Category Archives: Charboneau

Uncle Fred’s letters

I have no memory of meeting my Uncle Fred — Frederic Mason Charboneau — who was born on 3 March 1918.  Yet I found myself thinking about him this holiday season.

He was the youngest of my dad’s four older brothers and died after an illness on 12 Dec. 1952 when I was just a toddler.

Family photo circa 1946 of Frederic Mason Charboneau, 28, in his U.S. Army uniform. Scan by Molly Charboneau
Family photo circa 1946 of Frederic Mason Charboneau, 28, in his U.S. Army uniform. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Growing up, I remember hearing that Uncle Fred was a U.S. Army veteran who received a Purple Heart for an injury during WW II. He married Jean Bastow, but they had no children.

That was about it — until 1992 when Dad and I began exploring our roots together and went on a two-day genealogy trip to Otter Lake, Dad’s hometown, in Forestport, Oneida Co., N.Y.

We stayed overnight with my Aunt Aline who still lived in the area. She was French-Canadian and the widow of my dad’s oldest brother Owen Albert Charboneau. We all called her “Gig.”

After wise-cracking around her kitchen table over a Pitch card game — which Aunt Gig won as usual — we got talking about family history. Aline and Dad shared stories about their youth in Otter Lake and fondly reminisced about our mutual ancestors.

Something about that visit must have touched them both — because the next time Dad went to see Aunt Gig, she gave him a cardboard box containing a treasure trove of family photos and documents.

Among the items in the box was a stack of Uncle Fred’s letters — written to his mother (my grandmother) during the war — along with some photos of him and his obituary.

When I read his letters for the first time I was struck by two things. Uncle Fred’s handwriting was amazingly like my dad’s. And much of his writing was not about the war but about family events back home.

Somewhere in England, October 21, 1942: Dear Mom, …You should be getting my allotment some time the first of next month, which will be $40.00 per month so I should have a nice bank account by the time I get out of the Army. By the way I want you to take some of this money and buy everyone a Christmas present. Even if I can’t be there, I want to keep up the family tradition of everyone exchanging presents. I will collect mine at some future date….Your loving son, Fred

In the spirit of the holiday season, I take a moment today to remember Uncle Fred and to express my gratitude for his letters from the front — which are helping me better understand the life of my dad’s family of origin.

I will share more about Uncle Fred, along with excerpts from his letters, in future posts.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

 

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The tiny road map

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

Sometimes in genealogy research the tiniest scrap of paper transforms into a road map that guides you to your ancestor’s history.

That’s what happened with the little bit of evidence I received about my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull from the Susquehanna County Historical Society.

I wrote the society asking about Arthur Bull, his wife Mary (Blakeslee) Bull, and their daughter – my great grandmother Eva Bull, who was likely born in Great Bend, Susquehanna Co., Penna. in the late 1860s before the state kept birth records. A researcher wrote back and sent the next clue:

SCHS Index Card A Bull marriage_4
The tiny road map. This marriage announcement became a tiny road map that led to important discoveries about my U.S. Civil War ancestor Arthur Bull. Photo by Molly Charboneau

“I am enclosing the marriage announcement for Mary and Arthur from our card files. It states that she was from Brookdale, which is part of Liberty township.

“Liberty is located on the New York State border. It is right next to Corbettsville, which is part of Conklin, N.Y.”

An index card? It doesn’t get much smaller than that.

But it was packed with information about my great, great grandparents — the date of their marriage, their geographical location on either side of the New York-Pennsylvania border, even Arthur’s political affiliation.

I got on the phone to my dad, Norm Charboneau, to schedule another road trip together — to Binghamton, Broome Co., N.Y. where the public library held abundant records about nearby Corbettsville in the Town of Conklin. So off we went, index card in hand.

I have written on this blog about The little check mark in Arthur’s 1865 New York State Census entry that Dad and I discovered on that trip — which delivered the astonishing news that we had a Civil War soldier in the family.

