Marching On—CoronLife Day 355

It is hard to believe we are in March of 2021 already. It is also hard to believe we are approaching a year of the pandemic. Some people have already marked the first year, depending what their marker is. For me, it is the week the schools closed in March. That’s when my family’s world shifted.

My daughter was home every day. My husband switched to working from home. I had to figure out how to snag a spot for grocery pickup (it was as bad as trying to get a vaccine appointment for a while). Everything stopped, but at the same time the change was moving at lightspeed. Life became disorienting and stressful, with even minor things that had been on autopilot now taking a great deal of conscious thought.

Now we are about a year in. Vigilance is still necessary, but we have learned. We have learned what activities are safe, what risks we are willing to take (this differs from person to person), what precautions to ingrain in our habits. Will I ever be able to feel comfortable standing closer than 6 feet from someone again? How weird will it be to someday be able to leave the masks at home, gathering dust in a drawer?

The stress has morphed throughout the year. It started as near-panic, and the steep learning curve of living in our new reality. As we got used to working from home, learning from home, shopping from home, zooming from home, the stress became a steady thrum of “stay safe” in the background of our lives. We learned to deal with too much togetherness and too little emotional and mental space. Creatives either saw their Muses flourish, or saw them flee (mine fled). And losing one’s creative outlet is another kind of stress.

Finally, we are at the beginning of the end of the pandemic, and the stress has shifted again. Now the scarcity of vaccines is causing stress as people scramble to get their loved ones protected. We spend hours on sites trying to snag appointments that disappear as fast as concert tickets on Ticketmaster. And we brace ourselves against pandemic fatigue, the very real desire to just toss all precautions to the wind and forget for a while.

But we cannot let down our guard. The pandemic is not over, it is not done, and it will find those moments of forgetfulness and gleefully infect a new batch of people—perhaps creating a new and deadlier variant in the process. We must stand strong for a while longer. Just a few more months, then we can perhaps breathe easier without worrying what respiratory droplets we are breathing in. We will not achieve full return to normalcy in a few months, but we should be much closer. We should be in the middle of the end of the pandemic.

So in the meantime, I am simply marching on. I am distracting myself with my genealogy work. Today I have spent a long time with 9th- to 11th-century Norwegian Jarls of Orkney and the Norse Dukes of Normandy. All I can say is that with all the fighting warring, and raiding everyone did back then, it’s a wonder any of us are here at all.

So as I march with them into their next battle, I urge us all not to give up our current battle. The vaccine cavalry, with all its delivery flaws, has arrived, but the war is far from won. Stay strategic. Stay strong. Stay safe.

I want all of us to be here a year from now, when the end of the end of this pandemic will be behind us.

Do What You Can—CoronaLife Day 348

Everyone I know is hitting the pandemic wall. As we approach a year of CoronaLife, many of us have exhausted our reserves of patience, grace, and stay-insidedness. I, for one, have actually felt worse anxiety and stress since the vaccines came out, a desperate feeling of “so near and yet so far.” Like starving on the street and seeing food on the other side of a shop window.

So seeing as I—and many of us—am mentally and emotionally drained, it is hardly surprising that my creativity has crashed and burned. As much as I want to get to writing, I just have nothing in the tank nor the quiet space needed to go there. I am far from alone in this—many, many writers have commented on the same phenomenon. They have the time to write, but just…can’t.

Not being able to write drives me to berate myself often. The lack of productivity makes me feel not like myself, further unsettling me in this time of upheaval. So what’s a writer to do?

Do what you can.

For me, I decided to turn to non-fiction and my favorite hobby, genealogy. Many years ago, I published a book on my father’s side of the family. I began one for my mother, but never seemed to complete it. This month, I decided to try and get to THE END.

I have revamped several chapters, including updated information newly discovered since last time I looked at it, including indicating which ancestral couples have DNA matches to them. I am now wading through the rest of the chapters, finding them in various states of disarray. Some are written but the source citations are missing, some are partly written, and one hasn’t even been started yet.

