A Delaware County detour

Between his marriage in 1856 and his enlistment in the Union Army in 1864, my ancestor Arthur Bull — a leather tanner who regularly relocated for work — took a Delaware County detour in his moves around New York State.

Township Valley in Delaware County, N.Y. At the time of the 1860 U.S. census, Arthur Bull, his wife Mary, their two daughters and their extended family — including my great, great, great grandmother Hannah Blakeslee — were living in the Catskills Town of Hancock, Delaware County, N.Y. (Walton Post Office). Photo by Andy Arthur

My great, great grandparents Arthur and Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull were married in Bookdale, Susquehanna County, Pa. — the home of Mary’s family just south of New York’s southern border.

And at the time of Arthur’s military enlistment nine years later, they were back in nearby Town of Conklin, Broome County, N.Y., where they were counted in the 1865 state census.

But when the federal census taker called on 11 July 1860, Arthur, 27, and his family — wife Mary E., 22, and daughters Emma, 2, and Carrie, 7 months — were living in the Catskill Mountains foothills in the Town of Hancock, Delaware County, N.Y. (Walton Post Office).

Finding a great, great, great grandmother

Residing at the same address were Mary’s sister Rhoda. A (Blakeslee) Whitney, 29, her husband William Whitney, 47, and their sons Earl D., 10, and Albert J., 8.

And by one of those happy strokes of luck that sometimes happen in genealogy research, living with them was Hannah Blakesley [Blakeslee], 48 — likely Mary and Rhoda’s mother and my great, great, great grandmother, who I discovered for the first time through this census!

Arthur seemed to be doing well in 1860 — working as a foreman in a tannery with real estate valued at $1,000 or about $29,000 in today’s dollars (which may mean there are land records to search for) and personal property valued at half that much at $500.

His brother-in-law William Whitney was working as a “Hired man” with personal property worth $150 — about $4,400 today. Both Mary and  Rhoda were given their occupational due as “Housekeeper” by the census taker.

My great, great, great grandmother Hannah does not have an occupation listed, but she likely pitched in to help — particularly with four grandchildren in the household.

Adjoining census entries list neighbors employed in such occupations as teamster, blacksmith, domestic, tannery hand, night watchman — and, of course, housekeeper. Yet the the area also retained its agrarian character, with other neighbors working as farmers.

Taken together, this census information paints a picture of an extended family of three generations living together under one roof in a solidly working class community, which was nestled in productive, rural farm country along the Delaware River’s western branch.

In short, a worthwhile Delaware County detour for Arthur Bull and his family before their return to Town of Conklin, Broome County, N.Y., on the eve of the U.S. Civil War — and a beneficial one for me as it helped my find  my great, great great grandmother on my Blakeslee line.

So where will the Bull family’s tannery travels take us next? How about back to Broome County, N.Y. — where Arthur’s parents and sister were living in 1860 and where his father Jeremiah may have owned a tannery in the hamlet of Corbettsville. More in the next post.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Some Leatherstocking locales

The part of New York State popularly known as the Central-Leatherstocking Region encompasses several counties — Schoharie, Broome and Oneida — where my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull and my other Bull ancestors worked as leather tanners during the 19th century.

Open air tannery (1860-1920). My great, great grandfather Arthur Bull worked as a leather tanner before joining the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War. He resumed this work at war’s end, and his family’s frequent moves appear to have been work-related. Photo: New York Public Library Digital Collections

This made me curious: What was the tanning industry like back then? And were there work-related reasons why Arthur Bull and his family relocated so frequently, both before and after the U.S. Civil War?

In the 1800s, the tanning trade required a location with adequate water power, good transportation to bring in animal hides, and enough hemlock and oak trees for the requisite tannin to process those hides into leather.

The Catskills area bordering New York’s Hudson River — where Arthur Bull learned the tanning trade — had all of these in abundance in the early 19th century, as outlined in Augustus Ostow’s excellent environmental blog post The Catskill Tanning Industry.

The work itself was a physically demanding, grisly business, with open vats of fermenting hides — as depicted in the photo above — sending up quite a stench. Yet the need for domestically produced leather kept most Catskills tanneries active until the mid 1800s.

Eventually, however, forests became depleted through overuse by the tanning industry. That and an economic recession from 1833-1840 — which caused leather prices to plummet — likely prompted some Catskills tanners to pick up and relocate.

