Category Archives: Charboneau

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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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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My Dempsey ancestors in Civil War Baltimore

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

During the U.S. Civil War, Baltimore, Maryland — home of my Irish immigrant great, great grandparents Katherine and William Patrick Dempsey and their family — experienced great political and social ferment.

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Massachusetts Militia passing through Baltimore. The city where my Dempsey ancestors lived was placed under federal martial law in 1861 after a pro-slavery mob attacked Massachusetts Militia members en route to federal service in Washington, D.C. Image: Wikipedia

At the start of the war, in 1861, Baltimore City was placed under federal martial law after a pro-slavery mob attacked the Massachusetts Militia as it passed through the city en route to federal service in Washington, D.C.

Known as the Pratt Street Riot, the confrontation resulted in the first bloodshed of the U.S. Civil War and led to the placement of Union soldiers all around Baltimore City — in hospitals, camps, and barracks — where they helped keep belligerent Southern sympathizers at bay.

Meanwhile — like my Dempsey ancestors before them — new waves of immigrants were arriving in the city to seek a better life. Free and formerly-enslaved African Americans were joining the newly-formed U.S. Colored Troops and heading to the front.

And in late 1864, Unionists in the Maryland legislature succeeded in passing a state constitution that abolished slavery — which was followed on 3 Feb. 1865 by Maryland’s ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

It was into this cauldron of rapid social change 150 years ago that my great grandmother Elizabeth and her twin sister Maggie were born to the Dempsey family on 28 Feb. 1865 — early arrivals in the first generation that would grow up after the U.S. Civil War.

Two generations would pass before a descendant of my Irish ancestors Katherine and William Patrick Dempsey (my paternal grandmother Mary Frances “Molly” Owen) would marry a descendant of my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull and his wife  Mary (my paternal grandfather William Ray Charboneau).

How fascinating to discover that, before they were joined, these two branches of my family had a separate yet parallel experience of living through a defining period in U.S. history.

More on both families in future posts. For now, we return to my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull on duty at Bermuda Hundred, Va.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Tip o’ the hat to my Irish ancestors

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

In 1865 — while my Union Army ancestor Pvt. Arthur Bull was on duty at Bermuda Hundred, Va. — my Irish ancestors William Patrick and Katherine Dempsey were establishing their family 170 miles to the north in the teeming city of Baltimore, Md.

By: Robert Couse-Baker
My Dempsey ancestors were part of the great Irish migration to the teeming city of Baltimore, Maryland, where they lived during the U.S. Civil War.  Photo: Robert Couse-Baker

This St. Patrick’s Day seems a good time to tip a hat to my paternal, Irish great, great grandparents and share what I know about their civilian life during the Civil War years.

The 1860 U.S. census for the 8th Ward of Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Maryland — enumerated on 23 July 1860 — gives a picture of the Dempsey family at that time.

William Dempsey, 35, was a blacksmith born in Ireland. The “value of personal estate owned” by him was $40 — about $1,170 today — and he was “unable to read & write.” Catherine [Katherine], 34, was also born in Ireland.

The census entry lists five sons. Patrick, 9, born in Canada was “in school within the year.” Thomas, 6, also born in Canada, was not at school yet. The three youngest, born in Maryland — John, 3; James, 2; and Andrew, 6 months — were too young for school.

The two Canada births suggest that the Dempsey family did not immigrate directly to Baltimore. In addition, on a pedigree chart prepared by a late female cousin of my dad’s, she wrote a note (alas, not sourced) that said William’s first wife died early and left him with three children — Nan, John and Patrick, who died young. If so, Katherine was his second wife.

Further research is needed to determine whether Katherine and William Patrick met and married in Canada or in Baltimore — and to sort out the information about the children. But it’s clear that by the start of the U.S. Civil War, my Irish great, great grandparents had settled in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Md., with their growing family.

And very soon my great grandmother Elizabeth C. Dempsey and her twin sister Margaret M. “Maggie” Dempsey would be added to the fold.

More on the Dempsey family in the next post.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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