The Mystery of Emma K. Hobson part 2—CoronaLife Day 320

In my last post, I introduced the vanishing act of Emma Kite Hobson, her two children, and her four husbands. Last week, I focused on the two children. This week, I’ll look a bit more at Emma herself.

First, I would like to shout out to the Facebook group Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness—USA, without whom I would not have nearly as much information as I have. Their members discovered an article from 1900 that described Emma’s divorce from husband #4, and that is where I derived a great deal of my information from, as well as used as a springboard for further searching.

The article the group found detailed much of Emma’s adult life. It named her four husbands: Jacob Charles Brickman, George Singleton Pettibone/Pettibaum, William C. Sloan, and current husband B.F. Nail. Note that although her daughter claims a maiden name of Hemick on several documents, there is no Hemick mentioned in this article. With this article in hand, I went looking for Emma and her husbands. They proved an elusive bunch.

I first find Emma in 1850, at age thirteen, living with her parents Benjamin and Margaret in Baltimore, Maryland. According to what we know about her son William (born April 1854), Emma would give birth to him just four years later. So she must have married first husband Jacob Charles Brickman no later than mid-1853.

I can find no record of their marriage. How do I know they married? Only from the 1900 article, which said Emma had divorced him. I cannot find Jacob in 1850, prior to the marriage, nor in 1860, after the marriage. And as mentioned, I also cannot find their son. The 1900 article states that Jacob is still alive and living at an address in Philadelphia. The 1900 Census begs to differ, as he is not showing up there.

However, there is a Jacob C. Brickman in Chicago in 1900. He was born in Pennsylvania. I can trace him back to the 1870 census, where he is living in Quincy, Adams County, Illinois. He is married to Mary and they have a 9-year-old son George. Jacob and Mary married 11 June 1868 in Adams County, Illinois. Jacob and Mary are still in Quincy in 1880 with their family. This Jacob died 8 Aug 1905 in Chicago, and is buried in Oakwoods Cemetery.

Why am I interested in Jacob in Illinois? Mainly because William F. Brickman, son of Emma and Jacob, shows up in Adams County, Illinois in 1884. If his father was living there, that could explain why he made the move to Illinios.

In 1860, Emma is living with her widowed mother in Burlington, Burlington County, New Jersey. She is listed as single, and her six-year-old son is not with her. By the end of 1860, the family is back in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On 6 December 1860, Emma marries husband #2, George Singleton Pettibone at Emma’s mother’s home in Philadelphia.

George is another ghost. He does not appear on the 1860 census in Philadelphia, even though the marriage record states he is “of Philadelphia”. He also does not appear on the 1870 census in Philadelphia. There is a merchant George Pettibone listed on the New York City censuses for those dates, but there is no way for me to know if this is the same person. The 1900 article states that he is still alive in 1900, and that he, too, had divorced Emma.

The article also claims that Emma’s daughter Nannetta Lillian is George’s daughter, but on Nannetta’s marriage license she says that her father is Emma’s third husband, William C. Sloan.

Nannetta was born in 1863, so if William really was her father then Emma and George’s marriage was a very short one. It is also possible that George fathered her but William raised her.

In any event, Nannetta should be on the 1870 census. I cannot find her, her mother, nor William Sloan. I searched for William in 1860, but there were numerous William Sloans and I have no way of knowing if any of them are the right one. I also could not locate a William Sloan with a wife or child in 1870. The 1900 article stated that William was deceased, but it was unclear whether his death ended the marriage or if he had divorced and then died prior to 1900.

That brings us to 1880. We have not seen a trace of Emma since 1860, and we find no documents of her now. However, in her divorce proceedings of August 1900, she said she married her fourth husband, B.F. Nail, “twenty years ago last June”. That wording is unclear to me, if she married in June of 1880 or 1879.

She does not say where they married, but I believe it was in western Pennsylvania. She says she stayed with Benjamin for three years, then spent seven years in the Harrisburg Asylum and the Blair County almshouse, then had lived the last two years with her daughter, also in Blair County. If we do the math, that would mean she lived with Benjamin until 1882, the asylum/almshouse until 1889, and her daughter’s house from then until the present time in 1900. I was able to find Benjamin Nail on the 1900 census, but nothing in 1880.

The mention of the stay at the asylum, the chaos of four failed marriages, and her spotty relationship with her children makes me think that perhaps there was a mental illness at play here making it difficult to form and maintain relationships.

Whatever the case, Emma K. Nail died in the Allegheny County Home on 2 August 1909. This is the same place her son William Brickman had died two years prior. Unlike William, someone must have claimed Emma’s body, because she was buried in Melrose Cemetery, rather than the Home’s own cemetery. Perhaps it was her daughter Nannetta, who lived nearby.

That is the long, convoluted story of Emma Kite Hobson. There are still large gaps in her history, and if any other genealogist out there wants to try cracking the case, I would love to know what you find out.

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