Category Archives: Blakeslee

1884: A medical referee rules in Arthur’s favor

Second in a new series on my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull’s reapplication for a US Civil War pension and his family’s life at the time.

In November 1884 — four years after he applied and twenty years after he served — a Pension Board medical referee ruled that my ancestor Arthur Bull was sufficiently disabled to receive a Union Army pension. He was 51 years old.

https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2010/spring/civilwarpension.html
Pension clerks at work in the Pension Building, ca. 1900. Each folded bundle is one pension claim. Union Army veterans like my great-great grandfather Arthur Bull had to verify their Civil War-related health issues to collect a pension — a process that often took years. Source: US National Archives

The month before, a team of doctors at my great-great grandfather’s  local Pension Board — in Utica, Oneida County, N.Y. — recommended he be compensated at a rate of 1/4 disability.

However, the medical referee at the US Pension Office in Washington, D.C., recommended a higher rate. In his 12 Nov. 1884 response to Arthur’s attorneys R.S. and A.P. Lacey, the referee said:

Claimant is entitled to a rating of 1/2 for Disease of the Heart. If clean face is appended to the brief it will be so endorsed.

There may have been sighs of relief in the Bull household at this finding, as it put Arthur one step closer to receiving his pension. Yet more proof was needed before the pension office would start sending payments.

Background checks begin

So Arthur’s attorneys collected a series of affidavits and reports — from doctors and family members who had known him since the Civil War ended — to verify that his disability was war-related. I found these bundled together in his pension file.

PENSION AFFIDAVITS/REPORTS – Pvt. Arthur T. Bull – 6th NY Heavy Artillery
Year Date Names NYS Location
1881  25 Jan. Edward C. Tamkins & William Whitney Binghamton
1884 15 Sept. D.D. Douglas, MD Port Leyden
1884 22 Sept. G.P. English, MD Boonville
1884 22 Oct. Pension Board doctors Utica
1885 15 Sept. S.E. Watson Limestone
1885 22 Sept. M.W. Smith, MD Limestone
1885 1 Oct. M.W. Smith, MD Limestone
1885 30 Nov. William Whitney (supplementary) Binghamton

The 1881 affidavit from Arthur’s brothers-in-law Edward C. Tamkins (husband of his sister) and William Whitney (husband of his wife’s sister) was summarized by the attorneys — since it was previously submitted to the Pension Board. The later affidavits and doctor reports are more detailed.

Combined, they tell the heart-rending saga of Arthur’s struggle with war-related illness as his ability to work declined — a story that will unfold here on Molly’s Canopy over the next few weeks.

Bull family diaspora

These documents also trace the Bull family’s trajectory across New York State during Arthur’s declining years. They traveled from the Southern Tier (around Binghamton, N.Y) to the Adirondack region (near Port Leyden, Boonville and Utica) and finally to Western New York (around Limestone).

The period from 1880 to 1900 is a difficult one for locating and researching an ancestral family. There are few remaining remnants of the 1890 federal census, which was destroyed in a fire — and a significant gap also exists between the 1875 and 1892 New York State censuses.

Yet because my great-great grandfather applied for his Union Army pension during this period, his file provides many precious clues about family names, relationships and geographic locations that help fill out his ancestral story.

What do these pension records tell us about Arthur Bull and his family in the 1880s? Please stop back for the next chapter in his story.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Broome County, NY: First supporting affidavit

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

On 14 July 1862 — about two months before my ancestor Arthur Bull registered for the draft in Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. — the U.S. government approved an important pension act (12 Stat. 566) that covered Union veterans of the U.S. Civil War.

https://dmna.ny.gov/historic/btlflags/artillery/6thArtFlankMarkers.htm
U.S. Civil War flank marker of my ancestor’s regiment. Fifteen years after he honorably mustered out with the 6th NY Heavy Artillery at the end of the U.S. Civil War, my ancestor Arthur Bull filed a declaration requesting his veteran’s pension due to lingering health effects from his military service. Image: NYS Military Museum

The act “increased pension rates and provided potential eligibility for pensions to every person in military or naval service since March 4, 1861, their widows and orphans, and for dependent orphan sisters,” according  to the U.S. National Archives website.

