A GPS Adventure in Boligee, Alabama

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Today, I visited Boligee, Alabama, population 328, in search of Mt. Hebron Cemetery, in a quest to locate Emmett’s grandparents, Cephas Love Wilson Sr. and Emily B. Wilson.

Using the information posted on Find-A-Grave, and typing the address into Waze, I set out with my husband on Interstate 20/59 West, to Alabama State Road 20.

Source: Google Maps

There’s cotton in huge bales wrapped, ready to be taken to a nearby gin.

There’s rutted roads with logging here and there.

There’s houses with dozens of junked cars in the yard; this is a poor part of Greene County. Little signage along the way; SR 20 winds a bit. According to the information on Find-A-Grade, the cemetery is only about 15 minutes north of I-20/59. My husband reassures me it isn’t too far off our scheduled trip to the in-laws — hell, we’ve been driving for hours anyway. It’s fine.

Fifteen minutes after taking the exit, the Waze voice chirps, “you’ve reached your destination.”

This is the church I was looking for near Boligee, Alabama. Source: Stephen McBride for Find-A-Grave

My husband pulls over to the side of the road. It’s a deeply rutted mud road. No signage anywhere, no primitive white church building on the property.

“I don’t think this is it,” I said.

“Let’s go on a bit further,” he said.

We crossed Highway 39 and continued another 10 minutes.

“What exactly is the address, again?” my husband asked.

“There isn’t one; only the location is given — Mt. Hebron Cemetery. According to Waze, this is where it is, but Find-a-Grave says it’s near the intersection of Highway 39 and State Road 128.”

“Aha,” he said. “Waze doesn’t have the right GPS coordinates for Mt. Hebron. So, let’s find 128.”

Alas, I could not. The dreaded “No Service” in my cell phone status bar.

“Wait. I have a map of Alabama from the last rest stop. Let’s check it.”

Unfortunately, State Road 128 wasn’t even listed. And unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of time to explore the back roads of Greene County: The kids were starting to complain about wanting lunch. And, neither of us knew enough about Greene County to feel confident exploring without a map or a technology assist.

“Tell you what,” my husband said. “Let’s track it down when we get to the house. We can try to stop by on the way back out.”

We did find Mt Hebron Cemetery — and S.R. 128 — on a map when we got home. It is in the middle of nowhere — there may be a dirt road off of S.R. 128. I hope. Source: Google Maps

We have a better idea how to find it now. And, I’ll pay Emmett’s grandparents a visit when we do.


Meanwhile — I promised to post information about Emmett’s secretaries in the last post. I’ll do that this week. Good news: I found one of the clerk/secretaries who worked for Emmett’s brother, Cephas L. Wilson, in Marianna! Progress!

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Secretarial Musings

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I often wonder what kind of employee or boss Emmett was?

Was he considerate and competent? Quiet and hardworking?

A lunch-stealing backstabbing jerk, perhaps?

An excellent source of information on Emmett-as-colleague would be the office records — a desk calendar, case files, or even an office journal. I don’t doubt that Emmett kept records such as these himself. Unfortunately, Emmett’s office records do not exist anymore.

But what if one of his secretaries kept those records?

And what if they exist?

Tracking down office secretaries were with not much to go on was a real challenge — but guess what? I’ve identified five secretaries who either worked with Emmett directly, or as part of Emmett’s law practice!

Here’s the list of secretaries who worked with Emmett while he was a lawyer, district attorney, state’s attorney, and U.S. Congressman:

Bertha A (Bert) Murphy — 1905-08 — Maxwell & Wilson, Clerk for Asst. U.S. Attorney

Minnie Kehoe — 1906-1908 — Kehoe & Smithwick

Nellie Mills — 1914-1915 — Stenographer at the San Carlos Hotel (Emmett lived there on and off between 1914-1915 when Congress was out of session, et cetera)

Jefferson Davis Stephens — 1913-1917 — U.S. Congress

Hilda Dahlstrom Beall — 1910-1914 — Kehoe & Wilson; U.S. Congress (temporary)

Alas, this is not yet a complete list: I haven’t yet identified the secretary for Judge Daniel J. Jones (Emmett was Jones’ clerk in 1902), the secretary for Cephas’ office (Emmett was a junior partner at Wilson & Wilson between 1904 and 1905), or the secretary for Van Sant and Wilson (1905-1906).

It is possible that Emmett might have been the secretary for Jones’ or Cephas’ law offices while he was just starting out, but I don’t think so.

Nicholas Van Sant. Source: Ancestry.com

I know Emmett did clerical work for Judge Jones, but it wasn’t consistent, and Emmett didn’t know shorthand.  He had little experience as a law clerk, and Judge Jones has a busy and thriving practice in Washington County, Florida. In fact, it was after a six-month stint at Jones’ office that Emmett was sent to Pensacola to take stenography courses at Meux’s Business College.

