Indexing Headaches—CoronaLife Day 523

I have spent the entire day with the Norwegians.

One line of my mother’s family goes back to Norway. The connection is very far back, so far that much of it may be more properly classified as “lore” rather than provable fact, but it’s fun any way you look at it.

The Norwegian chapter is a long one, spanning some 200+ years, and is an epic adventure of the Orkney and Shetland Islands, as well as vast reaches of northern Scotland. Between the Norwegian names and the many places touched upon, it is enough to make any proofreader’s head hurt.

I am familiar enough with these people now that the spelling is not much of an issue for me. What really hung me up was the indexing. I spent pretty literally the whole day on it. Some of it was my own fault, because I forgot what I had done in previous sections.

For instance, I forgot I had put the kings of Scotland under the heading “Scottish Royalty” because I was also placing their children under that heading. So today I entered them all as “Kings of Scotland” and then had to go back and change them.

Or I forgot that when I indexed a woman as the wife of someone, I put that info in parentheses, not just offset with a comma. Luckily there were not many wives, so it was not as laborious as it sounds.

Then there are just the crazy indexing errors that are basically typos. When entering the index coding in Word, if you don’t do it exactly the same each time, it will show up as a separate person. For example, “Gans:Kerry”, is not the same as “Gans:Kerry ”. Most of the time I avoided having issues by simply copying and pasting the same code for the same person, but occasionally I’d run across someone I’d missed and have to re-type it from scratch. Or it would be a person I had entered far earlier in the book, and had forgotten exactly how I had entered him (but THOUGHT I remembered), and then when I would check the index there he’d be, twice.

I have gotten all the Norwegians indexed now, however, and can move on to my next chapter. Seven chapters left to wrap up the summer with.

The Quick and the Dead—CoronaLife Day 495

After being away last week, I tried to get back into the swing of things once we arrived home. We’ve had a heat wave, eerily red suns from smoke from Canadian wildfires, a tornado warning, and a heavy thunderstorm that gave us a pond in our backyard. I also took a trip to the ER with a calf muscle injury that I am 98% recovered from at this point.

So, not exactly conducive to concentrated working.

I hunkered down, however, and actually have had a pretty productive week. Since I last wrote, I proofread 40,500 words of my mother’s family history book. And still found mistakes when I went back to quickly look at something in a chapter I had already proofread. I will likely need to read the entire thing one more time before giving it to someone else to proofread. My second read-through will probably be out loud, since most of my problem is shifting tenses, and hearing it will help me catch that.

I also updated several family trees that will go in the book. Apparently, I have been working on this a lot longer than I thought, since people in the trees who have died were still alive, and children who are alive now had not been born. One chapter had no tree at all yet, so I created that one from scratch.

Lastly, I found an image I plan to use in multiple places in my book. One spot will likely be the back cover, and the other places will be as backgrounds for chapter title pages. I had wanted to use maps of Ireland and the UK in strategic places, but could not find one I liked that was not prohibited by copyright. I finally found a line drawing of the British Isles that allows use for reprinting in books with no copyright attached. I will, of course, be using attribution, as they requested.

So I am making progress. After I finish the chapter I am proofing, I have five more to proofread, and one chapter to write from scratch. It is very hard to write a family history book while you are still actively researching, because you keep finding more information to add!

Although there is much work remaining, it is work I enjoy, this strange co-mingling of the quick and the dead. Through my pen, the dead live again, and hopefully my work will live on after I am dead. Those who think time moves only forward never viewed the world through the eyes of a genealogist—the past is ever with us, and colors every aspect of the present.

Memories That Aren’t Mine—CoronoaLife Day 474

I have been working this week on putting together photos for a family gathering we are having. As I go through these old photo albums, every picture is like an old friend. I remember the people in them, and the stories behind them…except that I don’t.

Some of these photos are from when my great-grandparents were young. They are my grandparents growing up. They are my father and his siblings as children. They are from when I was too young to have memories of those events.

Yet I remember them.

Not actually remember, of course. But I have been told many of the stories of these photos, and as the family historian I know who most of the people are and where and when they were taken.

The photos below, for instance, is of my grandfather giving me a stuffed rabbit at Easter. I don’t remember it. But I have been told about it enough to feel like I do.


