Category Archives: Blakeslee

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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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.

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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.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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A fortuitous furlough

Last of three posts on researching my Union Army ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull in the U.S. Sanitary Commission (USSC) records

At the end of my first day researching my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull of the 6th N.Y. Heavy Artillery in the U.S. Sanitary Commission records, a staff member placed before me a blue archival box containing manuscripts from the USSC Statistical Bureau archives 1861-1869.

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August 10, 1864: Morning Report of Sick and Wounded in the U.S. Army General Hospital at Elmira, N.Y. (footnoted in text below). Private Arthur T. Bull is one of seven soldiers listed as “furloughed” from the facility that day. Photo by Molly Charboneau

It was the last material for me to go through, and I wasn’t quite sure what the statistics collection would reveal about my Civil War ancestor. Where might my great, great grandfather’s name appear amidst so vast a collection of data?

Still, the skilled staff at the New York Public Library’s Manuscripts and Archives Division had already helped me find his entry in a Hospital Directory register — and they had pulled these records as well — so I hopefully opened Box 44 and began examining the folders inside.

This particular box was the first of 16 comprising the Statistical Bureau’s Hospital Reports 1863 Sep-1864 Nov, covering some of the months my ancestor was in hospital. It contained morning reports from hospitals for March-August 1864 in folders arranged alphabetically by location and hospital name.

Folder 5, with reports from Albany to Ft. Columbus in New York State, looked promising since my ancestor had spent time in De Camp and Elmira General Hospitals. So I pulled it out and began carefully leafing through the manuscripts one hospital at a time.

Alas, there was no listing for my great, great grandfather among the De Camp Hospital morning reports. But when I started to examine the reports for Elmira Hospital, there he was!

On a Morning Report of Sick and Wounded in the U.S. Army General Hospital at Elmira, N.Y. – a single page dated 10 August 1864 shown above1– Private Arthur T. Bull was one of seven soldiers listed as “furloughed” from the facility.

What a gratifying discovery.

My great, great grandfather was a family man – married with three young children – when he enlisted in the Union Army. Being far from family while fighting in some of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles – and during his recovery from wartime illness – cannot have been easy for him.

So I was relieved to learn from the USSC records that Arthur was transported to Elmira General Hospital, near his home – and that he was furloughed while there and could visit his family.

Finding him twice in this tremendous collection has inspired me to continue researching my Civil War ancestor in the USSC records — where I hope to learn more about his later hospitalizations and treatment near the Virginia battlefields.

More on this in future posts. For now, we return to my ancestor’s time on provost duty in Virginia during June 1865.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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First Blogiversary: A one-gun salute

Today is the First Blogiversary of Molly’s Canopy — the family history blog that I launched on 24 April 2014 to begin sharing the stories of my ancestors and the roads I traveled to find them.

August 2014: Union artillery reenactors. Consider this a one-gun salute on the First Blogiversary of Molly's Canopy -- 24 April 2015. Photo: Molly Charboneau
August 2014: Union artillery reenactors on Governors Island, N.Y. Consider this a one-gun salute on the First Blogiversary of my family history blog Molly’s Canopy. Photo: Molly Charboneau

In weekly posts for the past year, I have primarily chronicled the Civil War experience of my paternal great, great, grandfather Union Pvt. Arthur Bull of the 6th N.Y. Heavy Artillery.

So it seems fitting to celebrate the First Blogiversary of Molly’s Canopy with a one-gun salute by Union artillery reenactors.

This blog came to life amid the boom of cannon at my first Civil War reenactment — the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Saunders Field where my ancestor fought.

And out of that illuminating cloud of gun smoke marched ancestors who have waited patiently for years in my research files — advancing, at last, to tell their stories.

First came my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull who — despite war-related illness — was on duty for key battles of the U.S. Civil War during the 1864 Overland and Shenandoah Valley campaigns.

Soon, others joined him. Arthur’s wife, my great, great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, their children and extended family. His 6th N.Y.H.A. commanding officer Bvt. Brig. Gen. J. Howard Kitching and fellow artillerists Capt. John Gedney, Sgt. William Thistleton and Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds — whose writings helped animate Arthur’s wartime experience.

