, he gave her all of the genealogy information he had, and asked her if she would keep it and continue the work for him.

As we searched through the box, we came across an old, worn book that appeared to be a ledger of sorts. She explained that it was the journal of my great-great-grandfather! I was utterly mesmerized as she slowly thumbed through the pages full of letters and photos and handwritten passages. I loved the feel of the book in my hands and the smell of the old paper. From that night on, I was hooked! I was determined to learn as much of my family history as I could, and I have loved it ever since!

Kirsten and niece Amelia
Kirsten and her niece Amelia
2. Do you think your experience as someone who cannot have biological children colors your interest in genealogy?

I’ve always been a very traditional person by nature. Very much “by the book” and believing that there is a natural order to things. My 8+ year struggle with infertility has been deeply painful and has colored every aspect of my life. I think it that very traditional part of me though that mourns the deepest. Feeling like I have thrown off the natural order of things, or “broken the family chain”. That desire to “keep things going” is hard to reconcile when you are just not able to do so. The empty family chart under your name can be a stark reminder of what you’re missing.

Despite not having any children of my own though, I feel especially driven to work the family history for my nieces and nephews. As the oldest of 5 children, I was the only one to take a strong interest in genealogy growing up. Many stories and experiences have been passed on to me, and I know that should something happen to me before I preserved them, they would be lost completely. I also had the beautiful privilege of traveling to Germany to meet my great-grandmother several years before she passed away. I was the only one of my cousins ever able to meet this amazing woman in person; to sit at her feet and hear her stories in her own voice.

The only one who knew what her hands felt like, and what her laugh sounded like, and what she smelled like when you hugged her. I’m the only one of my siblings that has seen the village my mother was born in and heard the stories from those relatives there that are no longer with us. Genealogy is important to me because I feel an obligation to share those things! To share my memories and my knowledge and my experiences with my family members, particularly the children. Knowledge and insight into your past can be a powerful tool. I feel that obligation to my nieces and nephews to preserve those stories.


There’s great power that can come from knowing who you are and where you come from, and the lessons that can be learned. Whether I ever have children or not, I still feel like these stories are worth sharing. Stories of faith and fortitude; of strength and resilience; of love and beauty; of courage during dark times—I suppose, in some ways, that’ll be a type of legacy I’m able to leave behind. The gift of their stories. The gift of my family history.

What is your current study or area of passion?

I am passionate about my family, particularly my sweetheart husband Sean and my little nieces and nephews! They are the sunshine in my life. I also love being Mama to my fur babies. We have a 7 yr. old cat named Paw, a 6 yr. old corgi named Moe, and a 7-month-old bunny named Kaylee.  I’m passionate about traveling and love studying history, cultures, and languages from around the world. I’m passionate about reading and my husband would attest to the fact that I own more books than I have space for! I also love spending time with friends, cooking/baking, philately, crafting, writing, party planning, kayaking in the summertime, and of course, genealogy!

4. Tell us a quick little story about your family history!

Growing up, we regularly heard the dramatic tale of my grandparent’s marriage. My grandmother Christel was the oldest of 7 children and the only daughter. Her family lived in a small village in southwestern Germany. She met grandpa Richard while he was serving in the military and stationed near her village. They courted and fell in love. When they went to her home and announced their engagement, her mother became furious! Here was her only daughter, announcing her intent to marry to a recently divorced man that was an American soldier and who was not Roman Catholic. Talk about scandalous! It’s said that great grandma was so outraged at the news that she broke a china plate over her head! She told her daughter that if she married that man she would be cut off from the family. Christel loved Richard though and was determined to see the wedding through. It wasn’t long before they were married, and soon after she became pregnant with my mother.

Richard and Christel
Richard and Christel

Fast forward 42 years–my mother and I were in Germany touring that small village. Grandmas brother Georg took us to the house that she and Grandpa lived in after their marriage, and the people that owned it kindly gave us a tour. Georg verified to us the validity of the story, and how upset and heartbroken great-grandma had truly been. He said though that the morning of the wedding, she had a slight softening of the heart, and allowed young Georg to go alone and be there at the wedding. Even though it makes me sad that Grandma had to suffer without the full support of her family, I’m happy that she had one sweet, familiar face from home to share in the joy of her special day.