Moving for work

Among those who moved was the family of origin of my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull.  By 1855 they had left the Catskills area and settled in the Town of Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. — in the state’s Central-Leatherstocking Region — where Arthur, his father Jeremiah and brother Milo were listed as tanners in the 1855 New York State census.

This move was the first of many for Bull family members as they followed the booms and busts of the leather tanning trade to start over again and again in new, forested locations.

Judging by the birth locations and ages given for Arthur’s children in the 1865 New York State census for Town of Conklin, Broome County, N.Y, he and his wife Mary Elizbeth (Blakeslee) Bull lived in three different locations during the nine years between their 1856 marriage and the end of the U.S. Civil War:

  • Pennsylvania in 1858 [most likely in Susquehanna County just south of Broome County, N.Y.],
  • Delaware County, N.Y., in 1860, and then back to
  • Broome County, N.Y., until at least 1865.

Nor was that the end of their moves around the Empire State. More in the next post as I continue on the trail of my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull’s civilian life before and after the U.S. Civil War.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Tanners in my family tree

While hunting for the birth place of my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull I discovered that, not only do I have Catskill Mountains heritage — but I also have at least two generations of tanners in my family tree.

My ancestor Arthur Bull with his family of origin in the 1855 NYS Census for Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y.
My ancestor Arthur Bull with his family of origin in the 1855 NYS Census for Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y. (listed as A.T. Bull on line 13). The Bulls had been in Conklin only a year, and Arthur, his father Jeremiah and brother Milo were all tanners — a common occupation in the Catskills area where they likely resided until at least 1840. Screen shot by Molly Charboneau

How do I know this? From the general evidence provided by the Bull family’s enumeration in the 1855 New York State Census for Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. — which helps elucidate Arthur’s early life.

First, the census entry indicates that Arthur, his parents and siblings were relatively new arrivals to Conklin that year — judging by the number 1 appearing in the column “Years resided in this city or town.”

Next, all the Bulls are listed with Schoharie or Greene County birthplaces, including the  youngest child M. E. [Mary Elizabeth] Bull, 15, who was born in Greene County, N.Y. This information appears to place the family in the vicinity of the Catskills until at least 1840.

Finally, in the column for “Profession, trade or occupation,” Arthur, his father Jeremiah, and his brother Milo were all listed as “Tanner” — a common leather-producing job in the Catskill Mountains area of New York State since the early 1800s.

Alas, the census taker did not put the usual occupation of “keeping house” beside the entry for my great, great grandmother Mary — Jeremiah’s wife and Arthur’s mother.

But for now we can assume that was how she was occupied on a daily basis — and that some time after 1840 she rose to the challenge of relocating her family from Greene County to Broome County, N.Y., with all of the logistics such a move entailed.

So my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull likely spent his childhood and adolescence in the vicinity of his birthplace (in either Greene or Schoharie counties) — eventually becoming a leather tanner like his father as he reached young adulthood. Then, when he was around 20 years old — about a year before this census was taken — he relocated with his family of origin to New York’s Southern Tier.

What an amazing amount of family history information from just one historic document!

Knowing I have tanners in my family tree raises new questions: How was leather production done in the mid nineteenth century? Was it a robust industry, or one with booms and busts that forced families to move? Were there occupational hazards that may have affected Arthur’s war-related health issues when he went back to this work after his Union Army service during the U.S. Civil War?

The search for answers continues with the next post.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Catskill Mountains heritage

Embarking on a search for the birthplace of my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull — chronicled in the last four posts — unexpectedly led me to a new family history discovery: I have Catskill Mountains heritage going back at least five generations.

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My first visit to the Catskill Game Farm in Greene County, N.Y., in the early 1950s. My family traveled around and through the Catskill Mountains during my childhood years — all the while unaware of our ancestral connection to this beautiful, storied area. Photo by Norman J. Charboneau

That’s right. Some of my paternal forbears actually lived in the land of Rip Van Winkle — where the legendary Headless Horseman galloped in the dark of night through sleepy hollows beneath the towering Catskills peaks, frightening all in his path.

Well, okay. Maybe it wasn’t exactly like that.

But I am still thrilled to claim this beautiful, storied part of the Empire State as a newly discovered source of my ever expanding family tree.

And I have to wonder: How was this familial thread lost over the generations?

Particularly since my family of origin traveled around and through the Catskill Mountains during my childhood years — skirting the areas where my ancestor Arthur Bull was born and raised, yet all the while knowing nothing of his existence, never mind his story.

There seemed to be no end to these genealogical near misses.

