Chapter 11: First Contact

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I remember Saturday, June 8, 2013, as one of those glorious late Spring days in Maryland — the sky was clear blue without a cloud in sight, the temperature around 72, the trees were (finally!) all full with fresh green leaves. The plants I’d set out a few weeks earlier after a long hiatus inside were full and lush on the patio. My kids were on a scouting trip in St. Mary’s County with my husband — so I was in my home office, grading final exams so as to meet the 72 hour grade posting deadline at the University of Maryland.

My cell phone rang — an unrecognizable number on caller i.d. — I was deep into work and loathe to interrupt progress, but something told me to answer it anyway.

“Is this Judy Smith? I’m Jim Milligan in Florida. You wrote to me on Ancestry about my uncle, Emmett Wilson.”

Uncle. Emmett Wilson.

I remember my adrenaline shot up — Omg. Omg. Omg.

I shoved the gradebook out of the way, pulled the research notebook in front of me and started scribbling madly, to capture everything Emmett’s blood relative was saying.

First contact with an actual Wilson family member.

This was gold! This was better than gold!!!!

Jim said he was interested in my research, and was glad to help out in any way.

“I have a document to send you by email — a family genealogy. It’s rather large, though. It will take a little while to upload. ”

I told Jim that was fine — to go ahead — and while I was waiting for the file to appear on my end, he filled me in on Wilson family facts:

Emmett’s siblings, Walker Wilson and his sister Katie Wilson Meade, in front of the Washington Monument, July 4, 1908. Photo was taken by their first cousin, Lizzie Meade.

  • Jim is the grandson of Walker Wilson, Emmett’s youngest brother. Jim never knew Emmett personally.
  • Jim was not certain how Walker died exactly; family members would not talk about it, which always led him to believe something curious or unusual about Walker’s death.
  • Drinking was reported to be a real problem in Emmett and Walker’s generation of the Wilson family.

And then, Jim said,

Emmett  “was an alcoholic, you know. He drank himself to death.”

I felt an internal jolt — I stopped writing.

“I didn’t know,” I said. “The death certificate I received says kidney disease was the cause of death, but I’ve also learned that the symptoms of kidney disease looked an awful lot like end-stage alcoholism in those days.”

As Jim talked about the genealogy, something came over me — clarity, actually — as if a piece of this strange puzzle materialized before me.

I told Jim that if Emmett was an alcoholic, that shed a new light on the information from the Christ Church burial record. But still, what we have at present is anecdotal, and Emmett was an alcoholic, we needed a medical record.

Jim was positive the story was that Emmett drank. “And he might have been gay,” he added.

I doubted seriously I’d ever find a confirmation about Emmett and homosexuality — not that it mattered — but Jim’s comment gave me the idea that perhaps if Emmett was, indeed, alcoholic, there was an underlying ‘thing’ he was trying to escape, since drinking to excess is a means of escape….

As he and I continued to talk, Jim’s file appeared in my email. I asked if I could follow up with other questions later after reading the genealogy, and that I would send him clips he might want to add to his own research. He said that was fine, contact him anytime.

I settled down with the document; it took three days to read the entire thing.

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Next: The family genealogy reveals tantalizing clues

 

 

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One-Shot at a Free Ride

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I’ve been thinking about the vocational/educational breakdown of Emmett’s immediate family:

  • Two physicians; one on-the-job training, one college-educated (Dr. Francis Wilson and his second eldest son, Percy Brockenbrough Wilson)
  • Two lawyers; one on-the-job training, one college-educated (Cephas Love Wilson and Emmett Wilson)
  • Four railroad professionals; high school diploma only, mostly on-the-job training (Frank Jr., Meade, Julian, Walker)
  • Two state-certified teachers; high school diploma only (Dora and Katie)
  • One musician/pharmacist/editor; high school diploma only (Max)

Emmett’s education was a bit unusual because he was the only Wilson child with two chances to go to college — he either failed out or dropped out of West Florida Seminary (now Florida State University) in 1900, and two years later, enrolled at Stetson University, graduating in 1904.

Frankly, this surprises me, given that

  • higher education was expensive, even for an upper middle class family like the Wilsons, and
  • there was little if any extra money available for things other than necessities. And:
  • the Wilson family genealogy sent to me from Walker Wilson’s descendants indicated resentment among Emmett’s siblings that the younger Wilsons had to contribute funds to brothers and sisters attending college — a opportunity either not extended nor available to the younger Wilsons once they became old enough.

