Pre-Charlottesville

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Charlottesville & the University of Virginia. Katie Wilson Meade's son was on faculty at UVA for decades. Source: www.southernenvironment.org

Charlottesville & the University of Virginia. Katie Wilson Meade’s son was on faculty at UVA for decades. Source: http://www.southernenvironment.org

Next week is the visit with Katie Wilson Meade’s granddaughter in Charlottesville. I’m doing my homework, preparing questions, and putting together a collection of photos and documents about the Wilson family that she might not have.

I’m interested to learn about the dynamic between Katie and her siblings. Was she close to her older brothers? Closer to the younger brothers? Questions of that nature.

The Wilson children seem to have been a rather closemouthed group. So far, I’ve learned from Percy, Julian, and Walker Wilson’s descendants (three out of the 10 children) their ancestors never spoke about their brothers and sisters, or their childhood. Julian’s daughter, Jule (now 98 years young) told me last week that her father never talked about his siblings or his childhood; that she always sensed a sadness about it, yet, she remembers him as a content man. 

Frank Jr.’s one child died in infancy. Emmett left no descendants. I’m speaking with Katie’s granddaughter next Friday. That’s six out of 10 Wilson children’s descendants I’ve managed to find in almost three years of research. I think that’s pretty good tracking down of contacts, considering how obscure Emmett was, but I’m not finished by a long shot. And, it is not easy tracking down folks in their 70s or 80s, who are willing to talk with you about someone way back in the past, whose siblings probably would have rather left him and his story dead and buried. Just saying.

I’m still in hot pursuit of Max’s, Meade’s, and Cephas’ descendants. Dora had a daughter, but it is not clear if that daughter married or had descendants.

Recently, I discovered Max’s wife, Belle Fannin Wilson, penned a genealogy that is in the Miami-Dade Library Archives (the archivist emailed pages to me — bless her heart!).

Belle Fannin Wilson's genealogy. The original document is in the archival holdings at the Miami-Dade Library.

Belle Fannin Wilson’s genealogy. The original document is in the archival holdings at the Miami-Dade Library.

Belle’s genealogy does include some chatter about the Wilson siblings. Unfortunately, it is thin on details (the book is only about 60 pages long). It is, at least, information from Max’s family’s perspective.

Discovering Katie’s narrative about her childhood in Belize, therefore, is a real treasure. Alas, the narrative ends at age 12, when the family was back in the U.S., living in Chipley, Florida. The last line of her narrative says:

“She (Elizabeth Wilson, her mother) gave us a happy life until I was 12 years old — I suddenly grew up then, and helped care for the three ‘little boys.'”

Thus ends the narrative of her childhood. And,so  it seems, her actual childhood.

Emmett in a fancy bow tie, age 8. Photo was taken December, 1890.

Emmett in a fancy bow tie, age 8. Photo was taken December, 1890.

The year was 1891. That was when Katie’s mother, Elizabeth, died of TB. The three ‘little boys’ were the twins Emmett and Julian, and the youngest, Walker. Emmett and Julian were eight years old; Walker was seven.

I’ve always had a feeling that Katie and her sister, Dora (who was 16 in 1891) had to step up and fill Elizabeth Wilson’s shoes, and Katie’s statement in her narrative confirms it. Imagine: Two teenage girls sharing the burden of caring for a house and three children, while mourning the death of a beloved mother.

What must that have been like for her? Did Katie keep a diary as a teenager? Would she have mentioned this in her letters to her future husband, Emmett Meade, perhaps?

It’s a long shot, since Katie died 50 years ago, but Katie’s granddaughter is a professional journalist, a storyteller. She loves history and family stories. I’m hoping she may remember some of Katie’s stories, and to answer some of my questions.

 

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