Two decades later, an amended version of this act would provide my great, great grandfather Arthur with an invalid pension for partial disability due to the persistent effects of war-related illness — sustained during his 1864-1865 service in the 6th New York Heavy Artillery.

But first he would have to prove his case. So after filing for benefits on 2 July 1880, Arthur approached family members for help.

First of many affidavits

On 25 Jan. 1881, Arthur’s two brothers-in-law signed a general affidavit testifying to their knowledge of his health status before and after the U.S. Civil War.

The document was notarized, then signed and sealed by a New York State Supreme Court clerk for Broome County. The affiants were:

  • Edward C. Tamkins, 41, of Conklin Station, Broome County, N.Y. [widower of Arthur’s late sister, Mary E. (Bull) Tamkins] and
  •  William Whitney, 62, of Binghamton, Broome County, N.Y. [husband of Rhoda Ann (Blakeslee) Whitney, sister of Arthur’s wife, Mary].

The notary wrote that the two men “are personally known to me, and they are credible persons.” Written in Edward’s hand, they stated the following:

That we have primarily known the said Arthur T. Bull for 10 years previous to his enlistment and knew him to be a sound man physically and mentally. And that since his discharge he has been unwell and part of the time under a physician’s care. And know personally that his health was impaired by service rendered between the date of his enlistment and the date of his discharge.

Eventually, their testimony found its way to the U.S. Pension Office, where their affidavit was stamped on 27 May 1882 — a year and a half later! Which raises some questions.

Missing pieces

On a genealogy research trip to Washington, D.C., I copied the entire contents of my ancestor Arthur Bull’s pension file. But now that I have finally begun to closely examine the documents, I wonder whether pieces may be missing.

The date that Arthur filed his pension declaration is clearly stated as 2 July 1880 on later documents. But an original copy of the declaration was not in his pension folder at the National Archives.

And could it really have taken a year and a half for the Tamkins-Whitney affidavit — apparently the only supporting document between 1880 and 1882 — to make its way to the pension office?

Or might there have been other documents filled out and filed in the interim that also did not make it into the pension file?

Stay tuned as I try to unravel these mysteries and continue on the trail of my ancestor Arthur Bull’s Civil War pension application.

To be continued.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Susquehanna River reflections

Letter S: Nineteenth of twenty-six posts in the April 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Wish me luck and please join me on the journey!

From second grade through high school, I lived two blocks from the North Branch of the Susquehanna River in Broome County, N.Y. The schools I attended were located on elevated ground well above the flood plain. But on my street, the river was a constant presence.

Susquehanna 1993 img096_2
Susquehanna River in Town of Union, Broome County, N.Y. (1993) As a child I lived on the North Branch of the Susquehanna River not far from the Pennsylvania border —  unaware that paternal ancestors once lived there, too. Photo by Molly Charboneau

My dad bought our family’s first house, a small Cape Cod, in the late 1950s without realizing how close it was to the Susquehanna.

“The real estate agent stood in the back yard, pointed at some trees in the distance and said there was a river ‘way over there,’ ” Dad told me. “Well, the following spring, the river flooded and the water was lapping at the edge of our back yard!”

The river at flood stage was unnerving — water as far as the eye could see out our kitchen window, where I watched my classmates on the next block travel home in small motorboats to houses that seemed to float atop the water.

But after the freshet subsided, the land was lush and green. The Italian family on the next block grew a huge vegetable garden; the pear tree by their house bloomed and grew heavy with fruit, and every puddle brimmed with tiny toads for us children to catch. And in the summer, swarms of lightening bugs glowed in the night.

Our block was chock full of children to play with — 52 at the peak of the Baby Boom — but we had no relatives nearby. So after we left the area and I began studying my family’s history, I was amazed to learn that some of my dad’s ancestors once lived there.

I wrote about this in Hidden hometown heritage — how surprised I was to learn about my paternal Broome County ancestors (the Bull, Hance and Blakeslee families) and how the absence of local relatives when I was growing up may have sparked my interest in finding ancestral connections as an adult.

What I left out of that story is that I feel connected to those ancestors not only by heritage, but also by the mighty Susquehanna River — which flowed past our homes, and through all of our lives, going back more than two hundred years.

