Chapter 55: Enter Nancy

Standard

September 19, 2013
University of Maryland
College Park

It is about four months into the research, and I am doggedly chipping at the cracked slab that lies over Emmett Wilson’s buried-away life history, starting with the people who knew him best.

In the December 2, 1918 edition of The Pensacola Journal, I found the following:

Emmett is eulogized seven months after his death in an Elk’s ceremony. Source: The Pensacola Journal, December 2, 1918 via ChroniclingAmerica.gov

Page 2, The Pensacola Journal, December 2, 1918, via ChroniclingAmerica.gov

I reach out to the state office of the Elk’s Club in Florida, to see if there was an archive where Anderson’s entire speech might have been preserved. It would make sense, I ask, because one of the members eulogized was a former Member of Congress. Later, an email from my source reveals he wasn’t able to find a record of Emmett’s membership — and alas,  the Pensacola chapter didn’t exist anymore — it disbanded after reaching its 100th anniversary.

Elk’s (left) and Osceola Clubs, Pensacola. Neither building survives today, although the Elk statue is elsewhere in the city, according to Jacki Wilson, archivist for the Pensacola Historical Society. Source: State Archive of Florida.

 

Next, I track down Robert H. Anderson. There’s an interesting biographical sketch in a Florida genealogy database — the sketch is a basic rtf file, in Courier typeface.

A snippet of the file uploaded by Nancy Rayburn. Source: USGWArchives

The document belongs to Ms. Nancy Rayburn — luckily, there’s an email address attached to the file.

===

I didn’t expect an answer quickly, but only a few hours later, Nancy responds:

She always like to correspond using Comic Sans. One of the many things I liked about her right away!

I sense a good source in the making.

I’ll write back right the next day — let’s see where this goes.

Chapter 54: In Bits and Pieces

Standard

February 26, 2020
Chevy Chase, Maryland

I’m honestly surprised at how much I have been able to uncover about Emmett to date, though there are serious gaps. The most important information, Emmett’s own words, are majorly absent. He wrote letters often to friends and family; but only a few exist 102 years after his death.

Of course, there is the great Mystery of Emmett’s Missing Scrapbooks. I would love to see them; I hold out hope that they still exist in some dusty attic or archive.

Emmett’s will, page two. Emmett Wilson Kehoe was the son of his best friend, J. Walter Kehoe. Emmett lived with the Kehoes starting in the summer of 1910 until his death.

The realist in me understands that it isn’t likely 102 years after Emmett’s death, but the one thing I’ve learned about finding Emmett and his story is that odd and unique pieces of his puzzle have come to me in seemingly mysterious and miraculous ways over the past six years.

====

Here’s the thing about research: You can’t control when or what or how it comes to you, or how you find it.

When I started to study Emmett, I began with first thing I found: his obituary. From there, I went from a general series of searches into his life, and from there, eventually narrowed it into topics such as former schools, former jobs, former clubs, former places of residence and the like.

The information quickly became overwhelming and confusing; i.e., I’d find an article about his funeral, the next day I’d find an article about a law suit he prosecuted in Marianna, and later that day, an article about a dance he attended in Pensacola. That’s pretty much how Emmett’s info was coming in all the time.

Nothing was chronological, so I had to find a way to organize it, so I could understand his life before I could write about it.

Early on, I set up an Excel spreadsheet, with very simple columns: Year, date, event, source of information, comment. As I organized the information, I realized that I would have to also include his immediate family in that spreadsheet, because many of the family events directly affected him, even after he had moved out of the home and was on his own.

I use a basic spreadsheet program with my own headings. Information is organized by year.

Another example from the Emmett spreadsheets.

The spreadsheets grew tremendously — at present, six years into the research, I have over 5,000 individual entries with any information on Emmett that tells me the date, what he was doing and with whom, and the source of the information (and often a copy of the clip or a link of the image of the information). Essentially, I wanted to create a ‘journal’ of his life, and it has given me an interesting overall picture of the man ….

But, of course, the problem is that very little of it is in Emmett’s own words. Without the missing scrapbook or a journal, or even letters written to other people, I don’t know what he thought or felt.

And even with a scrapbook or a journal, I still may not know what Emmett thought or felt. I don’t know if he could be truly honest with himself on paper. Some of the information I’ve found about him tells me he was a master at stuffing his feelings down and looking for any means of escaping discomfort, unease, and so forth.

One thing I did notice, after looking over the spreadsheet, was that I’d need to reach out to Emmett’s friends, as well as family members; i.e., the descendants of Emmett’s friends and family, to find additional information.

I decided to begin with Robert H. Anderson, the man who gave Emmett’s eulogy at the annual memorial service for deceased members of the Pensacola Elk Club (I’ve learned that Emmett’s funeral eulogy doesn’t exit/a copy was  not kept with Christ Church, the site of his funeral).

Little would I know, but the contact I made starting with Anderson would be one of the most precious gifts of this project.