And while Cephas loved and supported his brother, he was not fool enough to trust his established law firm records to a younger sibling with an inconsistent work and academic record, who was just starting out.

I’ll introduce the secretaries over the next several posts.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to dig around for information on who may have been the secretaries for Judge Jones and Cephas Wilson between 1900 and 1905. I have a few leads on the Van Sant & Wilson secretary that I want to explore. (Spoiler Alert: One of the secretaries DID keep a journal! And yeah — I have a copy of it!)

A Galaxy of Stars

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Who Was Who in Florida, by Henry S. Marks, 1973, published by The Strode Publishers, Huntsville, Alabama.

I found this book on Alibris, a book reseller website. I like to check back for obscure Florida texts and anything that has Emmett’s name listed. This one’s been out of print for awhile.

Poor unloved thing. Who trashes books?

It was purged from the Dickinson Memorial Library in Orange City, Florida. It was cheap. Oh well. Some one else’s trash, as the old saying goes….

Charlton W. Tebeau, author of A History of Florida who wrote the foreword for this book, asked:

“Who are Florida’s notables who have left their marks on the state’s history? What did they do to earn a place in such a galaxy of stars?” (Foreword)

Tebeau admitted that there were countless others who probably should have been included in the book, and Marks’ book was not intended to be a complete work. The biographies are brief, mostly no more than six or seven lines. (Some biographies are longer; for example, Henry Flagler’s covers an entire page). References such as Marks’ book are often, at best, snapshots of those deserving of recognition at that particular place and time.

But it is interested to see who is listed and who is not, through the lens of Emmett Wilson’s research.

Who’s In:

  • Robert Anderson (he delivered Emmett’s Elk Club eulogy) p. 20
  • William Henry Brockenbrough, p. 46 (Emmett’s great-grandfather)
  • N.P. Broward, p. 47
  • N.P. Bryan, p. 50 (Bryan’s secretary helped Emmett in D.C. after his first medical crisis)
  • Frank Clark, p. 66 (Advised Emmett when he was in D.C., and after his first medical crisis)
  • Duncan Fletcher, p. 102 (A friend of Emmett’s father)
  • Albert Gilchrist, p.111 (Emmett and Cephas were on friendly terms with him)
  • Walter Kehoe, p. 147
  • William Bailey Lamar, p. 152 (Emmett’s best friend, Paul Carter, was his private secretary)
  • B.S. Liddon, p. 163 (Cephas’ law partner)
  • Scott Loftin, p. 164 (A law colleague of Emmett’s)
  • Augustus E. Maxwell and Evelyn Croom Maxwell, p. 175 (Emmett’s grandfather and uncle)
  • Dannite Mays, p. 176 (Emmett defeated Mays in 1912 for the Third Congressional seat)
  • John and W.H. Milton, p. 186
  • John H. Smithwick, p. 230
  • John Stokes, p. 235 (unsuccessfully challenged Emmett for his second congressional term in 1914)

And, of course, Emmett, on page 264:

One error stands out: “….failed of reelection.” No. The state Democratic party told Emmett he was no longer useful, and forced his resignation. His name was not on the ballot for a third term.

What’s interesting are the names of men and women I’ve discovered via Emmett’s research, who were important in state politics and journalism during the early 1900s, who were not included in the book:

I think it is ironic given the animus that Frank Mayes, Chipley Jones, and certainly Cephas had for Emmett, especially towards the end of his life, that their names were not selected for inclusion in this reference.

I don’t doubt for a minute this would eat at Frank Mayes and Chipley Jones, if they had any way of knowing Emmett got in, and they didn’t.

Heh, heh.

Why This Is Taking So Long, Part IV

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Want to know why writing Emmett’s book has been taking so long?

I submit:

This. The newspaper is filed under the wrong ‘state.’ If you do a state-specific search (as I have been doing), this source would not show up. Doh. Source: http://www.chroniclingamerica.gov

I found this during my ‘go back and check databases for updates’ routine. Something I do every other month or so.

The Chronicling America database is huge, which is why one would want to limit the searches to states, or specific newspapers.

It isn’t that I haven’t done an entire sweep of the database this size before, but it can be overwhelming to see thousands of items returned in a large sweep.  I’m glad the database is there — and I’m thrilled to have found this extra source of information. Emmett’s uncles and cousins, and his sister, Katie Wilson Meade, lived in Alexandria and were community/church leaders — there’s wonderful new articles to read about Emmett’s family in this paper!