It seems like the family helped Emmett pay for the first college (West Florida Seminary) tuition, but the second time, I believe Emmett was on his own financially. It just doesn’t make sense to me that the family would put up two college tuitions for one child, and not do the same for the other younger children. Emmett had one shot at a ‘free’ tuition ride — and when it didn’t work out for him at WFS, he knew he’d have to pay his own way if he ever wanted to go to college again.

Ad from The Chipley Banner, 1894. DJ Jones was a well-established attorney and judge for many years. Source: Chronicling America.com

After Emmett came home from WFS in January, 1901, he immediate started clerking for Judge Daniel J. Jones, one of the most important lawyers in West Florida, with the idea that he would do as his brother Cephas: Clerk for a prominent jurist for a few years, take the bar exam, and begin his practice.  But times were changing for the legal profession around 1900, as more states were requiring law school and official degrees as proper credentials over old-school apprenticeship training.

 

Emmett and Judge Jones must have discussed the future of the profession, and I am certain Judge Jones would have encouraged Emmett earn a law degree at a college or university, to ensure his best possible professional opportunities.

Advertisement from August 30, 1901 edition of The (Pensacola) Daily News. Emmett had been clerking for Judge D.J. Jones, during this time — but he could only do so much without knowledge of shorthand. It is likely Jones recommended Emmett obtain shorthand training. Emmett was visiting family during the summer of 1901, and this advertisement got his attention. Source: The (Pensacola) Daily News, August 30, 1901.

Emmett remained with Jones as a clerk for about six months, before he left to take a shorthand course at Meux’s Business School in Pensacola, returning in 1902 to clerk for Cephas in Marianna for several months, earning enough money to attend Stetson University in September, 1902.

 

Filling in Blanks About Cephas Love Wilson Jr.

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In my last post, we found Cephas Jr. back home in Marianna post recovery from a throat injury he received while he was stationed in France in 1919.

According to the U.S. Census for 1920, Cephas Jr. had moved back in with his parents and had a job as a ‘presser’ in a shop, possibly a laundry business, upon his return to Marianna.

Last year, I wrote about Cephas Jr. and his first marriage to Mamie (or Mary) Gertrude Baker, and the fact that Cephas and Mamie had one daughter, Shirley. Although I haven’t heard from any family members or descendants about Cephas Jr. to date, I have been able to fill in some of the blanks.

After the 1920 Census, my next source of information is an article in The Washington Times, dated February 8, 1922, announcing a marriage license between Cephas Jr. and Mamie Baker.

From The Washington Times, February 8, 1922. Source: GenealogyBank.com

So — Cephas, as of sometime in 1921,  was back in Washington, D.C. How do I guess that?

The 1922 D.C. City Directory, in which data was collected in 1921 for this to be published in early 1922. Ceph Jr. is working at a pharmacy, and lives on K Street. Source: Ancesrty.com

I wonder how Cephas and Mamie met? Is it possible she was a nurse at Walter Reed, and the two of them met there, fell in love? (Yep, I’m trying to track that down — but it is a distinct possibility, because I’ve found information indicating she was a nurse. Still trying to confirm it, though!) Cephas was in the hospital for a long time. Mamie was from Silver Spring, Maryland (a suburb of D.C.). Walter Reed is not far from the D.C./Maryland state line… I don’t like to speculate. But, it looks like this may have been how they met.

Less than a year later:

Birth of daughter Shirley, January 23, 1923, in The Washington Evening Star. Source: ChroniclingAmerica.gov

The next item found about Cephas Jr. was in the 1925 D.C. City Directory:

Cephas Jr. is now a salesman, living in an apartment at 1725 17th St. NW. Source: Ancestry.com

I believe Mamie died sometime between 1925 and 1930 — and 1930 was a big year of change for Cephas Jr., because we find him in two different places. First, he’s listed in the 1930 D.C. City Directory, but he doesn’t live in D.C. anymore:

He’s a mechanic — makes sense, since he was with the 1st Engineers during World War I. But, it isn’t his true vocation. Source: ancestry.com

Notice that he’s in Alexandria? That’s because he — and baby Shirley — had likely moved in with Emmett and Cephas Sr.’s sister, Katie Wilson Meade, who lived in Alexandria.