Years ago I made a hasty mistake that has come back to haunt me (and would cause all of my college professors to cry). I failed to source my notes. You see, my mother’s line leads back to royalty, so a number of her families have a substantial amount of scholarly research on them. I read some of the works, jotted down notes in my genealogy program, made note of the book’s citation—and didn’t cite page numbers. Even worse, I didn’t cite which pieces of information came from which book, and just had a long prose piece on each person that mixed all the info together.

I have placed orders with the Interlibrary Loan people (who got these books for me before), and hopefully as they come in I can scan them quickly and reunite facts with sources. With my luck, all the books will arrive at the same time, and then I will have only 2 weeks to go through 6 books. I also ordered 2 books via ILL that were completely new and I will have to read in full to write the chapter that I haven’t even started yet.

So far, my plan has been fruitful. I am making progress and feeling productive. A little bit like my pre-pandemic self.

So for all of you, writers or not, who are struggling to feel more like yourself, know that aspiring to pre-pandemic productivity and goals right now may be making you feel worse rather than better. And if it is—as it was with me—take my advice and reset your goal:

Just do what you can.

Stress Test—CoronaLife 341

I took my first cardiac stress test today. For those who have never had one, you walk on a treadmill. It’s slow at first, then gets faster and the incline gets steeper, all to push your heart rate up while you are being monitored so the doctors can look for abnormalities in your heart function.

I didn’t die. And nothing abnormal was found (as expected).

I got to thinking, though, that this entire last year has been a stress test. The building racial inequality crisis, the unrelenting nature of a pandemic, the political divisions ending in violence in Washington. If all that isn’t stressful, I don’t know what it.

This thought was reinforced as I sat in the waiting room while the doctor looked at my results. Three older people, all in their 70s, were there with me. They were talking amongst themselves, socially distanced, masked. And one of them says, “I really don’t know what’s going to happen. Back in the day, there was stability. Now…nobody knows what’s going to happen.” The others agreed with him.

I agreed with him.

All this chaos, all this hardship, all this upheaval…it’s bringing in something new. A new world. There is no guarantee it will be a better world than the old. I don’t worry for myself so much. I am 50 years old; I can handle what comes my way. I worry for my daughter. She has already had a year of her childhood stolen from her. How will the continuing spasms of change warp the remainder of her childhood? What sort of a world will she step into as an adult?

We are all in a stress test.

And the results are going to determine the future of America, the world, and my daughter.

We need to get the diagnosis and treatment right.

The In-Between—CoronaLife Day 334

Have you ever been sick for a few days or more? Long enough for it to really drain you? As you recover, there is a time I call the in-between, where your spirit has rallied, but your body isn’t there yet. It is a restless, impatient time, where you WANT to do things, you feel READY to do things…but you don’t have the stamina or strength to do those things. It usually only lasts a few days, but it is an incredibly frustrating time.

I am in the in-between right now. I have not been physically ill (thankfully), but I have been in a creative slump for many years now. It started in November 2016. I am not the only creative deeply affected by that election and the years that followed. My anxiety ratcheted up, and that always saps my creative energy. Still, I was able to work in spurts—I would be very productive for a week or two, then crash back into nothing.

The pandemic wiped me out completely. Lockdowns, remote schooling, anxiety overload…I had not a drop of anything left for creating. I went from berating myself for not doing ENOUGH to berating myself for not doing ANYTHING. It got to the point where, when I turned 50, I thought, “Maybe I should just be done with this. I clearly don’t have what it takes.”


I am stubborn. And I am still here.

The vaccine—as imperfect as the rollout has been—is promising a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel. Promising a time when we might get back to something approaching normalcy. And, after the horrific events of January 6th, having Biden sworn in successfully has slowly brought me some peace. Promising a time when we as neighbors can talk to each other again without insults, without shouting. When we can listen to understand, not just to respond.