Up next: Two years: Second Blogiversary. Please stop back.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Library research leads

Letter L: Twelfth of twenty-six posts in the April 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Wish me luck and please join me on the journey!

Online family history research is great — but because there are still so few genealogical resources that have been digitized, library research leads continue to play a significant role in my ancestral journey. And that’s fine.

http://frontpagegloversville.squarespace.com/home/2014/1/11/gloversille-free-library.html
Gloversville Free Library in Fulton Co., N.Y. On a family history visit here with my mom in 1991, we researched our Italian and German ancestors and met a librarian who knew one of our collateral relatives. Photo: Front Page Gloversville

Some of my most valuable clues and evidence have come from libraries — and the wonderful librarians who work there — both on road trips and by phone. Here are just a few examples.

Pictured is the Gloversville Free Library, which my mom and I visited in August 1991 on a family history trip to her home town. There, we consulted city directories that listed our Italian and German ancestors.

Even better, we met a librarian who knew Lucy Edel — a cousin of my great grandmother Celia (Mimm) Stoutner,  who my mom said, “could have been her twin.”

She told us Lucy was a career librarian at the Free Library and was very proud that she earned enough money to buy her own house. Now that’s not a story you will find on the Internet!

My dad and I made a similar trip to his Otter Lake home town in August 1991. At the Irwin Library and Institute in Boonville, Oneida County, N.Y., using an ancient microfilm reader, we found the obituary of our Montréal-born ancestor Laurent Charles Charbonneau — a landmark discovery! Alas, we were not so lucky on that trip learning the name of his spouse.

“His wife? His wife?” Dad fumed when he saw her nameless entry in the list of Laurent’s survivors. “Doesn’t she even get to have her name in the paper?”

Helpful librarians: a phone call away

Calls to libraries have also yielded breakthroughs. The Salamanca Public Library in Cattaraugus County, N.Y., maintains a index of newspaper obituaries. With a phone call to their librarian, I was able to obtain the obituaries of my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull and his mother-in-law, my great, great, great grandmother Hannah (Hance ) Blakeslee.

And when I called a helpful librarian at the Little Falls Public Library in Herkimer County, N.Y., he found and sent me the long-sought-after obituary of my Grand-Uncle Albert B. Charboneau — my paternal grandfather’s brother — who died in the 1918 Influenza Pandemic.

Are there libraries in the towns where your ancestors lived? Check their catalog and resources online, then consider planning a visit to see what genealogical treasures they hold. Not sure where to start? Call their help desk and speak to the librarian. And always send a thank you note, by mail or email, when they help you make a discovery.

Up next: Maps point the way. Please stop back.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Elizabeths in my family tree

Letter E: Fifth of twenty-six posts in the April 2016 Blogging A to Z Challenge. Wish me luck and please join me on the journey!

Among my ancestors, there are many duplicate given names. But Elizabeth is one of the most common — as a first or middle name — on both sides of my family tree.

IMG_0323_2
My maternal grandmother’s handkerchief with the letter E. Elizabeth was a common first or middle name among my female ancestors. Photo by Molly Charboneau

My paternal great, great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull — wife of my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull — apparently went by Elizabeth because there were so many Marys in her family. Here and there, it shows up as her first name on records.

My maternal grandmother Elizabeth Christina (Stoutner) Laurence was called Lizbeth by my grandfather, who knew her from childhood. But when she learned, and later taught, Early American Tole Painting, she always signed her work Liz.

She appears to have been named after her German-born grandmothers — her mom’s mother Eva Elizabeth (Edel) Mimm (who went by Elizabeth) and her dad’s mother Christina (Albeitz) Stoutner.

Then there was my Irish great grandmother Elizabeth C. Dempsey, born in 1865 in Baltimore City, Baltimore Co., Md. — a twin and part of the large household of my Irish-born great, great grandparents William Patrick and Katherine (Gormley) Dempsey.

There are some other Elizabeths, Lizzies and Mary Elizabeths among my side line ancestors, too — clearly a popular name on many branches of my family tree.

Have you looked for patterns in your ancestors’ given names? They might hold clues about the next generation back.

Up next: Fort Monroe in Virginia, where my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull — husband of one of my Elizabeths, Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull — was hospitalized during the U.S. Civil War.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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