Category Archives: Blakeslee

The Lyonsdale lead

First in a series on how I found my Civil War ancestor Arthur Bull.

The quest to find my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull began almost by accident in the early 1990s when I was living in Washington, D.C.

I was telling an out-of-town friend about my recent, exciting discovery on a trip to Montreal — the 1832 baptismal record of my great, great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau.

“You know, you have the National Archives there in D.C.,” she said. “You could look up some of your other ancestors in the U.S. Census. The records are open after 72 years.”

The National Archives and Records Administration building in Washington, D.C. Photo by mrgarethm

Seriously? I was totally new to genealogy then. This was too good to be true!

So one night after work, I took the Metro over to the National Archives and Records Administration and stepped through a towering door into a wonderland of family history research.

In those pre-Internet days, I began by watching NARA’s video “Reeling Through History” about how to create a soundex code of my ancestors’ surnames to find them in an index, and from there in the census. Then I’d pull rolls of microfilm from endless cabinets lining the walls and load them into a reader.

The hunt for my Bull ancestors started where many searches do with the fully indexed 1880 U.S. Census — the first to show relationships to the head of household. From my dad, Norm Charboneau, I knew the maiden name of my great grandmother Eva Bull. I was thrilled when I located her family in Lyonsdale, Lewis Co., N.Y.

And there, in that hushed NARA research room, was where I first met Eva’s parents — my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull, 46, a tannery foreman, and my great, great grandmother Mary E., 41, who was keeping house. When the census taker called on 28 June 1880, they had eight children living at home — four daughters and four sons.

I wanted to learn more, and would drop by the archives on free nights to continue researching the Bulls — but to no avail. I had hit my first brick wall.

One lead from the 1880 census proved invaluable, though: Eva was their only child born in Pennsylvania. And a road trip with my dad to her adult hometown yielded the next breakthrough in finding Arthur Bull.

To be continued.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved. 

 

Mother of three

While my ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull was in the Union Army (1864-65), his wife Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull was left in charge of their household in Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y.

Union Reenactors 4 May 2014
Union Army reenactor and his wife, Spotsylvania Court House, Va., 4 May 2014. Photo by Molly Charboneau

What was life like for my great, great grandmother during the Civil War years?  It’s hard to know with few records to go by.

Elizabeth, as she was called, was 27 in 1865 and a mother of three young children — Emma, 7, born in Pennsylvania; Carrie, 5, born in Delaware Co., N.Y.; and Milo, 3, born in Broome Co., N.Y. The family had moved several times since her 1856 marriage to Arthur in Liberty, Susquehanna, Pa.

Arthur received a $300 bounty when he enlisted — equivalent to more than $5,000 today — so there would have been money to live on. But for Elizabeth, as for many women of that era, her husband’s absence also brought new responsibility to run things as she thought best.

Census records show she had family living nearby to turn to for help — her older sister Rhoda Ann (Blakeslee) Whitney, Arthur’s parents Jeremiah and Mary Bull and Arthur’s sister Mary Emma (Bull) Tamkins, whose husband Edward was also away in the 137th Regiment N.Y. Infantry.

Mary Bull signature
Signature of Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, 53, on 9 May 1892 affidavit in Civil War widow’s pension application file. Photo by Molly Charboneau.

But I have inherited no diary or letters from Elizabeth to illuminate her inner life. I have only her signature on documents from her application, decades later, for widow’s benefits.

What were her thoughts, her hopes, her worries as a young woman during the U.S. Civil War? How did she cope with having a husband in harm’s way? What did she tell her children?

How I wish she had found the time to leave answers to those questions.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.