Chapter 13: Disappointing diagnosis?


About two weeks after following up with Mike Burke with the proper Wilson ancestor information, and approval from Sacred Heart Hospital’s general counsel, I received this email message:

Well, there it was: An official hospital record indicating Emmett was an alcoholic. But was that enough?

In research, one has to triangulate the data — I had Jim Milligan’s genealogy, which stated Emmett became an alcoholic. That’s two sources. I wanted to dig around some more, to reinforce what I had already.

Lo and behold, thanks to the miracle of the Worldcat database, I  located a second Wilson family genealogy, written by Arabella (Belle) Fannin Wilson, wife of Emmett’s oldest brother Augustus Maxwell Wilson.

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


Belle also mentioned Emmett’s alcoholism, but it doesn’t sound certain:

Excerpt from Belle Fannin Wilson’s genealogy. It’s another mention of alcoholism, but Belle doesn’t seem to be absolutely certain of Emmett as an alcoholic.


But I remembered that I also had the funeral report from the Rev. Dr. Melville Johnson, which reported Emmett died of the “D.T.s”

“Cause of death: D.T.” Delirium tremens?

At this point, I wondered how in the world the Episcopal church pastor would write “D.T.s” if:

a) he hadn’t observed Emmett in distress before his death himself, while visiting parishoners in the hospital,


b) he wasn’t told of this by the nursing/medical staff for his official record? 

In other words, I doubted Dr. Johnson would have made this up. Still, I reached out to the Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast for any information on Dr. Johnson (the kind of guy he was), and inquired if there was a copy of Emmett’s eulogy on record.


Dr. Johnson didn’t leave a copy of the eulogy at Christ Church, so I was hoping perhaps one was sent to the diocese office, since Emmett was a congressman.

A staff member of the Historiographer Team got back with me about two weeks later, and said that unfortunately, there wasn’t anything on record for Emmett’s eulogy — but with regard to Dr. Johnson’s character, he was known to be a rock-solid, compassionate, reliable shepherd of his flock. It would be very unlikely, in other words, that he would have written anything about his congregation in official records if it were not so.

The family may not have wanted it known on record that Emmett died of alcoholism, i.e., they may have been able to keep that part out of the newspapers, but Dr. Johnson didn’t budge on the facts. Apparently, neither did Dr. Bruce.

Considering the news article announcing Emmett’s death “after a short illness” on the front page of The Pensacola Journal for May 29, 1918 didn’t appear exactly true, I considered that some may want to present a sanitized version of Emmett’s demise. Again, the Episcopal Diocese staff said there would do that; nor would there be any reason to think Dr. Johnson was casting aspersions on Emmett’s character — he was simply reporting what he was told, period, and he’d have no reason to change an official record just to save another person’s reputation. 

I felt confident that I could consider the Rev. Dr. Johnson’s report to be that of an objective third party.

I also figured that if Emmett’s physician in Pensacola, Dr. E.F. Bruce (who’d also signed his death certificate) wrote an alcoholism diagnosis, the disease is not something that suddenly appears, nor is it ‘short term’ in any capacity. Emmett’s obituary had said he died after a ‘short illness.’ Emmett’s alcoholism — which, according to Dr. Bruce, was the reason he was in the hospital — led to his death.

Uremia. Kidney failure. From Emmett Wilson’s death certificate.

But the death certificate had reported “Uremia” as the cause of Emmett’s death –so I contacted Donna the Nephrologist and showed her what I’d found.

Donna said that a physician is always required to list the physical problem on the medical report as the primary issue, even though it may have been brought on by alcoholism. Alcoholism, then as now, was considered a psychological disorder, and even if it was the primary cause of Emmett’s demise, it can’t be listed as a cause of death, even nowadays. (Original source of quote here.)

“But you can be sure those closest to him knew the real scoop,” she added. “…For instance, if you are in complete kidney failure (which is what Emmett’s official diagnosis was in 1914), and experiencing neurological problems, and are comatose (which he was at this point, on and off)…”

But you can be sure, she said, that if he was in the throes of the D.T.s at the end, cirrhosis was present.