This was only temporary, though, because Cephas and his daughter, Shirley, are also listed in the 1930 U.S. Census as living with his grandparents, the Wiselogels, in Marianna (Cephas Jr.’s mother had remarried, to John Grether, and was now living in Jacksonville).

Ceph Jr. and daughter, Shirley, living in Marianna as of the date of this census, April 2, 1930. Source: Ancestry.com

The rest of the story after 1930 is found here.

For now, this is everything I have about Cephas Love Wilson Jr. I’d love to have a more comprehensive story, especially about whatever happened to Shirley, and if Cephas Jr. had any of his photographs or artwork published anywhere else. If any family members stumble across this information, I’m happy to share what data I’ve gathered.

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….

 

 

 

 

Dissecting the Message, Part IV

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If you’re just now joining us, we’ve been dissecting a letter from Emmett’s brother and law partner, Cephas Love Wilson, addressed to his brother-in-law Emmett Augustus Meade (husband of Katie Wilson Meade), dated January 10, 1910 (here, here, and here). Today, we’re finishing up our analysis of the message itself.

Here’s the last section of Cephas’ letter:

lastsection

As mentioned in an earlier post about Katie Wilson Meade, two out of three of her children died in infancy: The first child was only 10 days old; the second, 10 months.

Francis Emmett Meade, age 10 months (left) and Emmett Augustus Meade, age 10 days right). Note the odd third footstone on the bottom right of the photo.

Francis Emmett Meade, age 10 months (left) and Emmett Augustus Meade, age 10 days right). Note the odd third footstone on the bottom right of the photo.

Katie’s granddaughter Elizabeth (who I met last year in Charlottesville) did not give a reason for the early deaths. I had the impression from Elizabeth that these were things never spoken about (much like Emmett Wilson’s alcohol addiction, or, the death of Katie’s mother, Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson): Painful memories were kept quiet, or, best forgotten. However, Elizabeth reminded me that Katie and Emmett Meade were first cousins, and that might have been a factor with at least one of the infant’s deaths.

For all that this was a large family fairly spread out across West Florida, and up the East Coast, they were tightly knit. I have several documented examples where Katie’s father, and the Wilson siblings, would drop anything and everything if one of their own’s lives was despaired of; Cephas’ comment in the letter is not just a pleasantry.

Finally, the handwritten comment in the margin of the original letter is wonderful and poignant:

jerisey.jpg

‘”Jerisey”(?) sends love & best wishes. She stays in my office more.’

I believe “Jerisey” was a beloved family dog, who stays mostly with Cephas, and in his office (and not in the family home). Maybe Jerisey was not always allowed in the house; sleeping on either the front or back porch most of the time.

This side note gives us a more human or accessible understanding of Cephas.  When I first ‘met’ Cephas in this research, I thought he was a bit of a dog himself, i.e., the way he seemed to glom off of Emmett Wilson’s successful congressional career, and the damning article about him stepping out on Lula while he was attending a conference.

Over the past four years, my impression of Cephas has changed: He wasn’t perfect. He made mistakes. He let his ego get in the way of a lot of things in his life — we all do that, though. It is neither fair nor accurate to expect. And now, I what’s not to like about a man who truly cares about his siblings, who opened his doors (and his wallet) to help his family anytime he was asked?

What’s not to like about a man who allows a beloved pet to hang out with him in his office on a regular basis?

I’d love to find a photo of “Jerisey.”

 

 

Dissecting the Message, Part III

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We continue to dissect Cephas Love Wilson’s letter to Emmett Augustus Meade, dated January 6, 1910:

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“Uncle Meade” was The Reverend Everard Meade, O.D., “Gentleman, Soldier, Man of God.” He was the rector of the historic Pohick Episcopal Church in Lorton, Virginia (about 30 miles south of Washington, D.C.), which was established in 1732. Uncle Meade’s wife was Lucy Brockenbrough Maxwell Meade.

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Lucy Brockenbrough Maxwell Meade, Emmett Wilson’s aunt. Source: Katie’s granddaughter.

