A Greene County clue

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

Two possible birth locations for my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull — Greene County and Schoharie County, N.Y. — appear on various civil and military documents spanning several decades — a curious phenomenon that I wrote about in last week’s post Schoharie County serendipity.

Naturally, questions spring to mind: Why the fluctuating birthplaces? Did Arthur really not know where he was born? Or is this seeming conundrum actually a promising lead that might help me identify the place of Arthur’s 1834 birth and pinpoint where he spent his early years?

Map of Greene County, N.Y. by cartographer David H. Burr (1829). On 3 March 1836, a northwest portion of Greene County was annexed to neighboring Schoharie County, N.Y. Could my ancestor Arthur Bull have lived in this area as a child?  Map: NYPL Digital Collections 1
In search of answers, I turned to several historic sources — and found my first clue in the 1860 Gazetteer of the State of New York by J.H. French. The  Schoharie County chapter begins:

This county was formed from Albany and Otsego, April 6, 1795. A small part of Greene was annexed in 1836.

This sounded promising. If Arthur’s 1834 birth took place in the portion of Greene County that — two years later — was annexed to Schoharie County, it might explain why these two counties were given interchangeably as his birthplace on various documents over the years.

Next, I looked at a digital version of the New York: Atlas of Historic County Boundaries, which contains a section titled New York: Individual County Chronologies. Scrolling down the list to Greene County, I found the date of the land transfer along with a legislative reference I could follow up on later:

03 Mar 1836  GREENE lost to SCHOHARIE. (N.Y. Laws 1836, 59th sess., ch. 31/p. 33)

So where was this annexed land located? I kept digging, and on the New York: Atlas of Historic County Boundries web page found a digital document with maps of county borderlines and their changes over time.

One Greene County map in this collection clearly shows the land that was ceded to Schoharie County in 1836. Could this be it? Had I found the area where my ancestor Arthur Bull was born?

To be continued.

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  1. Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library. “Map of the county of Greene” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed August 17, 2015. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47da-f249-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Schoharie County serendipity

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

Lately when I fill a glass with New York City tap water, I marvel at a serendipitous connection to my family heritage — for a portion of my city’s drinking water comes from the upstate Schoharie Reservoir near where my paternal great, great grandfather Arthur Bull was born in 1834.

Map of Schoharie, Greene and Delaware Co., N.Y.(1895). Preliminary family history research suggests my ancestor Arthur Bull was born in the area at the northern edge of the Catskill Mountains where these three counties meet. Image: Rootsweb

This water source is located at the northern edge of the Catskill Mountains, where Schoharie, Greene and Delaware Counties meet.The reservoir was created in the 1920s, requiring the village of Gilboa — its remnants still visible during droughts — to be moved to the west to make room.

My preliminary family history research suggests my ancestor Arthur was born in this general vicinity. The question is: Where?

Nine years before he joined the Union Army, Arthur, 21, was enumerated with his parents and two younger siblings in the 1855 New York State census for Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. 1 — a census that asked what county each person was born in.

Arthur’s birthplace was given as Greene County, N.Y. — the same birth location as his mother Mary, 46, his brother Milo, 19, and his sister M.E. [Mary Elizabeth], 15. Only his father Jeremiah Bull, 52, was enumerated with a Schoharie County, N.Y., birthplace.

Yet other sources — such as the New York, Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts, 1861-1900  — give Arthur’s birthplace as Schoharie County, N.Y.

Schoharie County’s name comes from a Mohawk word for driftwood — and that certainly seems to apply to Arthur’s birth location, which floats back and forth between the two Empire State counties over several decades depending on which records I reference.

Here is the genealogy challenge: How to account for this? And how to resolve it so I can determine where to search for more definitive primary records to verify Arthur’s date of birth and illuminate his childhood years?

My research trail through the Catskills begins with the next post.

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  1. 1855 New York State census, Broome County, N.Y., population schedule, Town of Conklin, p. 2, enumeration district (ED) 2 , swelling 9, family 11, line 13, A.T. Bull; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://interactive.ancestry.com/7181/005207111_00358?pid=1654594523&backurl=http%3a%2f%2fsearch.ancestry.com%2f%2fcgi-bin%2fsse.dll%3fdb%3dGeneral-7181%26indiv%3dtry%26h%3d1654594523&treeid=&personid=&hintid=&usePUB=true : accessed 13 Aug 2015); citing Census of the state of New York, for 1855. Microfilm. New York State Archives, Albany, New York.

Embracing the Empire State

The cannons are silent, the reenactors have turned in their weapons and the 150th anniversary of the U.S. Civil War has drawn to a close — and so has this chapter of my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull’s story.

May 2015: Seneca Knitting Mills, Seneca Falls, N.Y. The Empire State  has a long history of anti-slavery activism and sent more Union troops than any other state. Many upstate New York woolen mills, like this one on the  Cayuga-Seneca Canal dating to 1844, were established as an alternative to processing slave-grown cotton. Photo by Molly Charboneau
May 2015: Seneca Knitting Mills, Seneca Falls, N.Y. The Empire State has a long history of anti-slavery activism and sent more Union troops than any other state. Many upstate New York woolen mills, like this one on the Cayuga-Seneca Canal dating to 1844, were established as an alternative to processing slave-grown cotton. Photo by Molly Charboneau

With his return as a Union Army veteran to Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y., my focus now shifts from the battlefields of Virginia to the towns and countryside of upstate New York, where most of my family history is centered.

As Arthur surely did, I embrace the Empire State and welcome the change of pace.

For more than a year, in weekly blog posts, I have tracked Arthur’s service from Jan. 1864 to Aug. 1865 with the 6th New York Heavy Artillery — and his time away due to war-related illness.

