A Charboneau by any other surname variant

Any genealogy researcher will tell you that having an unusual surname can be a bonus when combing through records in search of ancestors — and I was sure my Charboneau surname fit into this category.

By: Karyn Christner
The letter C.  Charboneau is a unique enough surname that it should be easy to identify in record searches — if it were not for those pesky surname variants! By: Karyn Christner

“How do you say your last name, Molly?” my teachers would ask each year — hesitating over the printed sheet when they called roll on the first day of school.

“SHAR-buh-no,” I would reply, which is how my family pronounces it.

My childhood friend Betty Ann’s dad said Charboneau sounded like “shrapnel” to him — which morphed into “shrabnel” and soon enough I was known as Shrab over at their house.

Because it’s a tricky surname for those with no French background, I usually have to spell Charboneau in full when leaving a phone message or calling anywhere that requires account verification.

My younger siblings got so fed up with this, they frequently substituted an easy-to-spell “pizza name” — such as Clark — when ordering a delivery.

An endless stream of variants

So, when it came time to look for my great, great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau in the federal and New York State census returns, I figured it should be easy enough.

Surely, our unique surname (give or take an “n”) would pop right up in genealogy indexes and record searches — and be quicker to pinpoint than a more frequently-occurring moniker.

Well, was I ever wrong! I had no idea there could be so many variants of the Charboneau surname.

Seeking every census

Laurent immigrated to New York State from Québec in the early 1850s — last appearing in the Canadian census with his family of origin in 1851/52 — so I hope to track him through all the U.S. and New York State censuses after his arrival.

Here are the five surname varients I have found so far (and notice his given name varies, too!):

  • Sharbono — My ancestor appears as Laurence Sharbono in the 1870 U.S. census for Boonville, Oneida County, N.Y.
  • Charbonno — He is listed as Laurence Charbonno  in the 1875 New York State census for Boonville, Oneida County, N.Y.
  • Sherbenon — An 1880 New York State census manuscript schedule in the Utica, N.Y. public library shows his name as Lawrence Sherbenon.
  • Shavanaugh  The 1880 U.S. census of Lyonsdale, Lewis County, N.Y. enumerated Laurent’s brother — Louis Desiré Charbonneau — as Desiré Shavanaugh.
  • Charbono —  The 1900 U.S. census for Forestport, Oneida County, N.Y. lists my great, great grandfather as Lawrence Charbono.

So that just leaves New York State censuses for 1855, 1865 and 1892 and federal censuses for 1860 and 1880 to search — and now I have a whole bunch of Charboneau name variants to choose from.

Wish me luck, and please stop back for more on this as the search progresses.

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4 thoughts on “A Charboneau by any other surname variant”

  1. Molly, isn’t it amazing what bad hearing/handwriting enumerators and others are plagued with? Too many stories that echo this entry. One (fictional) one that always gave me a kick, I think in “Lolita”, when someone confuses another character by talking about the French poet “Rainbow”. :-}

    1. Too funny, Michelle! My challenge is compounded by the large number Irish Cavanaughs who lived near my Charbonneau ancestors. One false stroke of an enumerator’s pen and I’m forced to search “door to door” through an entire town’s records in search of my roots.

  2. Molly, I can totally relate! My maiden name is “Pleau” (hence my twitter handle). If people could spell my name, they couldn’t pronounce it; if they could pronounce it, they couldn’t spell it.
    Indexed variants of that last name include Plean (which, looking at cursive, I can see), Pleaw, Plau, and even Chan!

    1. You have my sympathies, Christine! The Quebec records aren’t too bad, but once my Charbonneau ancestor begins to appear in upstate New York records, then the surname variant fun begins. And as you note, sometimes the index for a collection has one variant while the actual record (in cursive) has another. Ah, well…good thing we enjoy the challenge of the search 🙂

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