It is hard to believe I have accumulated more than twenty-five years of research and writing experience. While attending the University of Missouri in the early 1990s I began the lifelong-odyssey of writing. My love of research began earlier, during my high school years in preparation for speech and debate. However, it was in graduate school under the tutelage of a great scholar and mentor, William R. Van Cleave, that I honed my interests into a craft.
After graduating I packed up my Ford and moved to Washington DC where I worked at think tanks, and eventually on Capitol Hill and in the Pentagon. Throughout my career I wrote extensively on a range of subjects including military and political issues; local, regional and international interests; as well as genealogy when my career permitted.
There are two issues in particular that have interested me for some time: the Influenza Pandemic that began in 1918 and the resilience of mankind. When Spanish Influenza reached Florence, Missouri in the fall of 1918 many Morgan County residents were sickened and 113 died.1 Just as it seemed that normalcy was returning in the spring of 1919, a new wave rolled through the area. My maternal grandfather Carl C. Siegel and his wife Mary (DeHaven) lay ill in their bed while their relatives tried to care for them and their three young sons. Carl survived, but Mary succumbed on April 1st. This event was seminal to my life leading to many hours of research and contemplation. Why did my grandfather survive when so many others did not?
Resilience is defined as the ability to bounce back from life-altering events whether illness, natural disaster or a man-made incident. In 2008 I was asked to lead a research project for the United States Air Force (USAF) on resilience to major incidents and it was then that I was able to merge this with my interest in the global flu pandemic. The team I led spent a year writing seven case studies, one of which looked at the global pandemic that sickened nearly one out of every three people on earth and took between 50 and 100 million lives across the globe from mid-1918 through early 1920.
My experience in conducting research resulting in published case studies and academic courses includes the following:
- Research on tornadoes that devastated areas of the Midwest including those affecting Kansas and Missouri from the 1950s to present, with a specific interest in how communities rebuilt and bounced back.
- An extensive year-long case study on the 1918 pandemic that included research about Haskell County, Kansas and the likelihood that the outbreak began there.
- A comprehensive study for the United States Air Force that included a historical review of U.S. nuclear weapons programs, including interviews with more than 100 individuals who were involved in the programs from the 1960s to the current era. The result was a published monograph and three academic case studies for distance learning and in-residence education used at the Air War College and Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB, AL.
- Numerous country and region case studies including in-depth historical analysis of ethnic groups and political events. The result was numerous lectures and a premier Department of Defense executive course used in partner countries.
This year marks the centennial of the end of World War I and of the outbreak of influenza, and through the next few years I will continue to research and write about influenza and how it affected our ancestors and us. In addition, I remain interested in resilience and how it relates to our past and our future. How did my grandfather survive influenza when so many others lost their lives and how did that resilience affect the rest of his life? How did my paternal great-grandfather – a Baptist minister with no land or likely dollar to his name get the hand of the beautiful daughter of one of the county’s most prosperous and well-regarded men? Why did a young man in Germany choose to leave his entire family behind to make a life for himself in Missouri? What political or personal ideal drove a man to move his young family to the strife-ridden Kansas territory before the start of the American Civil War to found the state’s first newspaper?
In addition to the stories from my own family tree I have discovered a treasure trove of others from my historic preservation work. Dicy Nichols was a single female homesteader, one of the earliest black settlers in Wabaunsee County. Dicy was born into slavery in ca. 1810 in Tennessee. Her life’s odyssey from slavery to Kansas landowner is an inspiring tale as is the story of Labon Collins, another Kansas resident also born in Tennessee. Labon and his wife Mary moved to Kansas during the mid-1800s. By 1870, Collins was listed as an enterprising business owner and vital member of the community in Topeka. In 1883, Labon constructed the building at 108 S. Kansas Avenue that still exists today. These are only a few examples of people I have met along the way. The lives of our ancestors and their resilience provide us not only with great stories but also give us an understanding of who we are and where we came from.
I have numerous published articles, blog posts and book chapters, many of which are available on the resource page. I am always interested in writing opportunities whether genealogy, history or policy-related. Contact me today!
1 “Missouri Death Certificates 1910-1967.” Missouri Digital Heritage Website, Missouri Office of the Secretary of State, accessed at https://s1.sos.mo.gov/records/archives/archivesmvc/deathcertificates/ .