My family lived in Germany at the time, and my grandparents flew over to visit. It was only the 2nd time they had seen me. Looking at the photos, I obviously was thrilled with the bunny, and my grandfather delighted in giving it to me.

My grandfather died when I was 3 years old. I have no actual memories of him. But I still have the rabbit, his well-loved ears floppy and his bright burnt-sienna coat faded closer to tan. And I have the picture, and those together connect me to a grandfather I never knew.

Every picture is a connection across time and space. I never saw my young grandmother in the play pictured in the album, but I was in the theater for many years and know how it felt. I never knew the house where my father and his siblings played with their cousins, but I remember playing with my cousins at family houses. I wasn’t at my grandmother’s graduation, but I have graduated. I was not there for these exact events, but the emotions are familiar, resonating down the years, weaving me into the tapestry of my family history.

As the family historian and a storyteller myself, every picture is a window into an entire world. I don’t know who will carry that world when I am gone. So far no one has stepped forward to pass the stories on to. Perhaps those stories will be consigned, as most of our memories are, to the dustbin of history.

But until then, their stories live, and the people in them live. The Egyptians believed that you never truly died until the last time someone mentioned your name. Maybe that’s what drives some people to want fame—a quest for a type of immortality.

I am not so arrogant to think that my family’s names will live forever. But for now, I am the keeper of the flame, and I am honored to hold their lives—and their memories—in my heart.

Point of View—CoronaLife Day 390

As many of you know, I am very into genealogy, which sometimes means learning about the history of the place your ancestors came from. Thankfully, I like history, so this is not burdensome. I have been researching the Kings of Scotland and England lately. And I have been treated up close to the concept of point of view—and that the villain is always the hero of their own story.

Reading the histories, some written by Scottish researchers, some by English researchers, you can see the different points of view. Scotland and England were enemies from ancient times. Even when they weren’t technically at war there were raids across the border, and schemes and plots to take Scotland and make it part of England.

I happened to research the Scotland history first, and the theme was the constant struggle to remain an independent country while England kept trying to make her a feudal state, bowing to English sovereignty. They mostly raided into England either in self-defense, or to uphold the mutual-defense pact they had with France.

Then I switched to the same history but from the English side, and sure enough, it was mostly them trying to take over Scotland. Sometimes it was to try and make them submit, sometimes it was pre-emptive strikes because they were afraid Scotland was going to attack, and sometimes it was because England was at war with France and Scotland was her ally.

The one main point where they differed was this: England claimed that Scotland had, in fact, submitted to them as a vassal state and they were the rightful sovereigns, while Scotland said that was false. Yet this claim of submission was the basis for many of the attacks of England into Scotland.

The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle. It is true that in 1174, King William the Lion of Scotland, captured by the English, swore fealty to King Henry II and made Scotland a vassal state under English sovereignty. But it is equally true that the next English king, Richard the Lionheart, released Scotland from vassal status in 1189 in exchange for money to go on Crusade—a transaction Richard’s successors conveniently overlooked.

It is also true that during the Great Cause of 1292, when Scotland literally had no clear heir to the throne, English King Edward I was asked to help determine which contender to the Scottish throne had the best case. King Edward chose a man called John Balliol—largely because he was pliant and agreed to make Scotland a vassal state to England. Although King John Balliol was crowned, the nation of Scotland rose in rebellion, and the Scottish Wars of Independence (led by William Wallace and the future King Robert the Bruce) made it clear that the people would not accept this. At the conclusion of these wars, in 1328, England formally acknowledged Scotland’s independence with the Treaty of Northampton.

It was interesting to see how the point of view made all the difference as to who were the aggressors, the aggrieved, and the heroes. The facts remained the same, but the undercurrent, the slant was always different. Each side was very sure their kings were acting for the good of their country. Each side was the hero of their own story.

So it was a real-world lesson as to how point of view can work in our stories. Opponents looking the same set of events will see and interpret them differently depending on the lens they see them through. It can be subtle, or it can be stark. Even people on the same side might interpret events differently, which can lend extra conflict and tension to scenes.

Oh, and for the record, all of England’s insistence that Scotland was a vassal state came to naught, for in 1603 the King of Scotland, James VI, succeeded to the throne of England as well, becoming King James the VI and I of Great Britain.