As a young child I lived on Route 20 in Albany County, N.Y. — just 25 miles NNE of Arthur’s likely hometown of Windham, Greene County, N.Y. In the early 1950s my parents took me to the Catskill Game Farm, a giant petting zoo in Greene County, where I came face to face with free-roaming mules, sheep and deer — but remained blissfully unaware of any ancestral link to the area.

Later, my family lived near Binghamton, Broome County, N.Y. Most holidays, my parents, me, my two younger brothers and my two younger sisters — spanning the Baby Boom age range — would pile into our car and head northeast on Route 7 to visit my mom’s parents near Altamont, Albany County, N.Y.

Our boistrous station wagon — first a yellow and white Pontiac and later a blue Rambler with a push-button shift — passed north of the Catskills region and right through part of Schoharie County. En route we took in the small towns, the rolling farm country and the mountains in the distance — never imagining that our Bull ancestors lived nearby 100 years before.

To pass the time, we sang “Edelweiss” and other tunes in four part harmony (my mom was a music teacher). Or we played the alphabet game — keenly scanning the roadsides for a Quaker State Motor Oil sign, which was crucial for the letter Q.

We were a young family then, barreling down the road in a packed and noisy vehicle, heading into the future — more focused on the new leaves and branches of our family tree than on its ancient roots.

So is it any wonder we never knew there was a family link to the Catskills area that we passed? Weren’t the Bulls probably the same in the mid-1800s — preoccupied with living their lives in the Land in the Sky and not thinking about us, their future descendents?

Which is why I am gratified anew that genealogical prospecting — a dig with no artifacts, just a trail of documents leading back over generations — has unearthed my buried Catskill Mountains heritage and brought it back to life through the stories that those historic documents reveal.

Like the fact that I have leather tanners in my family tree. More on this in the next post.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Sojourn to the Land in the Sky

Fourth and last in a series on searching for the birthplace of my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull.

In the 1840 U.S. Census, a Jeremiah Bull was enumerated as the head of a six-member household in the mountainous Town of Windham, Greene Co., N.Y. — also known as the Land in the Sky. Was this my great, great, great grandfather? And what could this census tell me about the birthplace of one of his sons — my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull?

JB 1840
Listing of Jeremiah Bull’s household in the 1840 U.S. Census for Town of Windham, Greene County, N.Y.  His name appears fifth from the top and hash marks note the race, age and gender of those who lived with him. Is this the family of origin of my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull? Screen shot: Molly Charboneau

Alas, the 1840 U.S. Census only names the heads of household. Others living under the same roof are simply denoted by hash marks in columns by race, age and gender (see census image at right).

Yet based on knowledge of the Bull family from previous research, I decided to take a close look at the hash marks to see if they matched up with what I already knew [shown in brackets below].

Living in Jeremiah Bull’s household in 1840 were the following (including the head of household):

  • A male under 5.  [probably Milo Bull, Arthur’s younger brother, born in 1836 and age 4 in 1840 ]
  • A male 5 – 10. [probably Arthur Bull, born in 1834 and age 6 in 1840]
  • A male 10-15. [probably Arthur’s older brother Norris C. Bull, born in 1827 and age 13 in 1840]
  • A male 30-40. [probably Jeremiah Bull, the head of household, born in 1803 and age 37 in 1840]
  • A female under 5. [probably Arthur’s younger sister M.E. (Mary Elizabeth) Bull, an infant who was born in 1840]
  • A female 20-30. [probably Mary Bull, Jeremiah’s wife. Born on 7 Aug. 1809, she would have been age 30 if the census-taker enumerated the family in June or July 1840.]

Under the occupation heading “Number of Persons in Each Family Employed in” there is a single hash mark under the column titled “Manufactures and trades” [probably for Jeremiah Bull, the head of household, who worked as a leather tanner].

Although it can’t be considered definitive proof, this 1840 census entry certainly seemed like a pretty good fit with my ancestor Arthur Bull’s family of origin — with ages, genders and occupation matching my previous research on the family. And this would place Arthur in the Town of Windham, Greene County, N.Y., six years after his birth.

Was he born further north in the land that later went to Schoharie County? Or had his life begun in the same Windham location where the census taker called in 1840? That is a subject for future research — but a task made easier by geographically narrowing down Arthur’s possible birth locations.

For now I am satisfied that he enjoyed a Catskill Mountains childhood in the Land in the Sky — along with my other Bull ancestors. And I am also pleasantly surprised that I can now claim a Catskills heritage.

More on that in the next post.

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