There were new battles to write about nearly every week and fresh research required to place my ancestor in the action — with only brief breaks here and there to tell some of Arthur’s back story, or write single posts about other ancestors.

But now time has once again slowed, as it probably did for Arthur when he resumed civilian life and the familiar routines of work, family and a comfortable bed at night — welcome respites after his Civil War experience.

Born and growing up near the Catskills, Arthur lived most of his life in the Empire State — on its Southern Tier along the Pennsylvania border, in the North Country near the Adirondacks and in western New York’s Cattaragus County.

He returned from the war to a state with a long history of anti-slavery activism, where an extensive Underground Railroad network had moved escaped slaves to freedom — a state that provided more Union Army troops than any other and which, at war’s end, was poised for a new wave of social and economic development.

And I have returned with him — to explore aspects of Arthur’s history before and after the war, to write about the lives of other ancestors, to trace my forebears’ various paths to and within New York State, and to chronicle their diverse contributions to its social, political, economic and cultural development over the generations.

I invite you to continue with me on this journey so we can discover together where it leads — beginning with the next post.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Healing the wounds of war

My great, great grandfather Arthur Bull reentered civilian life as a U.S. Army Civil War veteran on 24 Aug. 1865 — undoubtedly grateful that he had survived and happy to be reunited with his family.

The Returning Soldier, a monument on the grounds of a veterans home in Rocky Hill, Conn. My ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull, then a father of three, reentered civilian life as a U.S. Army Veteran on 24 August 1865 and returned home to his family in Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y. Image: Rocky Hill Historical Society

What little I know about my ancestor’s return home is contained in affidavits from family and  friends supporting his application, decades later, for a military pension.

Arthur’s brother-in-law William Whitney, of Binghamton, Broome Co., N.Y., filed one such affidavit on 30 Nov. 1885. He was married to Rhoda (Blakeslee) Whitney — the sister of Arthur’s wife Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull.

In his affidavit, Whitney described his memory of Arthur’s homecoming  — testimony labeled “Credibility good” by the claims examiner, who summarized it in his case notes as follows:

[Whitney] testifies that he has been well and personally acquainted with claimant [Arthur Bull] since 1861 and has personal knowledge that he returned from the army, in 1865, in a weak, emaciated condition, and suffering from what seemed to be heart trouble, with pain in the region of the heart, and with his lungs; had a cough and much trouble to get his breath…

U.S. Civil War pensions were among the few social programs supporting veterans of that war in their old age — and providing sustenance to their families. And government examiners were tasked with assuring that the claims were genuine.

In my great, great grandfather’s case, not only were there records of hospitalizations during his service with the 6th NY Heavy Artillery and of his post-war medical treatment, but also eyewitness testimony, like Whitney’s, from those who knew him well. Again, from the claims examiner’s notes:

…and he (affiant) saw claimant almost daily, from 1865 to 1875, and had personal knowledge that he complained of and suffered from these disabilities, and that he was — in affiant’s opinion — fully one-half disabled thereby for manual labor.

My ancestor Arthur Bull was a leather tanner by trade, a calling he resumed after the war, so the ability to do manual labor was essential to his livelihood.  Records in his pension file make clear that the wounds of war — in his case, heart and lung conditions — stayed with him long after the fighting ended.

Yet being back with family must have been a  healing balm. Arthur saw many productive years before applying for his Civil War pension. And he and Mary Elizabeth had many more children after the war. First among them was my great grandmother Eva May Bull, born on 24 July 1866 —  just over 10 months after Arthur came home.

More in the next post.

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Returning home

When I learned that my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull remained on duty until August 1865, I was disappointed that he did not get to march in the May 1865 Grand Review of the Armies in Washington, D.C., marking the end of the U.S. Civil War.

But it’s possible that my great, great grandfather’s homecoming was greeted in a more personal and spontaneous way than allowed for by the pomp of the huge, official Grand Review in the U.S. capitol.

Home from the war (1863). My ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull mustered out on 24 Aug. 1865 and returned home to Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y. in early September. Image: Library of Congress

Sgt. William Thistleton, of my ancestor’s 6th New York Heavy Artillery regiment, wrote about his homecoming in his diary — and the stir created by returning soldiers as they marched through New York City to the armory where they were temporarily housed.

July 2nd …arrived at Pier (one) north river at 6 P.M. disembarked and marched up Broadway in “Column” by company to Grand Street down Grand to Center market and halted, we created quite an excitement on the march up from the Boat crowds congregating at different corners and cheering us vociferously our shell and shot torn colors were sufficient evidence that we had seen service and elicited hearty cheers at every step.

Sgt. Thistleton mustered out near Petersburg, Virginia, and was headed home to Eastchester, Westchester Co., N.Y. — just north of New York City. My ancestor mustered out near Washington, D.C., and may have taken a different route to his upstate home in Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y. But I am sure his homecoming was no less grandly received.

Broome County sent many young men into the Union Army. Though I have not yet found a notice about my great, great grandfather, the names of discharged soldiers were often published in the local newspaper to let loved ones, friends and neighbors know they were due home.

Sgt. Thistleton chronicled the final steps in mustering out — a process that took him just over two weeks to complete.

July 10th Company reported and tuned in arms and equipment at 11 a.m. July 12th reported again this afternoon and were engaged in running around. July 13th Discharged from the Service of the United States and Paid in full to date and this closses [sic] the record of Company “I” 6th New York Heavy Artillery.

My great, great grandfather mustered out on 24 August 1865, so he likely arrived home around 9 September 1865. Whether there were cheering crowds in the streets of Conklin or in the larger, nearby city of Binghamton, Broome Co., N.Y., I cannot say without further research.

But I am sure he was warmly welcomed home by the group that mattered most — my great, great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull and their children Emma, Carrie and Milo.

More on Arthur Bull’s return to civilian life in the next post.

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