Goals & Hopes for 2017

As it is nearly the end of February and I am just now posting my hopes and goals for 2017, perhaps I should really consider adding updating my blog on a more regular basis or daresay even on a schedule to my list? If the past two months are any indication, it will be a very busy year for me.

I recently applied for a spot at the Association of Documentary Editing’s summer institute. If I get in, it will be a great opportunity for me. Historical document editing is one area I am committing to learning more about this year. Cross your fingers for me!

Next week, I will present a paper at the Missouri Valley History Conference. This is the third year I have done so. I will be discussing the life of John Christie Barr. He was a friend of our dear Captain McGarry. I have been pulling records on John hoping to find references to Captain McGarry (applying a genealogy research practice) for about a year now. Along the way I figured out that John, or Johnny as he liked to be called, also has a great story to share.

At the beginning of January I created a research plan for the entire year for my Captain McGarry project. However, I have already made so many breakthroughs that I have to completely redo that research plan. At the moment, my focus is on transcribing dozens of letters from my research trip to Montana. Once I am done with those I will draw up a new research plan. That plan will include several mini research trips throughout eastern Nebraska, to Sioux City, Iowa, possibly South Dakota, and perhaps even in Missouri.  My goal is to have my Captain McGarry research wrapped up by the end of the year if not by October.

I have a couple writing projects that I am going to stay mum about for the time being. Just know writing is one of my top goals for the year.

I recently updated my bio to reflect that I am once again a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists and available as a genealogist for hire. This is something I have been contemplating for a while and the timing just feels right. Two of my other genealogy goals for this year are devoting more time to the Rogue Genealogist and my own family tree. I have somewhat neglected my family tree. Sometimes I am just plain research burned out by the time I can get to working on my family tree! I am looking forward to spending more time on genealogy and coming up with ideas to combat research burn out.

Well, I have avoided transcribing this painfully difficult to read letter for long enough- back to work!


History Tips for Genealogists

As both a historian and a genealogist, I sometimes find myself caught between what feels like two very different worlds. I find myself defending historian’s views and methods to genealogists, defending genealogist’s methods and views to historians, and shaking my head at the misplaced bias that can be found on either side. It is a shame there is a divide because in my opinion each side has much to learn from one another…more on that later. For now, I have a few basic tips for genealogists who are conducting research in order to add historical context to their ancestors’ lives.

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1) Do not limit yourself to just one book about your topic of inquiry. Each book is written by an individual with their unique interpretation of the facts who may approach the topic from say an economic perspective whereas another historian may counter the author’s arguments or focus on the social or political aspects. The more books and articles you read, the better informed you will be. There is a temptation to focus on social histories because it is felt that is what most impacted our ancestors’ lives. However, if you leave out other histories such as political and economic ones, then you are leaving out a part of the bigger picture. If you are really up for learning something new and expanding your horizons, try attending a history conference.

2) Be weary of book sale deals. I love a good deal. My local library frequently sells their old books for just a couple bucks or for as little as 50 cents.  I’m not saying do not buy books from sales like these. Just keep in mind that these are old books after all. That book you are reading may contain outdated interpretations and information. It may still be worth your time in that it can help you understand the development of the way history looks at a particular topic. Make sure to read it with a grain of salt and keep in mind how the cultural attitudes of the time in which it was written may have affected the content.

3) Question where the information came from. Check the notes and bibliography section of the book you are interested in. If there is no bibliography or notes, be highly skeptical. When it comes to dealing with people….whether you are talking to someone who is a self-proclaimed expert or someone who has M.A. or Ph.D. behind their name, ask them about what they’ve studied. Historians are a lot like genealogists- we like to talk about our research and where we find our information.  At the MVHC last week, many fellow historians approached me about my steamboat captain research wanting to know what records I used and for recommended books/articles. Just don’t be impetuous when you asking your questions.  I realize this may seem like an odd tip to some, but, I just hate it when I see someone unwittingly being fed misinformation either by a less than reputable book or person.

Happy reading!


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?