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Chapter 154: Nancy

September 20, 2015
Pensacola, Florida

I first met Nancy Rayburn online, over a year ago, on Tuesday, September 10, 2013. She had posted an extensive biography of Robert Anderson on the USGenWeb website. The text came from an obscure history book, and while the University of Maryland has a great InterLibrary Loan program (which I use often), some archives will not circulate their rare texts to another institution. Many archives scan their rare holdings, but not everything IS available via scan all the time. Still, finding the biography text, which had been typed in by Nancy, was awesome.

Looking back on that introductory note, I sounded somewhat uptight, but when you do blind calls (in this case, blind emails) to complete strangers professionalism, or some kind of formality, sends a message of respect. After all, complete strangers don’t have to help someone who contacts them from out of the blue, who is working on an obscure research project.

I have to say that about 98 percent of the time I’ve asked permission to use someone’s source, it was granted without any concerns; some institutions require a release or similar credit in the final version of my research, which is completely acceptable, and that’s the end of the exchange.

But not with Nancy! Little did I know but this simple request for permission to use her information has been the foundation of a truly wonderful friendship!

Here’s what happened after I sent the request, later that same day:

And so began a string of constant, regular email messages, in which Nancy and I discussed research, prominent Floridians from the 1900s, contacts and the like. It was wonderful — and here’s the thing I found really amazing: She’s interested in Emmett and his story, and she’s asking questions that really make me think deeply about this distant cousin of mine.

On September 12, she sent this note, after I mentioned I was spending about three or four hours a day at McKeldin Library (on the University of Maryland campus) scanning microfilm, for any and every mention I could find about Emmett. None of the film had been scanned, and nothing was indexed, so it was a painstaking, page-by-page read-through of The Pensacola Journal microfilm, sent to me from the University of West Florida archives, courtesy of InterLibrary Loan.

I won’t bore you to death by copying our entire correspondence to date, but as you can see, Nancy has an excellent understanding of the research process, and it has been great discussing different aspects of Emmett’s research. And — we talk via email at least two or three times a week about all kinds of things!

I’m going to meet Nancy, in person, when I get to Pensacola on September 28!

She is going to meet me in Pensacola, and together, we are going to do some exploring! And researching! And she’s really wanting to talk, in detail with me, about Emmett!

Nancy’s excited to wander around graveyards with me!

Nancy’s interested in rooting around in courthouse archives!

She’s volunteered to do this, because she wants to hang out with me (and not just Emmett)! I’m so looking forward to seeing her in person.

I think it is a rare thing, to find a friend online you’ve never met, who is also deeply interested in your topic, whose eyes don’t glaze over when you share a newly-found, obscure detail that thrills you, and she’s thrilled too! Sincerely thrilled! (If you are a researcher, and you’ve tried sharing your excitement with your long-term project with a spouse who is not equally emotionally/mentally invested, you know how precious this is.)

That’s not the only reason I value my friendship with Nancy; I feel like I can be totally myself, totally honest with her, and she gets me. We talk all the time about EVERYTHING, not just Emmett Wilson. And, it’s not always a positive conversations. At times, we’ve had disagreements. But the point is, we truly hear and understand each other, and we can appreciate our different points of view. To be honest, I don’t know if I could be friends with someone who is exactly like me, or who sees things exactly the way I do. Nancy’s definitely not that kind of person, and I just appreciate her so much for that.

I can’t wait to meet her!

Categories: Addiction Book Research Status The Writing Life

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Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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