New Starts—CoronaLife Day 362

It is coming up on a year of coronalife for me. I started counting the day my daughter’s school shut. Other people have slightly different timelines. But about a year ago, life drastically changed for all of us.

This week, as well as marking the end of an incredibly long year, has also seen some new starts. The weather where I live has been warm, with a breath of spring on the air. Daffodils and crocuses are blooming, and people are wearing light coats or even none at all. It is much easier to take a walk when not trussed up like a sausage.

I am helping an adopted friend find her bio family. We have determined her mother, and are close to finding her father. So that, too, is a new start. A new family, and a new journey of getting to know who she is, who they are, and who they may be together.

My mother retired in January, and lamented the loss of her work laptop. So my brother’s family and mine bought her a new one as a retirement gift. I have spent many hours already on the phone helping her get it set up, since the virus means I can’t just pop over there this weekend to do it myself. (Me being tech support is not new, LOL.)

A year into pandemic life, there is finally something new in the air: hope. People are getting vaccinated. My folks have gotten their first shots. My husband just got his second. 10% of my state are fully vaccinated, with another nearly 10% having gotten their first dose. While the need for precautions is just as strong as ever, there is finally light at the end of the tunnel.

So this week has seen many a new start. I hope to build on these fresh starts to find a new way forward this year, and build a more productive and less stressed life. My greatest wish would be for my creativity to come back. The anxiety and demands of coronalife crushed it. As the weather warms and we begin breathing easier, maybe it will come back

That is the new start I long to see.

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!

Wishing for a DNA-centric Vacation

A couple of weeks ago, both Ancestry and MyHeritage unveiled new tools for managing and figuring out your matches on their sites. These include tree matching suggestions, sortable colored dots to mark matches and make it easier to visualize, and auto-clustering of matches with a shared ancestor. I am eager to work with these tools, but as of yet have not. Why not?

My father.

More precisely, his DNA. His Ancestry test came through before the new tools, so I have been working through his many matches using the old interface, because that is how I started the process and the new one is very different. I am giddy with excitement over getting his results in for a few reasons, the first being that it took so long for it to process I was afraid it had failed.

The other reason is because it is an Ancestry test. His DNA is on other websites, but I have had the most luck tracking his matches on Ancestry. It is not unusual for people to have one company that garners more or better matches for them. MyHeritage, for instance, seems to do better with more recent European immigrant lines. It’s all about who tests where.

My mother is not on Ancestry (yet), and until my dad was, I had no way of knowing if matches to me were paternal or maternal. It is not uncommon to have a group of 10 or more matches who all match each other but you have no idea how that group relates to you. If you are lucky and can find one person in the group that you can trace back to an ancestor you share, then you know the rest of that group is also somehow on that family line.

I have been fairly lucky on Ancestry with figuring out matches. I have about 40,000 total matches on Ancestry. About 400 are 4th cousin or closer range. I have figured out how roughly 70 of them connect to me. Which doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a much higher number than I have been able to figure out at the other DNA sites. And of course that means any people who match both me and one of 70, I at least know what line they are on. So they are sort of half-figured-out.

Now, with my dad also on Ancestry, Ancestry marks the matches that match him as Paternal. Which means that by default, the unmarked ones are my mother. So now I can mark those with colored dots and then sort my matches by her. This is great because her side of the family is much harder to trace than my dad’s. Now I can know for certain I am working on the correct side of the family!

Also, since my father is a generation above me, he will have stronger matches to people I match to, and he also has a higher number of 4th cousin and closer matches, which is important on Ancestry for Shared Matches. Where I have about 400 4th or closer, he has almost 700. By being able to spread the net wider and find a deeper pool of shared matches, I can hopefully figure out how some of these unknown groups fit into the puzzle.

So I have been fun working through my dad’s matches. Once I finish, I will jump into playing with the great new tools on MyHeritage and Ancestry and see if they smash down any brick walls for me.

Do you ever wish you could take a vacation just to indulge your hobby of choice?

Genetic Genealogy: Proving the paper trail

All my readers know genealogy has been a passion of mine for many years now. I’ve even written a book about my father’s side of the family (yes, Mom, your book is coming!). The advent of genetic genealogy has revolutionized the hobby and opened up secrets long kept in some families.