5. What advice would you give to genealogists?

First — Write things down!

If something important is happening in your life or in your family, take the time to record it. Stories, special occasions, photos, meaningful conversations with loved ones. I first learned this lesson at age 14. My beautiful grandmother Mary was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and had been slowly losing her memory over several years time.

One weekend shortly before she passed away, she came to stay with my family and we enjoyed having her company. I took the opportunity to take her for a walk around our neighborhood one afternoon.We walked quietly for a while, and then suddenly she began to speak. She shared memories from her childhood and the small town she grew up in. She verified her birthplace, offered thoughts about her family members, gave me pertinent advice, and shared beautiful memories of when she and my grandfather were dating and he would take her dancing. She spoke clearly and surely, and I was both amazed and shocked, partly because I had never heard these memories and facts before, and partly because Alzheimer’s had stolen most of her ability to carry on a conversation in this way.

It was if she was given a few moments of clarity to share what was on her mind, and it was an amazing thing to witness. I was aware something special was happening, so I made it a point to pay close attention and write it down as soon as I got home. I’m so grateful I did! I always admonish people to take the time to write things down. Don’t wait until it’s muddled and fading or lost. Record it as soon as possible!

Second–Always double check!

Whether you’re verifying records, or desperately searching for a name, or sorting through belongings of a deceased loved one, always double check! I remember after my grandfather passed away in 2007, I was helping grandma clear old boxes and trash out of his room. Before I left, she handed me a small box of old 4th of July lights to drop in the dumpster on my way out. I got outside, opened the garbage lid, but before I dropped it I decided I would just double check. I opened the lid and was shocked to find an assortment of amazing treasures I’d never seen before! There was an old journal from 1935, a couple of small naval ledgers, a pocket knife, receipts, some jewelry and pins, a dog tag, and much more.  For some reason, Grandpa had chosen to stash these old keepsakes away in this light box, and had I not taken the split second to open that box and double check, those treasures would have been lost to us forever.

Third–Pass your love of genealogy along!

For me, there’s something beautiful and exciting in sharing the joy of genealogy with someone, especially a child. To watch the spark in their eyes as they discover new and amazing things about who they are and where they come from. I had an awesome experience just last year of sharing the joy of genealogy with a young lady in my church.

While sorting through some family records online, we discovered a small, private family cemetery on the east coast where some of her direct ancestors were buried. It was hidden away, had been largely forgotten, and when asked, her family had no knowledge of it. We reached out online to a genealogist in that area, and she verified that the cemetery was indeed there, and she was gracious enough to take photos of the tombstones so that we could verify names and dates and make the connections. To say my young friend was excited is an understatement! She fell in love with genealogy that night, and I felt privileged to be able to share that joy with her.

6. Why is genealogy important to you?

As I mentioned before, it’s important to me to pass it along. It’s important to me that my nieces and nephews know where they’re from and who they come from. Connection to your past offers an incredible sense of self-worth. It’s an awareness that you are part of something greater. That is a never-ending sea of names and dates and faces, you are unique and rare and precious. That realization is a beautiful gift.

Kirsten and niece Amelia
Kirsten and niece LeeLee
Also, as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I believe that the relationships we have with our family members are eternal and that we are all brothers and sisters connected in one long family chain. Genealogy is about building bridges, making connections, and reaching out in love to those that have come before you, and those that are following behind you. I suppose, in its essence, it is both a labor and a legacy of love.
Thank you so much to Kirsten Beyer for this interview. Be sure to check in next week for our next Genealogy in the Works interview. Follow The Hipster Historian on Facebook and Instagram.