Thus, I find myself once again at the in-between. I am, finally, feeling like I WANT to work on my projects. However, my writing muscles, so long out of use, are flabby and weak. It will take more time for me to have the strength of mind to get back to my work. So for now I am poking at one project, then another, trying to see which of them sparks something. Maybe I will round-robin them for a while—write a scene here, edit a chapter there, wonder what the heck I was even thinking on the other. When I first started writing, I always had more than one story going at the same time. It kept me from getting stuck, because if I did I would jump to another until I figured out the problem. When I got older and the demands of adulthood and motherhood constrained my time, I focused on one project at a time, just so I could finish.

The in-between is painful. It is frustrating. But it is also hopeful.

Maybe it’s not time to hang up this dream after all.

Multi-faceted Fatigue – CoronaLife Day 327

We all know about pandemic fatigue. Most of us have it. For me, it seems almost harder now that the vaccines are here but hard to get. It’s a “so near and yet so far” feeling, and it’s flaring my anxiety.

But January turned out to be a much more difficult month than I expected. My aunt and uncle got COVID, and my uncle died. My husband had a stroke (he is fully recovered, thankfully), and now my sister and brother-in-law have COVID. I’m suffering from crisis fatigue as well as pandemic fatigue. And remote schooling fatigue. And hunting for vaccine fatigue.

I am apparently multi-tasking my fatigue.

At any rate, my brain is not very functional, so I am not going to attempt an in-depth blog post tonight.

Zippy the fish is still alive, so he has lasted with us almost 3 months so far. I have the ammonia in the tank pretty well under control, but now am battling a strange algae we never had before in all the years we’ve had the tank. It’s gray and fuzzy and grows like wildfire. It also makes the tank stink. I think I have tamed it by limiting the tank light use to no more than 6 hours a day (I turn on another light in the room for the fish when it’s off), and turning the bubbler to the lowest level. I read that this algae thrives when the CO2 levels in the water are lower, and I hypothesize that the bubbler (part of a sponge filter system) is putting more O2 into the water and driving the CO2 levels down. I know correlation is not causation, but I didn’t start having the algae issue until after I installed the new sponge filter, so I suspect it is somehow connected.

So that’s been my life lately. Writing has been nowhere for me—I am far too exhausted. I sincerely hope your January has been better!

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.

The Mystery of Emma K. Hobson part 1—CoronaLife Day 313

If you’ve been here any length of time, you know I am a genealogy geek. It has been a wonderful way to escape the pressure and stress of the pandemic. I’ve been researching for some 30 years. One of the easiest ways to track an ancestor after 1850 is by using the censuses. Every ten years, the family would be enumerated.

Well, that’s the idea. It’s not uncommon for a family to be “lost” for a census. Maybe they were moving, maybe they weren’t home when the enumerators knocked, maybe the enumerators skipped their house or farm for some reason. But recently I had a family that was lost over many censuses—one woman, two children, and four husbands. All of them ghosts.

The woman is Emma Kite Hobson. She was the daughter of Benjamin Hobson and Margaret Seward. Emma was born 25 Feb 1837 in Pennsylvania, likely in Philadelphia since that is where Benjamin and Margaret lived. Emma then proceeded to marry four times and have two children with different husbands—and I can’t find any of them.

I’m going to start with Emma’s children. Her first child was William F. Brickman, born April 1854 in Pennsylvania, according to census records and his death certificate. Now, the census takes place every ten years on the 10s, so he should appear on the 1860 census—except that he doesn’t. His mother Emma is living with HER mother, and listed as single. William’s father, Jacob Charles Brickman, also has vanished. William then shows up in 1870 at age 16, living with his grandmother (Emma’s mom) Margaret Seward Hobson in Philadelphia. William then again vanishes, pops up in Adams County, Illinois in 1884 where he marries a widow (Mrs. Mary Irvin), who then dies in 1898 in Brown County, Illinois. He is still in Brown County, Illinois in 1900, but then dies in a poor house in Collier, Blair County, Pennsylvania on 4 September 1907. No one claims him and he is buried in the Allegheny County Home’s cemetery.