Uncle Meade was not always a minister; he started out as a teacher and the owner of a school in Pensacola in 1868, when Augustus Emmett Maxwell and his family (wife Julia, daughters Lucy [Emmett’s Aunt], Elizabeth [Emmett’s Mother], and youngest son Simeon) returned to the family home, “Oakfields,” after the Civil War.

Emmett’s father, Francis C. Wilson, was also living in Pensacola, and apprenticing with a local established physician. The backstory of this part of Emmett’s family history is in an earlier post, by the way.

The Maxwells were devout Episcopalians, as were the Wilsons, at least up until the death of Lucy’s sister, Elizabeth Maxwell Wilson in 1891 in Chipley.

The current pastor at the Episcopal Church in Chipley told me that there wasn’t a congregation there until the 1920’s, and parishoners either attended services in Marianna (20 miles away), or Eufala, Alabama. Dr. Wilson was not Episcopalian; but he and Elizabeth raised their family in her faith.

Dr. Wilson remarried in 1893 in Chipley. His second wife (Catherine “Kate” Langley Jordan Wilson) was the daughter of the local Baptist minister. Kate was devout and strictly temperance; she was a regular at the Baptist Church, but it is not clear if Dr. Wilson attended church with her. We do know that once Dr. Wilson remarried in 1893, his two daughters (Emmett’s sisters), Katie and Dora, moved in with Cephas (who now lived Marianna with his wife, Lula, and had a successful law practice). Emmett’s sisters attended St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Marianna regularly; Katie would marry Emmett Augustus Meade at St. Luke’s in 1902.

Dood and the ‘Break’ Stunts

Cephas’ description of Lula Wiselogel Wilson doing ‘break’ stunts is wonderful, and quite different than the impression I’ve had of her over the past four years — mostly, she’s come across as serious, thoughtful, kind, musically talented, creative, and long-suffering [given that she had to put up with Cephas’ infidelities, which were publicly known and at least once reported on in West Florida newspapers].

The idea of Lula as someone who would pull ‘stunts’ seems out of character for Lula, but then, the tone of this letter from Cephas is joking. I think this letter was Cephas’ attempt at jollity and relief, as Katie and Emmett Meade had lost several babies in a span of only five years. I’m certain that Katie and Emmett Meade were overjoyed with their new son, but also probably terrified that something might happen to him, as it had with their two other infant sons. This was confirmed in an interview I had with Everard Meade’s daughter, Elizabeth, who told me that Katie Meade would hover over her son for most of his childhood, and stay closely connected to him all his life (sometimes to the chagrin of Elizabeth’s mother).

Everard_Katie_Emmett_Meade

Everard Wilson Meade at his graduation from the University of Virginia, with his mother Katie Wilson Meade and father, Emmett Meade. Everard’s wife took this photo. Charlottesville, Virginia, about 1930.

Another interesting detail from Cephas’ letter is that Lula drank alcohol — at least occasionally. And, like Cephas, she wasn’t used to champagne.

Also, the gathering at Cephas’ house on January 3, 1910 with Jeanet McKinnon and Jhon Burton doesn’t appears to have been planned, but a spontaneous celebration of Katie and Emmett Meade’s new baby.  Jeanet McKinnon and Jhon Burton happened to be at the Wilson’s home on Lafayette Street for dinner on the day Cephas received word about the birth of his new nephew.

One final thing to note is the fifth line of this blurb, where the party attendees talk about their hopes for the baby’s future. Cephas, naturally, wishes the baby to be a successful lawyer.

Jeanet McKinnon says she hopes the baby is ‘as nice as his father’ and ‘as sweet as his mother.’ I’m sure Cephas was ‘nice’ to Jeanet; she was related to him by marriage (her sister May was married to Cephas’ older brother Frank Jr. in Pensacola), but Jeanet didn’t know Cephas that well.

And Lula “…hoped that whatever he was, he would be the best.” That comment is exactly in keeping with Lula’s character. Lula was the kind of woman who would never push her expectations on anyone — not her children (Cephas Jr., Kathleen), not her husband, not Emmett (who saw Lula as a surrogate mother from time to time).

Lula was also the kind of woman who hoped her family members were prominent and successful, but she also knew that real happiness was more about inner fulfillment and happiness, because Lula didn’t seem to have either while she was married to Cephas.

We’ll finish up with the analysis of this letter in the next post.