Genealogy in the Works: Being Gay in Genealogy

It’s been a couple days since we’ve gotten to blogging, but in that time our transcription service, Life Stories was published in (thank you!!) and had a chance to attend a family reunion for Grandpa’s 93rd birthday — what an age! But we were eager to get back and share with you another interview in our Genealogy in the Works Series,  to read more, click here.

This week’s interview is with my good friend Patrick Barrett. I met Patrick years ago on an online discussion forum and we’ve been friends ever since. Read on to find out more about Patrick and why genealogy means so much to him.

1. As a gay man, how do you think your experience in genealogy differs from others?

I think the thing about being a gay genealogist is that, naturally, you wonder who was gay. Most of the time, you can’t really know. You can’t assume that the old spinsters and bachelors in your family were gay, not at all. People stay single for lots of reasons.

Up until within my lifetime, most gay people married people of the opposite sex, brought up children, and had their same-sex companions ‘on the side’ — if at all. Because of bigotry and anti-gay laws, they were usually very afraid of being found out, and they tried not to leave any clues.

Patrick Barrett, Christmas 2016
Patrick Barrett, Christmas 2016

They could be targets of violence, and they could be imprisoned. They could easily lose their jobs, their families, everything. Even in the 1990’s, I had a gay landlord who warned me never to mention anything about gay bars or gay people to his son. ‘I’d just die if my grandchildren found out I was gay.’

Sometimes there seem to be clues. Sometimes you think, ‘Well, he may not have been gay, but he seems to have known all the gay people in town.’ Or, ‘He really seems to have been unusually affectionate toward that one friend.’ But it’s mostly guesswork, and I don’t guess in writing, especially if the people involved have children or grandchildren still living.

Most people, even today, don’t want to hear that Mama was a lesbian, or that Grandpa was gay, and when you speculate without proof, I think you’re in danger of stirring up ill feelings that can be detrimental to both your family relationships and your research. I wouldn’t bring it up except with a relative I knew to be open to the subject, and even then, I’d be cautious.

It’s tragic to me that these people’s stories are lost because of the bigotry they faced. Not just the stories, either. Most of the time we don’t even know who they were. They survived by keeping their true selves secret, and now all they’re lost to us. We know about people like Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman, but most of the gay people of past are secret people, and we’ll never know about them.

2. What is your current field of study or passion in genealogy right now?

For the last ten years or so, I’ve grown very interested in houses and neighborhoods. Not just local history, but neighborhood history. It’s not genealogy, strictly speaking, but I think it helps flesh out our ancestors’ lives. I’m not just interested in names and dates; I want to know who my ancestors were, and what life was like for them. Neighborhood history is easier in cities, and until relatively recently most of our ancestors lived on farms, but either way, it’s interesting to me.

Families now are more insular than they used to be. For many families, all the adults work outside the home, and everybody goes everywhere by car, so you might not even know your neighbors, but it wasn’t that way until recently.

When I was a kid in the 1960’s, we knew everybody on our street and most of the people on nearby streets. Kids played and roamed unsupervised. We made our own social connections, without play dates and apart from organized activities, and our parents, too, socialized with the neighbors. Neighbors were much more significant in our lives than they usually are now.

So I ask questions like:

1. Who lived next door? Down the block?
2. When was this house built? What families lived there over the years?
3. What businesses operated in the neighborhood?
4. How far was it to church? Who was the priest or minister?
5. How far was it to the grocery? To the park?

Sometimes — quite often, in fact — you find that a neighbor down the street was an aunt or a cousin, but mostly it just helps you understand the setting in which your ancestors lived. It gives you a better sense of what their day-to-day lives may have been like. For me, that’s what it’s all about: Understanding who they were and what their lives were like. It’s all about stories.

3. When did you first get into genealogy and what spurred that?

When I was ten years old, we had to make a simple pedigree chart, back to great-grandparents, in school. I had to get my parents to help, and I learned that my maternal grandmother wasn’t just Edna, but Stella Edna. I learned that my paternal grandmother wasn’t just Hulda, but Hulda Hedwig Barbara. I learned new names and surnames I’d never heard before, and it all seemed intriguing.