Emma’s daughter Nannetta Lillian was born in Burlington County, New Jersey or Pennsylvania, depending on where you look. On her marriage license, which she likely filled out herself, she states Burlington County. Presumably she knew where she was born on 17 March 1863.

The question then becomes who was she born TO. An article in 1900 says she was the daughter of Emma’s second husband, George Singleton Pettibone. On her marriage license she said her father was William C. Sloan, Emma’s third husband.

On her marriage license, Nannetta says her last name is Felix. She also says she was married before and her first husband died in 1883, so Felix was likely his last name. I cannot find any record of her first marriage. Here’s where things get stranger still.

On her daughter’s baptismal records, Nannetta lists her maiden name as Hemick. Her daughter who filled out Nannetta’s death certificate had clearly heard this name, because she put that her grandfather was William Hemick. This is also the maiden name used in Nannetta’s obituary, which the children would have written. Where did Hemick come from? No clue.

So, Nannetta was born in 1863, to either husband number 2 or 3. However, I cannot locate her on the 1870 census. I cannot locate her mother or either suspected father, either. Same with the 1880 census. I even checked the 1880 census under the surname Felix, as she might have been married by then. No joy. She married Andrew Curtain Hull in 1886 in Blair County, and that is the first record I have for her. The rest of her life after is easy to trace.

Where were Emma’s children in their youth? Where was Emma for 20 years between 1860 and 1880? I’ll look for clues to her whereabouts next week. Any genealogists out there that want to tackle this with me, I would love to hear what you find!

Where Do We Go From Here?—CoronaLife Day 306

The Trump years have been rife with growing tensions, but the election has forced a flash point. Trump’s supporters believe there was massive voter fraud and the election was stolen from him, while Biden’s supports believe it was a fair election. I will not argue the points here, largely because it will change nobody’s mind, and, besides, that is not the purpose of this post. The purpose of this post is to ask: “Where do we go from here?”

Over the past four years, the growth of a divided reality has accelerated, and we now have two camps in America who do not see the world with a shared set of facts—or even the belief that facts actually matter. The fragmentation of media has allowed people to find “sources” that reinforce what they already believe, and avoid anything that challenges their world view. This “silo-ing” phenomenon is not new, but has intensified with the advent of the internet and social media. This, combined with a toxic selfishness, has led us to a place that I am not sure we can come back from.

This is more than just a difference over policy. Policy differences are a fact of governmental life, and have been with us always. Constructive discussions of the pros and cons of alternate policies, and viewing a problem from different viewpoints, is necessary and healthy in a democracy. But when advocating a certain policy brings death threats—witness Gretchen Whitmer, Brad Raffensperger, Dr. Fauci and his family, and most recently Mike Pence—that is beyond the pale. That is a line you cannot step back over once crossed. How do you threaten someone’s life and then dial that back? How can you move forward from that?

I don’t know. I just know that I am tired. I am tired of the hateful rhetoric, tired of the insults, tired of the lies. Tired of people who care nothing for other people. Tired of people who are so entitled they think a little inconvenience is oppression. Tired of the unrelenting chaos of every day. I would like to return to the days where you could disagree with your neighbor without fear of vandalism or death. Where we could agree that truth matters—or that it even exists.

I’m afraid that the attack on the Capitol is a sign that America is fundamentally broken. Time will tell if it is broken beyond repair. I believe our democratic institutions held strong; others believe they have been subverted. And so I am left staring at two diametrically opposed Americas, with one thought repeating in my head: “Where do we go from here?”

I fear, nowhere good.

RIP Uncle Gary – CoronaLife Day 299

We lost my Uncle Gary to COVID a few days ago. My aunt and uncle were hospitalized with it December 21st. The first few days seemed like they both were making progress. Then my uncle took a turn for the worse, and the deterioration was swift. Due to COVID restrictions, his family could not be at his side as he passed, an additional burden to the grief they bear.