I asked her what it was probably like for Emmett at the very end. Back in the day, there wasn’t much more a medical staff could do besides restrain patients, help them through the end. It wasn’t that being strapped down was mistreatment; it was for their own safety. She said that if Emmett was in end-stage kidney failure AND was presenting with cirrhosis, it was the end, and the staff knew it.

“According to Donna, sometimes patients in end-stage (like Emmett) are or were given booze at the hospital at the end. It was considered merciful. The purpose is to stave off the DTs. It is horrible to go through; horrible to witness, she added.

“Donna said that when alcoholics (such as Emmett) have gone three days without booze in the system (which is what happened at Pensacola Hospital), the body’s chemistry tries to correct itself, to switch back to normal. If it has been many years since an alcoholic has had a normal body chemistry, and so the patient’s extremely compromised system cannot handle it. Generally, the patient goes into a coma as a result.

“Emmett’s body could not handle it; so he likely went into a coma.

“And, she added, that’s how Emmett likely died. He simply went to sleep and didn’t wake up.

Reposted from an earlier writeup on this blog.

OK. Well, I can say with certainty Emmett was an alcoholic. That was what got him in the end.

Was I ‘disappointed’ with the diagnosis, though?

I wasn’t sure how to answer that question — I didn’t really know Emmett all that well yet, and I still wasn’t sure why the hell he asked me to write his story. I kept coming back to this question: What was the purpose of this project? It was too intriguing for me to set aside.

Mike Burke’s comment in the email made me realize that even today, in our enlightened, scientifically advanced society, alcoholism is stigmatized — maybe less so than it was in Emmett’s day — but you can be sure folks still look upon those of us in recovery as “less than” in some ways. (Personally, THAT doesn’t bother me so much; what other people think of me is none of my business.)

It is still hard, even in the enlightened, scientifically advanced society today to get help with one’s addiction. Recovery is never successful unless the addicted person is absolutely ready to do the work; no one else can do it for them. Emmett had very few resources available to him in the 1910s; even if he wished to take advantage of them, he and his family/friends would have had to keep it absolutely quiet, which might have been near impossible as he was a public figure from 1910 on. So, there was a personal AND public struggle going on. Sobriety statistics are rather low for alcoholics in recovery.

Regardless, new pieces of information were starting to trickle in, and Emmett’s story was just beginning.

Next: Surprise, surprise.

The Rev. Dr. FCW


Continuing with the exploration of A. Max Wilson’s descendants, we meet the second child, the Rev. Dr. Francis Childria Wilson. Because there’s now two Dr. Francis C. Wilsons to reference in this family, I’ll refer to Emmett’s father as Dr. FCW, and Emmett’s nephew as Rev. FCW.

We first see Rev. FCW in the 1910 Census. Apparently, his mother Belle (who was the informant for the census) called him “Childria.” (Do you think she actually called him “Childria?” I’m imagining her yelling out the back door, calling 10 kids in for dinner, yelling “Chill-dreee-aaaa….”)

1910 U.S. Census, Blountstown, Florida. Source:

1910 U.S. Census, Blountstown, Florida. Source:

According to his obituary, the Rev. FCW, he didn’t earn the Doctor of Divinity until 1969 — at age 60. As a teacher and huge advocate of lifelong learning, the thought of Emmett’s nephew in a classroom, probably the oldest person in the room, working alongside 20-somethings, just makes me feel good.  It’s a hopeful thing when I see older adults in my classes. Most of them are in the class because the LOVE learning, and they want to continue to be active participants in life. I hope I’m like my older students when I grow up.

Anyway. The Rev. FCW came to the ministry after an extensive journalism career. He started out in newspapers, and then, moved over to religious publications while exploring his vocation. The Rev. FCW was the one responsible for publishing his mother’s genealogy.

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.


The Rev. FCW had this published in 1985, privately (i.e., he likely financed it, and there are only a few copies around). Source:

The Rev. FCW published the genealogy in 1985, privately (he likely financed it, and there are only a few copies around). Notice it was published at least a decade after Belle’s death, and only a few years before his own. Source:

The Rev. FCW was married to Margaret Grove Wilson.