Hulda Hedwig Barbara Kleist
Hulda Hedwig Barbara Kleist

My father’s mother took me to the newspaper office and showed me how to find obits on microfilms. (The local paper had been indexed, so it wasn’t just scrolling through microfilms for hours.) She also took me to the courthouse and showed me how to look up vital records, and she took me to the cemetery and showed me where her father and her grandparents were buried.

She had already done some research on my grandfather’s family. When my great-grandmother was dying, she placed her four youngest children in Catholic orphanages, and they were eventually discharged to three separate homes. Grandpa’s brother Ray was adopted by a couple named Stutz but later resumed the surname Barrett. When he died in 1966, my grandparents weren’t sure if his legal name was Barrett or Stutz. They never did find any evidence that he had legally changed it back, but it turned out not to be a problem. Along the way, Grandma found out a lot about Grandpa’s family.

So suddenly there was all this new information, all these things I had never known, and there were still lots of loose ends and mysteries. I felt I had to find out more. I still feel that way. I’ve been doing this for forty-six years, and I guess I’ll do it as long as I’m able.

4. Tell us a little quick story about your family history! 

I like the stories about people who pushed the boundaries of propriety a little.

My great-great-grandfather, Maney Rominger, was the son and brother of Methodist preachers, but he was never baptized. When he was a little boy, they held a baptism at the river, and Maney was supposed to be baptized, but he ran and hid in the rushes instead. He never did get baptized. He died young, in his late thirties, and when he was on his deathbed his mother begged him to be baptized before he died. Maney refused, declaring, ‘I’m a close to heb’m as any ob ‘m.’

Maney Rominger & Wife Margaret Hicks
Maney Rominger & Wife Margaret Hicks

Maney’s wife, Margaret, had a sister called Josie. Josie was never married, but she had six children — which, as you can imagine, was pretty scandalous in the late nineteenth century. A neighbor once brought up Josie’s situation to my grandmother’s Aunt Martha, who was Josie’s niece. Aunt Martha replied, ‘I don’t agree with the way she’s a-livin’, but she’s my aunt, and I’ll stand by her.’ Josie died a few years before I was born, so I never knew her, but I’ve talked to relatives who knew her. One of my Mom’s cousins told me, ‘I admire Aunt Josie. Anybody can have one child out of wedlock, but when you have six, you just don’t care what anybody thinks.’

5. What advice would you give to genealogists?

Talk to your old people, and do it soon.

They know the stories, and when they’re gone you might not get another chance. Ask questions, too. If they say, ‘My cousin and I … ‘ ask them which cousin that was.Who were his parents? (At the same time, don’t get in the way of the stories. Let the narrative flow, and ask follow-up questions.)

Sometimes you might be surprised at what you don’t know. Sometimes people go through their whole lives never thinking to mention to their grandchildren that they had a brother who died young, or that before they met Grandpa, they had a fiance who died in the war.

All our lives mingle. There's no clear line where your grandmother ends and your mother begins, or you do. - Patrick Barrett
All our lives mingle. There’s no clear line where your grandmother ends and your mother begins, or you do. – Patrick Barrett

When you get older, you say, ‘I wish I’d asked … ‘ But then it’s too late.

Also, don’t limit yourself to just your grandparents. Their siblings and their cousins have stories, too. Maybe your grandmother didn’t know her grandparents, but she had a cousin who knew them well.

Even younger people might have stories about your ancestors. Maybe your great-grandfather didn’t talk about his family, but he had a brother who did, and that brother’s grandchildren know stories that are lost to your branch of the family. Try to find those people.

You can only push it so far, of course. When your relatives are telling you that your ancestor from 250 years ago was the younger son of a duke, or that he was one of seven brothers who came to America after the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie — well, those stories might be true and they might not.

If you take them too seriously, they can lead you down a lot of false trails and impede your research. But write them down, anyway. Even your family’s myths are part of your family history. Sometimes they even turn out to be true.

