Breakthrough baptismal certificate

Second in a series about my French-Canadian ancestor Laurent Charbonneau, who emigrated from Québec to New York State around 1852.

Starting at the beginning of an ancestor’s life is always a good idea, especially when a birth or baptismal record exists — as it does for my French-Canadian great, great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau.

Finding this landmark record in a Montréal archive launched my heritage quest, as described in Charbonneau breakthrough: Hooked on family history. However, words cannot fully capture how difficult it was to read this pivotal document — which was handwritten in French in quill pen in 1832. You just have to see it for yourself!

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Certified copy of Laurent Charbonneau’s 1832 baptismal record. Photo by Molly Charboneau

A rough translation

I asked the Montréal archivist to read out the document to me so I could legibly transcribe the French. When I returned home, I made the following rough translation and shared it with my parents and siblings:

The eleventh of October, eighteen hundred and thirty two, our undersigned priest, curate of St. Geneviéve parish, has baptized Laurent born today of the legitimate marriage of Louis Charbonneau, blacksmith, and Suzanne Marcille of this parish. Godfather François Barbeau, merchant, and godmother Lady Eléonore Rapin were present and undersigned with us along with the father.”

New to genealogy research then and excited by my find, I filed the document away and took off at a mad dash to look for other ancestors — not taking the time I should have to carefully examine the document and write an appropriate citation. (Haven’t we all done this at some point in our research?)

But now that I am beginning to tell Laurent Charbonneau’s story, the time has come to take a closer look at what this document tells us.

A record reveals its secrets

The baptismal record shows that Laurent was baptized the same day he was born — on 11 October 1832 — and his was the 83rd baptism in the parish that year. His parents were Louis and Suzanne (Marcille) Charbonneau, they were united in a “legitimate marriage,” and they worshiped at the Roman Catholic St. Geneviéve parish in Montréal.

My great, great, great grandfather Louis Charbonneau was working as a blacksmith at the time of Laurent’s birth/baptism — and he signed the document, so I have a copy of his signature!

I assume my great, great, great grandmother Suzanne was at home — having just given birth that day — as she is not listed as present in the record, nor is she among the signers.

The archivist advised me to pay careful attention to all the names that appear on Québec records because they might include family members. So Laurent’s godfather François Barbeau, a merchant, and godmother Lady Eléonore Rapin could be related — though further research would be needed to confirm this.

Contrasting Laurent’s baptismal record with others on the same page, I take some pride in the size of the priest’s signature on my ancestor’s record — much larger than on all of the others. And the fact that Laurent’s father and godparents’ also signed the document — rather than just being named, as is the case with adjacet records — implies their ability to read and write French as well as speak it.

Thus was my great, great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau ushered into the world — to the welcoming arms of his parents and godparents. What more can we learn about his background and early life?

To be continued.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Laurent Charbonneau arrives from Québec

First in a series about my French-Canadian ancestor Laurent Charbonneau, who emigrated from Québec to New York State around 1852.

Around 1852, decades before my Bull ancestors arrived in New York State’s North Country, my paternal French-Canadian great, great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau moved to the same area from the Province of Québec.

Montréal, Québec, Canada in 1852, around the time my great, great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau left the Province of Quebec and moved south to New York’s sparsely-populated Adirondack foothills. By: Philippe Du Berger

Exploring his life is vital to piecing together my family’s heritage — and discovering how the Charbonneau and Bull families became linked while they lived in the Adirondack foothills (and later connected with my Dempsey-Owen line in the same area).

Unanswered questions

Who were Laurent’s parents, grandparents and ancestors? Why did he leave Québec? Did any family members travel with him? How did he feel to leave his home province — anchored by the large, bustling city of Montréal — and start a new life in rural, sparsely populated upstate New York?

As with most of my ancestors, I have inherited no journals or correspondence from Laurent to answer these questions. But because he was an immigrant, naturalization papers offer some clues — as do the federal and New York State census returns and a Canadian census in which he appears.

My brother Jeff, who took an interest in this family before I did, was also able to unearth some valuable background information from descendants on other branches of the Charbonneau family tree.

My inspiration ancestor

I have long thought of Laurent Charbonneau as my inspiration ancestor, because finding his baptismal record in a Montréal archive set me on a path of regular genealogy research — an experience I wrote about in Charbonneau breakthrough: Hooked on family history.

So when my dad, Norm Charboneau, and I began taking genealogy road trips together in the early 1990s, finding details about Laurent and his family was among our main goals.

We did pretty well in those pre-Internet days — compiling what we could in advance from microfilm, correspondence, and by phone; getting a helping hand from Jeff (who planned our early itineraries); then hopping in the car (paper maps in hand) for our upstate New York adventures.

Road trip rewards

The natural beauty, the remoteness and the down-home feel of the North Country stay with me as I continue to research and write about my ancestors who lived there. I probably learned as much driving around the unfamiliar Adirondack foothills with Dad (who grew up there) as I did from the genealogy records we discovered.