Most of my memories of my Uncle Gary are from my childhood, before their family moved farther away and we didn’t see them very much. As a result, the memories are rather vague. I remember him as a dark-haired man with twinkling eyes behind his glasses, and I always seem to remember him smiling or laughing.

He could be warm, but he was also a private man, so I suppose it is not surprising that I did not know him very well as an adult, combined with all the time living farther away. He was a Vietnam veteran, and like many of those soldiers, I suspect the war never quite left him. Although proud of his service, I always have trouble picturing him as a soldier, because I always felt he had a gentle soul.

Like me, he was interested in genealogy, although of course his family was not mine (his wife is my blood relative). His line was German, and he read and spoke German well. My line is also German and when I ran into a document that needed translating, he helped me out.

When the Pentagon was attacked on 9/11, he walked for miles from his job in locked-down central DC until he could find transportation home–a now white-haired man just wanting to get home to the family he loved.

And he did deeply love his family. That was always crystal clear. His wife, his sons, and his grandson meant the world to him. They will miss him more than words can say.

The virus stole another soul this week, and we mourn his loss. Godspeed, Uncle Gary.

Happy New Year 2021 – CoronaLife Day 292

I think I speak for many people when I say there has never been a year I wanted to see the back of more than 2020. This year has lasted a decade, and I can’t wait to turn the page.

Having had a milestone birthday this year (thanks, 2020!), I am old enough to know that turning the calendar doesn’t magically make all our problems disappear. But it is a time to reset and take the lessons learned in the previous year and carry them forward.

So what have I learned in 2020? First, I learned that there are many things out of my control. This year was certainly a lesson in that, if nothing else. The coronavirus took any plans we had for this year and dumped them into the incinerator. The sphere of what I can actually control is a lot smaller than my ego would like to think it is.

Second, sometimes I have to just let things go. My anxiety disorder has been in overdrive this year, and that wreaks havoc on my writing. My creativity vanishes into the malaise. And I have to be okay with that, because there’s not much I can do about it. My creativity has been a roller coaster this year. I have days, even a week at a time, where the words come and I drive forward. Then a desert for weeks. I have had to learn to not beat myself up over that (a lesson I am still learning).

Third, I have had to learn to be less of an introvert. Wait, wait, wait, I hear you saying. You are stuck home, rarely going out, seeing nobody outside your family. How does that make you LESS of an introvert?

It is counter-intuitive, I grant you. I am an introvert’s introvert. I need alone time to recharge. And by alone time, I mean completely alone, no one else in the house. Not in another room, not on another floor, but not here AT ALL. Since March I have had both my daughter and my husband home 24/7. I love them dearly and I am so grateful we have the ability to be safe together. But I have had to get used to much less alone time (read: none), and figure out how to recharge anyway.

Fourth, it has highlighted many of the inequities that are baked into our country, and the desperate need to address them moving forward. I for one do not want to simply “go back to normal” because so much of what was normal was not working. This year that has shaken the world to the foundation has not merely exposed the cracks we have been papering over for decades, it wrenched those cracks wide open. We need to do better. Business as usual is no longer acceptable.

Finally, it has been a lesson in gratitude. I know, without a doubt, that my family has been incredibly lucky throughout this year. We have been able to work from home with no loss of income, and our immediate extended family have so far come through physically unscathed. For all the things we missed and were saddened to not have or do this year, we still have the people that we love, and that is everything.

I intend to take those lessons and go forward into 2021 knowing that we still have a long road ahead of us. None of the problems we face will vanish with the ball drop. But if we truly learn the lessons of 2020, we can make 2021 the beginning of something new, different, and better.

And by the end of the year, I might even get to be alone in the house again.

I wish all of you and your loved ones a healthy, happy, and much, much better 2021. Be safe, and have a Happy New Year.

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