The obituary of Margaret Grove Wilson, from

The obituary of Margaret Grove Wilson, from

They had one son, who also became a Methodist minister. He’s buried in Arlington National Cemetery. It doesn’t look as if he was married; I cannot find record of a spouse.

The Rev. Theodore J. Wilson, in Arlington National Cemetery. Source:

The Rev. Theodore J. Wilson. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Source:

What I thought interesting was that, according to his tombstone, Theodore was born in 1930, but he is not enumerated in either the 1930 or 1940 Census for the Wilson family…which makes sense:  Margaret Wilson was 16 in the 1930 Census. She could have had a child at that time, of course, but, he’d be enumerated with them on the 1940 Census — because Margaret and the Rev were married as of the 1940 Census.

This made me think that Theodore J. was adopted by The Rev. and Margaret Wilson.

And indeed, further research shows that Theodore J. Wilson was born Theodore Jungas in Lynn, Massachusetts. Far away from Margaret and the Rev, who were in Alabama.

Theodore’s last name was still Jungas in 1948 on Social Security records, and then, in 1960, he was listed as Theodore Jungas Wilson. He was 30 years old at that point. When was he ‘adopted’ by the Wilsons?

Well, apparently, it was sometime in the 1950s. The Wilsons and Theodore’s paths crossed when the Rev was in seminary in Boston, and Theodore was a young man, working as a clerk in 1952 in Boston.

City Directory for Boston, 1952. Source:

City Directory for Boston, 1952. Source:

And then, listed as a student, at least from 1957-1959.

Worcester, Mass. City Directory, 1959. Source:

Worcester, Mass. City Directory, 1959. Source:

Sure enough, here he is in a photo from the West Virginia Wesleyan Seminary in Buckhannon, in 1955.

Theodore Jungas Wilson, in the red box. From the West Virginia Wesleyan Seminary in Buckhannon, WV. Source:

Theodore Jungas Wilson, in the red box. From the West Virginia Wesleyan Seminary in Buckhannon, WV. Source:

But — AHA — I find this listing in the 1959 Worcester, Mass. City Directory:

The Rev. FCW and Margaret Wilson, living at the same address as Theodore Jungas. Source:

The Rev. FCW and Margaret Wilson, living at the same address as Theodore Jungas. Source:

Here, I am reminded of how Emmett was taken in by the J. Walter Kehoe family in 1910. Emmett, too, became a member of that family, as Theodore became a member of the Wilson family.

I wonder what the backstory is — how did Theodore meet the Wilsons? How did they become so important to him that he became their son?

It appears that The Rev. FCW and Margaret Wilson had no other children. The Rev. was likely working on his Doctorate at this time. Perhaps he met young Theodore at the University?

Those questions will have to be explored another day. The look into this branch has taken a lot of time away from my main project — Emmett — and I have a boatload of papers to grade tonight.

I’ll take a look at rest of A. Maxwell Wilson’s family over the next several days, and give you all an update on the book progress.


Maxed Out


Here’s a list of the Wilson children (from oldest to youngest) and my find/contact progress thus far:

  • Maxwell Augustus Wilson (‘Max’) — eleven children, no contacts yet.
  • Cephas Love Wilson (‘Cephas’) — two children; a son and a daughter. No contacts yet with any of Cephas’ descendants.
  • Percy Brockenbrough Wilson (‘Percy’) — three children (twins and a daughter). Have located & contacted granddaughter & great granddaughter of one child.
  • Everard Meade Wilson (‘Meade’) — two sons; both deceased. One son did not have children. Unknown about current descendants.
  • Francis Childria Wilson, Jr. (‘Frank’) — one child, died in infancy. Have located & contacted a nephew on Frank’s wife’s side of the family.
  • Eudora Neely Wilson Smith (‘Dora’) — two daughters; located grandson of one daughter. Waiting to hear back from grandson.
  • Catherine Elizabeth Wilson Meade (‘Katie’) — one son. Have located & contacted granddaughter.
  • Emmett Wilson — never married; no known descendants.
  • Julian Anderson Wilson — one daughter. Have located and contacted the daughter.
  • Walker Guy Wilson — two children. Have located and contacted a grandson.