Conversations in the car were like road trip rewards, as Dad entertained me with stories of his youth and pointed out the landmarks we passed on our Charbonneau heritage quest — memories I particularly treasure every Father’s Day.

And we returned each time with some new detail about Laurent Charbonneau and his extended family to connect us more firmly to our French-Canadian roots.

Now that I have begun writing about the lives of my Bull ancestors in the North Country, it’s time for my paternal French-Canadian great, great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau to put in an appearance. I hope you will join me on this new journey.

To be continued.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Confusing diagnosis prompts pension rejection

Fifth and last in this series on my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull and his application for a Civil War pension.

Civil War Vet
Living History: A Civil War veteran and his wife at the Violet Festival in Dolgeville, Herkimer Co., N.Y. (2015). Union veterans like my ancestor Arthur Bull worked and raised families after the war, but relied on military pensions for war-related infirmities as they aged. Here, a Civil War veteran speaks to factory owner Alfred Dolge during a portrayal of the town’s history. Photo by Molly Charboneau

Nearly three years after my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull applied for a Civil War pension for persistent health effects from Union Army service, a confusing diagnosis by a pair of physicians resulted in a rejection of his original claim.

This was a disturbing outcome, because the  findings on the Examining Surgeon’s Certificate in Arthur’s pension file — signed by J. Mortimer Crane, M.D., and W.P. Massey, M.D., of Watertown, Jefferson County, N.Y. — appear to allow for wider interpretation than the one made by the U.S. Pension Office.

A confusing diagnosis

At my ancestor’s first examination — in Lowville, Lewis County, N.Y. on 12 July 1882 — Dr. Alex R. Gebbie diagnosed Arthur with “irritable heart.”

Six months later, Doctors Crane and Massey noted “Pulse feeble” in their 17 Jan. 1883 report — a symptom that appears to support Dr. Gebbie’s diagnosis and today would lead a physician to explore possible underlying cardiac conditions.

Yet despite this finding, they went on to rule out heart and lung disease in my ancestor’s case!

Instead, they attributed his pain to “rheumatism or neuralgia” and made the following recommendation for pension disability compensation (full disability was then $8 a month for a Private, or about $195 a month today).

  • Dis Heart Disease 0
  • Dis Lung Disease 0
  • Dis Rheumatism or Neuralgia 1/4 = $2. on statement [about $48.80 today]

Granted, diagnostic equipment was very limited in 1883 making it harder to detect and pinpoint cardiac and other health irregularities.

But a feeble pulse should have been an indicator, even then, that something was amiss in my ancestor’s health — something that began during Arthur’s wartime service and persisted as a form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as he aged.

Original claim rejected

Then there is the Surgeon General’s report in his pension file.

The Record and Pension Division of the Surgeon General’s Office sent a 27 Jan. 1883 report detailing Arthur’s wartime hospitalizations in 1864 and 1865 for “Disease of heart,” “Heart Disease” and “functional disease of heart” — terms underlined in pencil on the document, possibly by the pension office reviewer.

Despite this supporting document, the heart findings in the report by the Watertown doctors — stamped into the pension board office on 1 Feb. 1883 — appear to have been the undoing of Arthur’s initial pension request.

On 9 April 1883, the U.S. Pension Board rejected Arthur’s invalid application for “causes alleged” on his 2 July 1880 application — specifically “Rejection for heart and lung disease.”

The rejection contains no mention of Arthur’s rheumatism and neuralgia, for which the two doctors did recommend some compensation.

Arthur Bull fights on

Arthur had now been trying to collect a disability pension for nearly twice as long as his 18-month wartime service in the 6th N.Y. Heavy Artillery, so this rejection must have been discouraging

But — no stranger to battle — my great, great grandfather was not about to surrender his benefits without a fight.

With the help of attorneys R.S. and A.P. Lacey, Arthur continued to press his rightful claim for pension disability compensation for his persistent war-related illness — a saga we will return to in future posts.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Jefferson County, NY: More doctor visits

Fourth in a series about my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull and his application for a Civil War pension.

Feb. 1883: U.S. Pension Office stamp on Watertown, Jefferson Co., N.Y. Examining Surgeon's Certificate. Nearly three years after he applied for his Civil War disability pension, my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull was still seeking compensation. Photo by Molly Charboneau
Feb. 1883: U.S. Pension Office stamp on Watertown, Jefferson Co., N.Y. Examining Surgeon’s Certificate. Nearly three years after he applied for his Civil War disability pension, my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull was still seeking compensation. Photo by Molly Charboneau

By 1883, my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull’s pension application process was starting to resemble what injured workers endure today when filing for Worker’s Compensation — ill or injured and unable to work full time, they must often wait for years to receive compensation.