Then my late dad Norm Charboneau, a WWII Navy veteran, who traveled with me on many genealogy research trips and helped me discover Arthur’s story — along with numerous valuable clues about our other mutual ancestors.

Next was my Uncle Fred, dad’s youngest brother, whose letters home from his WW II Army assignment give insights into their family life — and Aunt Gig who gave his letters to Dad.

And most recently, my paternal Irish great, great grandparents Katherine and William Patrick Dempsey and family during their years in Civil War Baltimore, Md.

For the past year this blog has taken me on an incredible, almost magical, journey back through time — as I connected my ancestors to the places and circumstances in which they lived,  the great historic events that shaped their lives, and their unique position in the evolution of my family.

Writing my ancestors’ stories also reconnected me in ways I would not have imagined with my decades of genealogy research. The process helped me identify and evaluate unexamined details in my family history files — and pointed me toward new avenues of research and discovery.

Today, as I celebrate the First Blogiversary of Molly’s Canopy and the beloved ancestors who made it possible, I am so grateful that I went looking  for them all those years ago. They have taught me a lot during the past year — and the journey is far from over.

Tomorrow begins year two, during which new ancestors will make themselves known. My heartfelt thanks to readers of Molly’s Canopy who have hung in with me this past year. And a warm welcome to new readers — I hope you will subscribe and join me on the journey.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1865: The Dempsey twins are born

Second of three posts on my Dempsey ancestors in Civil War Baltimore.

During the final months of the U.S. Civil War, my Irish immigrant great, great grandparents William Patrick and Katherine Dempsey welcomed two additions to their large family in Baltimore, Maryland.

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Baltimore, Md. (1869). At the junction of Lanvale St. and Fremont Ave., shown above, my Irish great, great grandparents Katherine and William Patrick Dempsey, a blacksmith, lived at 2 Webster Alley in the wooded area to the right. Lafayette Square is shown at center. Image: Library of Congress.

On 28 Feb. 1865, Katherine gave birth to twin daughters — my great grandmother Elizabeth C. Dempsey and her sister Margaret M. “Maggie” Dempsey.

What was life like 150 years ago for my Irish ancestors in the city of more than 200,000?

The Dempsey family

According to Baltimore City Directories, from 1870 to 1886 William Dempsey, a blacksmith, lived at 2 Webster Alley — a typical location for working class housing behind the main-street buildings.

The list of Dempsey family members in the 1870 U.S. Census for Ward 8 of Baltimore City, Baltimore Co., Md., gives a rough idea of who might have lived in the household five years earlier — parents Katherine and William; sons Thomas, John and William; and a daughter Mary. The birth of the twins, Elizabeth and Maggie, would have brought that total to eight.

Unlike in the 1860 U.S. Census, when my great, great grandfather William declared a personal estate worth $40 (about $1,170 today), there is no dollar figure next to his name in 1870 — implying that the family was just making ends meet.

Oldest son Patrick, and younger sons James and Andrew — from the 1860 census — are not listed in the Dempsey household in 1870 . I can’t rule out a census-taking error. Yet their absence suggests an evolving family that may have weathered loss and heartbreak.

The wider community

When my Dempsey ancestors were first enumerated in the 1860 federal census, Maryland was a slave state. But there were many free African Americans residing in Baltimore — some of whom also lived and worked in the city’s alleys.

German and Irish immigrants swelled the city in the pre-war years — with the Irish-born population peaking in 1860 at more than 15,500.  The Catholic Church and the Hibernian Society — formed in 1803 to aid Irish immigrants — provided a social framework and support system that likely benefited my Dempsey ancestors.

Lafayette Square near the Dempsey home became Camp Hoffman, the 3rd Maryland Infantry’s barracks during the Civil War — a Union Army encampment where Northern troops recuperated from such hard-fought battles as Antietam and Gettysburg.

My ancestors probably grew accustomed to the sounds of Union soldiers marching and drilling, and the clomp of military horses along the pavement.

Which makes me wonder: As a blacksmith, did my great, great grandfather William do metal work for the Union Army? Or shoe their mules and horses?

More on my Dempsey ancestors in Civil War Baltimore in the next post.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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