The tiny road map had done its work by leading us to this landmark find — the starting point of a new journey  to unearth the details of Arthur’s military history.

Where to begin the next phase of the search? This time, closer to home. It turned out that several important clues awaited discovery just a subway ride away from where I now lived in New York City.

To be continued.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved. 

 

 

 

A Great Bend birthplace

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

In 1992, I made a road with my dad, Norm Charboneau, to Oneida County, N.Y. mainly focused on our Charboneau ancestors.

Since we were in the neighborhood, we stopped in Lowville, Lewis County, N.Y. to see if we could find anything on our elusive ancestor Arthur Bull, who once lived with his family in nearby Lyonsdale.

An 1872 map showing Great Bend, Susquehanna County, Penna., the birthplace of Eva Bull. Digital image from Dave Rumsey Map Collection.
An 1872 map showing Great Bend, Susquehanna Co., Penna.(upper right) — the birthplace of Arthur’s daughter, Eva Bull. Click on map to enlarge. Image: David Rumsey Map Collection.

Alas, we couldn’t even get in the door at the clerk’s office. It was swamped by locals seeking property maps related to New York State’s recently-passed Freshwater Wetlands Act.

Sigh. I tucked my copy of Arthur Bull’s 1880 U.S. Census entry back in my bag — a mystery to be solved another day.

Fast forward to 1993. Dad and I were on the road again, headed to Dolgeville, Herkimer Co., N.Y., the adult hometown of my great grandmother Eva Bull — Arthur’s daughter — and her husband Will Charboneau.

This time there was no crowd at the clerk’s office, and we left with many valuable documents — including a verified transcript of Eva’s 1941 death certificate indicating she was born in Great Bend, Susquehanna Co., Penna., and giving the maiden name of her mother, Mary Blakeslee.

We now had two new clues in the search for Arthur Bull! Next question: How to follow up?

After our trip, I found the Susquehanna County Historical Society and wrote to them requesting research help. (That’s right, snail mail. Remember, this was before the Internet.)

I included a copy of the 1880 U.S. Census entry for the Bull family and provided the new information from Eva’s death certificate — then I sat back and waited for a response.

Soon enough, the next clue arrived.

To be continued.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved. 

 

 

 

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. 

 

Dad joins the journey

This Memorial Day, I’ll be remembering my dad Norm Charboneau — a WW II veteran and my enthusiastic travel partner on many family history road trips.

“Where are we going this time, Mol?” he would quip when I visited him and Mom each summer.

Norm Charboneau USN
Family photo circa 1946 of Norm Charboneau, 22, a U.S. Navy ETM3c. Scan by Molly Charboneau.

Dad joined the journey in 1992, and for years we combed upstate New York together, or strategized by phone, in search of our elusive ancestors. But it wasn’t always that way.

Dad grew up in the small Adirondack town of Otter Lake in Forestport, Oneida Co., N.Y., where he admired those in uniform — postal workers, bus drivers, train conductors — who saw more of the world than he did.

The first in his family to go to college, Dad interrupted his engineering studies at Clarkson University in 1944 to enlist in the U.S. Navy. He served in the Pacific until  1946 as an Electronics Technician Mate, Third Class (ETM3c) — in the wider world he longed for.

My college years in the 1960s were interrupted in a different way when I gave up my studies and joined the peace movement to end the Vietnam  War. I was not sure I could ever heal the rift that caused with Dad.

But as years passed, we both mellowed. I eventually finished college and began researching our family. One day I realized that our time together was slipping away, so I called Dad.

“What would you say to a trip to Otter Lake, so you can show me everything and tell me all about it?” I asked him.

Dad — who inherited the gift of gab from his mother’s Welsh-Irish side — loved the idea. And with that trip, the first of many,  he and I finally moved beyond what divided us and started enjoying the legacy we shared: family, ancestors, heritage.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.