Nearly three years after Arthur applied for a disability pension for Union Army service during the U.S. Civil War, my ancestor had to go through a series of doctor examinations — along with a background check on the details of his war-related illness.

He also had to travel significant distances to doctors’ offices to be seen. Yet he complied with these requirements because he needed the supplemental income to support his family due to a diminished capacity to work.

Watertown physical exam

In the summer of 1882. Arthur’s first doctor in nearby Lowville, Lewis County, N.Y., diagnosed an irritable heart.

But in early 1883 he was apparently directed to see another pair of physicians in Watertown, Jefferson County, N.Y. — about 70 miles from his Moose River home in Lyonsdale, Lewis County, N.Y. Back then, the journey would have required about a day’s travel each way.

According to documents in his pension file, Arthur made the trip. He was seen in Watertown on 17 Jan. 1883 by J. Mortimer Crane, M.D., and W. P. Massey, M.D. — and they chronicled his visit on an Examining Surgeon’s Certificate.

Claims that on the occasion of the Battle of Cold Harbor, was attacked with pain & difficulty of breathing in left side in cardiac region & has suffered from that time to the present with sharp darting pain which he attributes to heart & lungs.

Rheumatism and neuralgia

The patient history is consistent with what my ancestor told the first doctor about the condition for which he was repeatedly hospitalized during the war. However, Doctors Crane and Massey did not report the same findings after they examined him.

We find no valvular disease of heart …Apex beat in normal position & not heard beyond normal limits. Pulse feeble. Respiration clear & distinct on whole of both lungs. Breathing easy and regular at this examination. Looks well nourished. Pain probably rheumatism or neuralgia.

The two doctors then signed the Examining Surgeon’s Certificate and sent it to the U.S. Pension Office, where it was stamped in on 1 Feb. 1883, as shown above.

Their finding of “pain probably rheumatism or neuralgia” was new — but their assessment of “normal” heart function differed from the first doctor’s report.

What would this mean for my great, great grandfather Arthur’s pension application? More in the next post.

To be continued.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Lowville, NY: Examining surgeon appointment

Third in series about my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull and his application for a Civil War pension.

My great, great grandfather Arthur Bull, a Union Army veteran, first saw a doctor in connection with his U.S. Civil War pension application on 12 July 1882 — a couple of months after the pension office received the first supporting affidavit in his case.

http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nylewis/lowville2.jpg
Parade on State Street in Lowville, Lewis County, N.Y. (undated). In 1882, my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull was examined by a doctor in Lowville in connection with his application for a U.S. Civil War pension. Photo: Rootsweb

Arthur’s medical appointment with Dr. Alex R. Gebbie, a Scottish examining surgeon — which took place in Lowville, Lewis County, N.Y. — came a full two years after he filed for his pension on 2 July 1880!

Seems the wheels of government turned pretty slowly back then. One reason for the delay may have been the new Arrears of Pension Act of 1879, which  allowed retroactive payments to the date of discharge.

This pension act prompted tens of thousands of aging Union veterans — including my ancestor — to apply or reapply for war-related disability pensions in 1880, swamping the Civil War pension system.

However delayed, I am grateful to Dr. Gebbie for providing a description of my ancestor Arthur at age 46 — 5’8″ tall, 156 lbs., dark complexion — and for including these valuable details on the examining surgeon’s certificate:

Says that on the march in the Wilderness Campaign near Cold Harbor gave out & was sent to Hospl. — I find no disease of the lungs. — Heart irritable and excitable, with a double click to the first beat. — His color is good. & he is well nourished.

Irritable heart

In previous posts, I wrote about Arthur’s irritable heart diagnosis, which is mentioned for the first time by this examining surgeon — probably brought on by the rigors of battle and double-quick marching carrying heavy knapsacks and gear weighing up to 50 lbs.

After he “gave out” on the march to Cold Harbor — as did hundreds of other soldiers — I have been able to document that Arthur was sent to hospitals away from the front, where he was treated and recuperated during the summer of 1864.

According to records in the U.S. Sanitary Commission files, he was even furloughed briefly to see his family — a policy the military found helpful to recovery — before returning to the front in September 1864.

Persistent wartime illness

However, during the Shenandoah Valley Campaign in November 1864, Arthur was again laid low by heart and lung complaints — for which he was hospitalized and from which he apparently never fully recovered.

For more than 15 years after he mustered out with his unit at the end of the U.S. Civil War, Arthur continued to work as a tanner and tannery foreman to support his growing family — hardly the actions of a fly-by-night slacker.

Then at age 46, apparently less able to work, Arthur turned to a possible source of supplemental income that he had earned by laying his life and health on the line — his U.S. Civil War pension.

Now the U.S. Pension Office — through its review of affidavits, military records and medical reports like Dr. Gebbie’s — would be evaluating the veracity of my great, great grandfather’s claim.

To be continued.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Growing family trees one leaf (and road trip) at a time