Papers and Projects

In my last post, I referenced the call for papers for the 2016 Missouri Valley History Conference. If you are unfamiliar with what this conference is about and why it’s a good idea to participate please check out my prior post on this topic.

While my family was on vacation, more specifically while my family was driving for 9 hours to Minnesota’s North Shore, I got the chance to mull over my proposals.  I’ve changed my mind about what to do several times now. At first, I thought about submitting just one proposal about my steamboat captain project. Then, I thought about submitting just one about latest Overland trail research project.  THEN, I thought why choose? Do both.  Changed my mind a few more times and I have finally made my decision- for real this time.

I am really excited about my latest Overland trail research project. I reviewed my collection of secondary sources on the Overland trail and was surprised to find that while other trail historians have discussed this topic, they did not do so in as much detail as I thought. This means that either I am opening the door once again to an overlooked aspect of the trail experience, or, that no one really cares about it. This point is something I need to think about more.

Now, the timeline for MVHC is as follows: proposals due by November 3, paper turned into moderators by the beginning of February 2016, and present the first weekend of March 2016. That all means that I’d want my research wrapped up by the end of December so I can start writing the first week of January. After surveying some of the 80 trail diaries I have on file, I realized that this is a much bigger project than I anticipated. If I want to finish my article on my other Overland trail project and enjoy the holidays, I can’t do this project within the timeframe established.  Furthermore, to do this project would mean my work on my steamboat captain project would come to a hault until after the conference.  I am shelving this project until next summer or fall.

That leaves my steamboat captain project. I am incredibly passionate and invested in this project. It has been a labor of love for several years. I first heard of this captain’s story in 2012. At the time, I was attempting to make my way as a professional genealogist. I donated a research package to a local charity event. The winner of the package was a descendant of my steamboat captain’s brother. One question she wanted me to answer was if the family was really related to him. I was able to confirm that, but, the overall goals and limitations of her project meant I could not dig fully into his story. Once I wrapped up research for her, I asked if she minded if I continue on my own and write book about him one day. Not necessary I know, but, I felt I owed that to her. She gave me her blessing.  I was also in graduate school at the time so I knew this project would be shelved until after I graduated.  Anyhow….I digress.

This steamboat captain project is a huge project. I can create several writings from blog posts, articles, books, to guides from this project. I can also create several presentations geared towards genealogy and historical organizations from it. I could probably do so now based upon what I already have. But, there is so much more I can learn about him. I think realistically my research into specifically the captain can stretch into 2017 and research into related aspects can stretch well beyond. I was hesitant to commit to presenting a paper about him because of how long the research can stretch on. What if I find out even more about him? I came to the realization that I was expecting too much of myself…it is only a 20 minute presentation. I’m not going to be reading a book, just a 10 page paper. To further convince myself that it is okay to move ahead with the paper, I made a list of different papers I can present at MVHC that are related to the captain and his line of work. I came up with 8 solid ideas, at one paper a year that is enough papers to get me to 2024!

The other hesitation I had is that it means really putting my research out there. If you read my prior post about MVHC then you know how beneficial it can be to do just that. My concern comes from the fact that aspects of my trail research and writings (blog posts and thesis) have been ripped off by someone (not anyone at MVHC or UNK). Unfortunately, while this person is dumb enough to rip off someone else’s work and to pretend to be an expert when they are not , they are smart enough to avoid doing it in a manner that gives me the slam dunk evidence I need to do much about it. I’ve also been a repeat victim of having my ideas stolen by other people, not much I can do about that either. The combination of it all is enough to make me weary of discussing my projects in detail. If you are friends with me on Facebook, you know I ramble frequently about the Captain. That is because I trust the people I am friends with now and even then I have not revealed everything I know.  While I have previously mentioned the Captain on my blog, Twitter account, and Across the Rolling Prairie Facebook page it has been brief in order to safeguard my work.

I don’t want to go on feeling like I can never talk about the areas of history in which I am well on my way to becoming an expert on nor the real contributions that I am making to the field of history. I don’t want this other person to hold me back or win. In the future, this means more detailed blog posts that I hope will truly help those who are good people. But today, I start by introducing you to my steamboat captain- James McGarry.  Now, if the person who has ripped off my work is reading this, please read the special message that I have just for you at the bottom of this post.


Captain McGarry’s story almost seems like something from a movie. In some ways it is your typical rags to riches, Irish immigrant story. The word amazing is overused, I am guilty of doing so, but his story truly is amazing. I had the opportunity to visit his grave while my family was on vacation. It was a surreal and moving experience to stand at the resting place of his earthly remains and to stand where his family stood as they mourned him.  It gave me renewed energy to push on with my research and gave me courage to not be afraid of what some unscrupulous people may do.

To the person who has ripped off my trail research and writings:

The second you slip up, we both know you will eventually, I will nail your a** to the wall. You are wrong about me.  I am not some meek, naïve, and stupid little mouse who is unaware of what you are doing and unwilling to do anything about it. I suggest you smarten up, immediately back off of my trail research and writings, and stay the hell away from my steamboat captain project.  Capiche?


Hello Fall

Image (c) 2014, Kassie L Nelson
Image (c) 2014, Kassie L Nelson

It’s finally one of my favorite months of the year.   I love everything about October- the colors, the crisp air, pumpkins, hot apple cider, Halloween…the list goes on and on! This fall is an extra exciting time for me this year.  I hate how cliché this sounds, but, it truly is a season of changes and new ventures.

A changing child care situation combined with increased opportunities at my husband work translated into the necessity and opportunity for me to leave my job at a local museum and be home with my son.  My little boy isn’t so little anymore and will be going to all day kindergarten next year. I am grateful and excited to have extra time with him!

My cutie pie.
My cutie pie.

This also means that I now have extra time to really focus on my other love- researching and writing! Currently in my work que is an article for submission to an academic journal and a paper proposal for the 2016 Missouri Valley History Conference. Both of these relate to my ground breaking thesis that fused Emigrant-Native American relations with gender studies along the Overland Trail, but, then I took it a step further by using a quantitative analysis method.  It’s a mouthful I know.

Then, of course, there’s my gigantic research project- a biography of a steamboat captain. My friends would probably tell you that it is an obsession more than anything else and they would be right! I believe it may be the most thoroughly researched biography of a steamboat captain, perhaps even of steamboat captains in general, ever endeavored. It will encompass multiple aspects of steamboat history. I expect this project to yield numerous papers for conferences, articles, a book on its applications to genealogy, several presentations, and either one very lengthy book or a short series of books. I also expect this particular project to take several years due to the amount of records I need to examine and the funding challenges an independent historian faces. In the meanwhile, expect to see more blog posts about what it is like to be “stay at home historian.”

Now off to sneak in some research!