I have been using my DNA genealogy to try and confirm my long-established paper trails. My goal is to connect to all 8 of my great-grandparents. One more great-grandparent and I will have all 8. I also already have DNA matches that support 12 of my 16 great-great-grandparents.

My father’s side turned out to be laughably easy. Matches to him abounded, and in what seemed like no time at all I had matched through all 4 of his grandparents.

Then there was my mother. Her Scottish lines popped up rather quickly, but her Irish side…nothing. This was understandable, but frustrating just the same. You see, in order to really get anything out of DNA genealogy, you also need paper genealogy. You need names, places, dates, so you and the people you match with can figure out where your connection is. Scottish records are abundant. Irish records literally went up in flames, making anything much past the late 1800s almost nonexistent. Yet many of our DNA connections occur past the point where records exist, leaving us wondering how and who we connect to.

I had a specific group of matches who all matched each other—called Shared Matches. There were 6 of them: JW, BN, ME, FR, SC, and KN. I sent messages to all of them, and waited. I finally got an answer from JW—and we were able to find our link! Not only that, but it turns out JW was the first known connection to my mom’s Irish Hayden side. Yay!

So now I knew the other 5 must be on the same line, since we all matched each other. But none of them had trees posted, so once again I was stumped. I sent another message saying I believed they were on the Hayden-Bergin branch of my tree. And I waited. Just a few days ago, BN messaged me back! Not only did she know how WE were related, but she had personally known JW when they were kids, AND she knew how the remaining 4 testers were related to us. Whew! A ton of information in one fell swoop.

So now I know for certain that my mother’s mom was not an alien from outer space. Well, I know that at least half of her is human, LOL. I am still searching for that elusive Irish Sutton-Gorman line.

Perseverance and patience will bring answers, I am sure. Meanwhile, I will keep on with my paper genealogy as well, to expand my tree and make future connections easier to find.

What passion do you pursue when you step away from writing?

Anxiety or Burnout? The mystery of my missing motivation

I am normally a self-motivated person. I know what I want to accomplish and I get it done. All my life I have been a workhorse, churning out whatever work I needed to do—homework, work work, video production, writing. But for some reason, I have been highly unmotivated lately.

All I’ve really wanted to do is retreat into my genealogy hobby and shut out the rest of the world. Forgetting all my other responsibilities sounds good, as does sleeping for a week. I have projects I want to write, but apparently not enough to actually sit down and do them. I’ve been reading very little as well. I just feel exhausted inside and out.

Sounds a lot like burnout. Unfortunately, all of those symptoms are also signs of my anxiety. So which is it?

It could be anxiety. I have plenty of social and political stressors in my life right now—stressors I haven’t had before. My overall anxiety level has been higher than usual—I lay awake at night with crazy scenarios of catastrophe running through my head. Professionally, I am in that place where the last writing project is complete and I need to start a new one. That spot can be thrilling—but it can also be scary. Which project to pick? What if it doesn’t go well? A novel is a long-term commitment, I want to be sure I’m putting my time into the right project. I’m also querying, which in itself is not too stressful, but…what if someone actually wants to represent me? Wonderful, of course, but it would be a new chapter, a big change—and sometimes the fear of success is as paralyzing as the fear of failure.

It could be burnout. I haven’t had a real vacation in almost two years. What do you mean? I hear people saying. You’ve posted beach photos. You’ve been on vacation! I hear you. But that’s not the type of vacation I had in mind. A “real” vacation, for me, is when there’s nobody around. No husband, no child, no deadlines, no nothing. Just me. Now, I love my family, and I enjoy my work, but I am a classic textbook introvert. I need absolute solitude to truly recharge myself. My husband is wonderful and tries to get me some alone time on the weekends so I can relax, but it’s never quite enough (especially because I often spend it working, LOL). I am fast approaching the point where I have no social reserves left—and that saps energy from my creative well.

So which is it? I don’t know. The truest answer is, perhaps, both. I need to dig out of it, but am not quite sure how. I have joined a book club just to get myself reading (and reading outside my usual genres). The answer may be as simple as just making myself write. Just sit down and write something. Anything. Or maybe I need some outside accountability. After all, I submit my blogs on time.

I will slog through this morass as I have every other one, because I am nothing if not persistent. And I know all things come to an end, this slump included.

How do you re-motivate yourself when you hit a motivation desert?

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