6. Why is genealogy important to you?

The stories are very important to me, of course. You also gain a much greater understanding of history when you see how it played out in the lives of your ancestors, and when you find that things were never as simple and clear-cut as what you learned in school.

Beyond that, genealogy teaches you, and then constantly reminds you, that we’re all connected. We really are all biologically related, and beyond that, we have all kinds of other connections. I’ve heard from a woman whose ancestors owned the factory where my great-grandmother worked. I’ve heard from people whose ancestors came over in the same ship, on the same voyage, with my ancestors. I’ve run into people whose ancestor was a close friend of my sixth-great-grandfather. My great-grandfather’s cousin was a nun, and I’ve corresponded with a nun who knew her.

All our lives mingle. There’s no clear line where your grandmother ends and your mother begins, or you do. They’re part of you. It’s more like gradual shading and blending.  All our lives blend into other lives.

Once you get enough perspective, you see that humanity really is one big community and one big family and — in a way — one big organism. We’re all parts of one another.

Thank you so much to Patrick Barrett for this interview. Be sure to check in next week for our next Genealogy in the Works interview. Follow The Hipster Historian on Facebook and Instagram.


Genealogy in the Works: What it Means to be a Genealogist

Genealogy. When you hear it most often images of older folks or Mormons come to mind, but put that aside for a moment. Genealogy is so much more than dates and places. It is people, it is lives, it is stories that we shouldn’t forget.

In this series, Genealogy in the Works we will be interviewing genealogist of every background. This includes gay and queer genealogists. What it means for the family tree when you are a transgender individual or how to approach issues of sensitivity like slavery and indigenous tribes. All of this comes together to create an intersectional  view of genealogy and family history.

This series really wouldn’t make sense without explaining who I am first, so here goes:

Becks Campbell
Becks Campbell at one of her favorite local restaurants, 2016

Who are you?

I’m Becks Campbell. I run The Hipster Historian blog and am the sole owner of Life Stories Transcription Services.  I’ve been an amateur genealogist for most of my life and in the last year have decided to go into my favorite hobby professionally.  I’ve been married to my college sweetheart for 12 years and live in the Pacific Northwest.

Becks Campbell and Spouse
Becks Campbell and her Husband, 2016


Why genealogy?

My mother is a professional genealogist and has been for well over twenty years. As a child growing up in the Mormon Church family ties and genealogy was emphasized heavily to me and after I left the church the passion for genealogy still stuck around. I’m completely obsessed with the stories of the past and who we were and who we will become.

Donna Mae Blocher
Becks late paternal grandmother, Donna Mae Blocher

What does it mean to be a genealogist?

Loaded question. Genealogy, by definition, is the study and research of ancestral lines. But in reality, it is so much more than that. We as genealogists are tasked with finding long-lost loved ones, records that may not exist and people that don’t want to be found. We pour through years of directories and censuses, and in some cases, it can be quite sobering what you’ve found.

In my narrative writing project Forgotten Women of History I’ve found stories of domestic abuse, child abandonment, and murder — to name a few. We need to be aware that when we are researching a family line either for ourselves, for friends or for clients that there needs to be sensitivity and ethics involved.

What is your favorite genealogy blog to follow?

Right now there are so many amazing blogs to follow but I would highly suggest checking out Geneabloggers by Thomas MacEntee. It is the biggest source of networking and genealogy related blogs on the web right now.

What is your current field of study or research?

After several friends with Italian heritage asked me to research their history, I got hooked. I’m currently researching the Sorrentino’s, Serago’s, Pescatore’s and Bugni’s. In addition, because most of my work has been coming from that area I am slowly (but surely!) learning Italian. It is a big task, but I’m ready for it.

Where else can we find you?

I’m all over the web, but my favorite places to hang out are here at The Hipster Historian, working on transcriptions at my business Life Stories Transcription Services and my narrative writing project, Forgotten Women of History.

Thanks for reading and be sure to check by next week for our next Genealogy in the Works interview!