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: 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!