My concern, as always, is missing or overlooking information that’s out there, but information I’d never find because it is misfiled or mislabeled, or has typos. This is one of the reasons I do regular checks of databases. The effort is completely worth it, but I’d never considered the idea that the newspaper in this particular database would have been filed under the wrong state.

And, of course, this will mean going back into the databases to consider that variable.

Commencing rolling up the sleeves and digging in….

 

 

 

 

Rebirth & Eclipse

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I haven’t been much in the mood to write over the past few weeks. It has something to do with it being August and the feeling of things coming to an end, as it always does to me at this time each year. For most folks, the feeling of Auld Lang Syne, and the ritual of reflecting on things accomplished over the past year and planning for the next year takes place on December 31.

My ritual of reflection and rebirth for a New Year always takes place at the start of the new school year. Right about now.  And I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting over the past few weeks.

First, I took a break from Emmett’s book. This was, really, the first true break of any significance from the writing. It was both difficult and necessary to break out of the daily — and I do mean daily — routine of writing about Emmett, because I was resenting it. It wasn’t that I was making a lot of progress, but that I was looking for distractions so that I didn’t have to write at that moment. I was forcing myself to write, and it showed.

Next, I’ve also come to realize that the approach to Emmett’s story wasn’t working out. Fact is, this is a biography with gaps in the data. I’ve invested four years collecting the details about Emmett’s life, which is fine, but the real story here is my relationship with Emmett and the process of researching an obscure man’s life. It’s not as dry as it sounds: You see, I’ve come to understand that the real work of research involves building relationships with other people, which, honestly, is something I’ve not been all that great about in my life. I’m coming through this process richer in friendships; certainly richer in the understanding of what it is that connects people.

And, it turns out I’ve been actively writing this book from day one, via my research journals, my correspondence, my blog posts, and the draft chapters. I’m not starting over by any stretch of the imagination. Rethinking the approach has given me a new energy; the presentation will be unique, something that I find exciting and energizing. This new approach feels absolutely right. I can’t explain it, but it makes sense: Most major writing projects involve starts and stops as the writer ‘tries on’ the story, or the chapter in progress.

I’ll restart writing Emmett’s story on the day my kids head back to school (Tuesday after Labor Day).

I don’t find it ironic at all that this epiphany took place during the month of the eclipse. And speaking of eclipses, we spent ours in Charleston, South Carolina.

The 2017 eclipse, during 100 percent totality, in Charleston, South Carolina, at the South Carolina Aquarium.

I’m looking forward to September, and to a fresh start with Emmett’s chapters.

 

Spring Cleaning

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On Tuesday, I posted final grades for the spring semester of my classes. Typically, I take the week in between spring and summer semesters to clean out files, finish last minute prep work, and and prepare for the next set of classes.

In addition, I decided to do some Emmett Wilson spring cleaning. I’m going through ALL of the articles, resources, references, images, and notes collected over the past four years. It’s great re-acquainting myself with what I’ve collected.

My organization strategy has been twofold: First, because most of the information about Emmett comes from specific sources, I organized each item by year and title of publication or name of source. Second, I created a timeline for Emmett’s life, and broke it down into four different time periods. In each timeline entry, I note the date, the event, and the location in my files of my source. There’s over 6,000 entries to-date. Booyah!

Reviewing the files also gives me a great sense of relief and control, especially since this has turned out to be a much larger — and incredibly more rewarding! — project than originally anticipated in 2013. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the scope of it.

Another great benefit of going through the files is finding interesting oddball things I saved when I first started Emmett’s project —

This, for example:

D-I_V-O-R-C-E, 1916-style. Source: University of West Florida Archives

Source: University of West Florida Archives

This letter wasn’t written by Emmett or Cephas Wilson; I’m not sure who wrote it; I found it as a loose document in the Blount family archive records at the University of West Florida.

I saved it because during this time Lula Wiselogel Wilson filed divorce papers against her husband, Cephas Wilson, according to a family genealogy. The genealogy did not say why the papers were filed against Cephas, but a quote in the genealogy from Berta Daniel Wilson (no relation to Emmett Wilson, but a neighbor of Dr. Francis C. Wilson family in Chipley) was interviewed about it and was quoted in the genealogy saying that Lula had filed the papers and, “…the gossip was terrible at the time.”

For what it is worth: Lula never went through with the divorce, but knowing that Lula was a force to be reckoned with, she probably could prove items #3 and #4!

 

Heirlooms United

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Here is an absolutely wonderful treasure trove of vintage autograph albums, photo albums, calling cards, journals — everything I would love to have about Emmett Wilson or any other of Emmett’s friends.

I stumbled across it in search of information on one of Emmett’s roommates for his second book — and it has many wonderful personal artifacts.

The search for Emmett’s elusive scrapbooks continues…