I’m going to Pensacola in a few weeks to see Emmett!
I’ve been looking forward to this trip for a few months now, and to be honest, I’m thrilled, but a little nervous.
I know. He died almost 100 years ago. What’s to be nervous about? It isn’t like the ground is going to open up and he’ll ask to check my sources or proofread my copy; although, truth be told, I wish he would.
When Emmett was alive, he was reputed to be a nitpicker and anal retentive about getting the facts right — something I can relate to as a professor (just ask my students). I don’t think he’d have a problem with the data I’ve collected about him on the public side; it’s the data on the personal side that’s lacking, and I don’t rely on speculation as a research strategy.
It’s one thing to read articles about him from the contemporary media (which often got things incorrect); it would be wonderful to have something in his own words, like the elusive scrapbooks he kept, or letters he wrote to his friends.
Oh, those elusive scrapbooks? They are mentioned in his will. He didn’t have much in the end, for sure; he didn’t even have many friends for that matter. But, he had a set of scrapbooks he kept over the years. They were important to him because he mentions them specifically in the will. I would LOVE to see them.
I’ve contacted the descendants of the beneficiary mentioned in his will; these kind folks are looking for the scrapbooks, but the likelihood of these precious things turning up 100 years later is pretty slim. I am talking about a man whose own family members pretty much stopped talking to him and about him once his slide into obscurity started around 1914. By the time he died in 1918, those closest to him were few and far between. It breaks my heart to think that Emmett’s scrapbooks were, possibly, thrown away after awhile; relics of someone best forgotten. Sort of like the way he was treated at the end.
What does this have to do with the visit? I’m going to visit the houses in which he lived; the offices in which he worked; seeing things as they were (as best I can) through my 21st century eyes. I’ll also spend hours digging in archives and looking into dusty files. Hopefully, maybe, the scrapbooks (or something equally valuable) will turn up.
About the research nerves: Mostly this is about the fact that I have no idea what I’m going to find. What turns up during the actual research visit may completely change my understanding of him to this point, which would be fine. Unsettling and frustrating, but fine. I can deal with finding something different, or unexpected. What I have the hardest time with in research is lack of answers after months of digging.
Research is often about acceptance (the fact that no one can control people, places, things, and especially what happened in the past), persistence, and flexibility.
Every now and then, when I feel frustration with the information holes, and the fact that 100 years between Emmett and myself is a big hurdle, I sense Emmett encouraging me to go on, to keep on because I don’t have all of the information yet. And sure enough, when I keep going, some new fact comes out of the process.