I think I’ve done pretty well for almost three years’ worth of digging around in an obscure Congressman’s past — I’ve made contact with descendants of most of the original Wilson family members. But I certainly don’t think I’m finished by a long shot.

Augustus Maxwell Wilson, oldest son of Dr. F.C. and Elizabeth Wilson. Source: Florida

Augustus Maxwell Wilson, or “Max,” oldest son of Dr. F.C. and Elizabeth Wilson. Source: Florida

The obvious gaping research hole in tracking down Wilson descendants is with the oldest child, Max Wilson. And believe it or not, it has been incredibly difficult to find anyone descended from Max Wilson. Eleven children and dozens of dead ends. I kid you not.

And honestly, I haven’t really focused on Max that much. It isn’t that I’m ignoring Max, but I’ve been spending my research time tracking down sources I estimate closest to Emmett during his lifetime; namely, his twin brother Julian, his older sister Katie, his younger brother Walker, and, his law partner, Cephas.

Max doesn’t figure into Emmett’s story that much, mostly because there’s 12 years’ difference in their ages. When Emmett was a boy, Max was already in school, had a job. He wasn’t exactly Emmett’s playmate and peer. I could be wrong, but for now, all information indicates that Max was not around much in Emmett’s formative years.

Augustus Maxwell Wilson was born in 1867 in Pensacola, and died in 1925, in Pasco County, Florida. According to an item on Find-A-Grave, a Times-Herald Obituary reported he died on January 30, 1925, and he was living with his oldest son (that would be Max Jr.) at the time.

Max’s wife, Belle Fannin Wilson, wrote a wonderful family genealogy, which is located in the special collections section of the Miami-Dade Public Library. But in that genealogy, I got the idea that that Max was unstable. Maybe I read it wrong. Maybe a family member can shed some light on it.

The genealogy said Max was a ‘chaser of rainbows,’ and if you look at his career track, you get the idea that Max never really knew what he wanted to do with himself; that when things got really tough, he’d stop whatever he was doing and begin all over again, not weathering the natural ups and downs that happen in any career.

For example, at different times, Max was listed as a bookkeeper, a railroad employee, a farmer, a newspaper owner and publisher, a pharmacist, a postmaster, a salesman. There were other careers he sampled along the way; meanwhile, the many different job switches had to be tough on his large family. No one is taking this man’s inventory at this point; he’s long gone. No one is saying he did a bad thing, changing jobs so often. But, it does look somewhat unstable from an outsider’s perspective.

Max is buried in the Dade City, Florida, cemetery. His wife is not buried with him. It is important to note that Belle was alive at the time of Max’s death — no one wants to jump to any conclusions, but the fact that he was living apart from his spouse is curious. The obituary said he died of a long illness.

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.

The genealogy was published by Belle’s son, Francis. That son became a journalist; so, my plan is to locate Francis’ descendants. Journalists and writers tend to keep notes, journals, stories — I’m hoping that Francis did the same.

But 11 children — surely there must be someone of Max’s family out there who holds Wilson memorabilia. Or photos. That would be wonderful.

What trips me up in finding the original Wilson family’s descendants is that several of Dr. Wilson’s children named their sons “Francis”, and then, those children also named Dr. Wilson’s grandchildren “Francis.” Oy. I’ve encountered about 12 “Francis Childrias” in this research project (but no Archibald Emmetts!). In several cases, I can’t tell who belongs to which descendant. It’s nice to honor one’s ancestors, but reusing exact names in a family makes it difficult and confusing for researchers 100 years in the future.

In other news, my street got dug out last night about 10:30 pm. It looks like my dear children will be headed off to school tomorrow! Snowzilla 2016 is now in the history books.

UPDATE: I found the Francis who published Belle’s genealogy; he also became a “Dr. Francis Childria Wilson”; as in, a journalist-turned-Methodist minister.

The kids will be home yet another day, despite the fact the roads have been plowed. DC schools are open, by the way (and I live a mere 1500 feet over the DC-Maryland state line). Go figure. 🙂


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

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

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.