Category Archives: Charboneau

A holiday gift: My grandmother’s voice

My parents named me after my paternal grandmother Mary Frances (Owen) Charboneau, whose nickname was “Molly.” A large Welsh-Irish woman from Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Md., she stood over six feet tall — as did her many sisters.

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My Welsh-Irish paternal grandmother Mary Frances (Owen) Charboneau in the early years of her marriage (circa 1910). I met her in the 1950s when I was a toddler, but did not get to know her until I inherited her diary. Scan by: Molly Charboneau

According to my dad, she met my grandfather, William Raymond Charboneau — who went by “Ray” — while she was working as a nanny for a Baltimore family that spent summers in the Adirondacks.

In those days before supermarkets, my grandfather delivered groceries to their house. My grandmother answered the door — and before you know it she had turned her back on the hot, teeming city for the handsome young man from Forestport, Oneida County, N.Y.

My dad’s recollections

I met Grandma Charboneau when I was a toddler — and still retain a vague image of her towering figure descending the central staircase during a visit to our farm in Albany County, N.Y. To my great regret,  she died when I was just 4, so I never really go to know her except through my dad’s sporadic recollections.

“My mother used to say if she could operate a sewing machine, she ought to be able to drive a car,” Dad would declare out of the blue — a prelude to a tale about her frustration that she never did get behind the wheel.

I could sense her presence in these fleeting anecdotes — animated by my dad’s sense of humor, which he picked up from her. (How I wish I had jotted some of those anecdotes down!) But it was not until I inherited her diary that I first heard my paternal grandmother’s voice.

Grandma Charboneau’s diary

In 1933,  Grandma Charboneau received a leather-covered Five-Year Diary — complete with a lock and key — as a holiday gift from her middle son. “Hubert gave me this diary for Xmas. Wet & cold today,” she wrote on 1 January 1934.

Family photo of the Ray and Molly (Owen) Charboneau Christmas tree, in the cottage at Otter Lake, Oneida, N.Y. (1942). Scan: Molly Charboneau
December 1942: Christmas tree in the cottage of Ray and Mary Charboneau in Otter Lake, Oneida Co., N.Y. My grandparents and their sons lived in this small, lakeside cottage when the Otter Lake Hotel they owned and operated was closed for the winter. Photo by Norman J. Charboneau

Dad told me Grandma C. was a great storyteller. But like most diarists just starting out, she seemed unsure what to put down when faced with the blank page.

So her early entries pretty much catalog the weather — and some bitter cold weather it was up there in New York’s North Country.

But by the time the 1934 holiday season rolled around, my grandmother, 45, had warmed to the task of expressing herself and reflecting in small snippets on her life and her family members who still lived at home — my Uncles Hube, 19, and Fred, 16; my dad Norman, 9; and my grandfather Ray, 46.

Dec. 22, 1934:  Married 24 years today. Time flies, but we have lots to be thankful for.

Dec. 24, 1934:  Went to midnight mass at Forestport. Then to Desjardins. Had a nice party. Home at 4:30 am. Trimmed the tree before we left. [Her oldest son, my Uncle Owen, was married to Aline “Gig” Desjardins.]

Dec 25, 1934: Didn’t get much sleep. Boys were up at 5:30 am. Had a lovely Christmas. Was well remembered. Chair & clock from R & boys.

Dec. 26, 1934: Can’t hardly get around the place. Christmas tree and presents all over the place. Boys have their toys everywhere.

I particularly love that last entry because I can almost see Grandma Charboneau standing there — hands on her hips — surveying the post-holiday wreckage in the small, lakeside cabin where the family  lived when the Otter Lake Hotel they owned and operated was closed for the winter. And her expression “well remembered” to describe pleasure with her Christmas gifts seemed to hint at her heritage.

My grandmother closed out the old year with one last entry:

Dec. 31, 1934: Fred, Hubert, Norman, Ray and myself had a little New Year’s party. Toasted the New Year with a glass of wine and heard it on [the] radio.

So let’s raise a glass and join them! Happy Holidays to you and yours from Molly’s Canopy — and best wishes for the New Year!

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Hidden hometown heritage

Fifth and last in a series on my ancestor Arthur Bull’s parents and siblings at the end of the US Civil War (1865).

At the end of the US Civil War — when my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull returned home to his wife and children after mustering out of the Union Army — his parents, siblings and their families all lived and worked within 60 miles of Binghamton, Broome County, N.Y.

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Bird’s eye view of Binghamton, Broome County, N.Y. (1882). In 1865, my Bull ancestors lived within 60 miles of Binghamton — something my family was unaware of when we lived in the same area 100 years later. Image: Library of Congress
  • Arthur and Mary E. (Blakeslee) Bull resided in Town of Conklin, just 13 miles south of Binghamton.
  • Parents Jeremiah and Mary Bull also lived in Conklin — in the household of Arthur’s sister, Mary E. (Bull) Tamkins and her husband, Edward.
  • Younger brother Milo Bull, and his wife Catherine (Hinman) Bull, lived in Town of Triangle, Broome County, N.Y. — 19 miles north of Binghamton.
  • Older brother Norris C. Bull, and his wife Sabra Ann (Howland) Bull, lived the furthest away in Town of Colchester, Delaware County, N.Y. — about 59 miles northeast of Binghamton.

Surprise family ties

Why is this important? Because 100 years later, in 1965, my own family of origin lived in Town of Union — about 9 miles west of Binghamton — and we were completely unaware we had any family connection to the Southern Tier! Nor were the Bulls the only ancestors who were part of our hidden hometown heritage.

As I will discuss in future posts, the Blakeslee family of Arthur’s wife Mary Elizabeth (and the Hance family of her mother) also lived in Town of Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. — and just over the border in Town of Liberty, Susquehanna County, Pa.

All I can say is: Amazing!

My dad, Norm Charboneau, may have had an inkling about our Southern Tier family ties. But he never mentioned anything until we went back to Binghamton on a family history road trip in 1995 — decades after our family had left the area.  In some ways, I wish I had known sooner.

A Southern Tier connection

My family moved to the Binghamton area from Albany County — where we shared a farmhouse with my maternal grandparents — after my dad got a promotion at his job with General Electric in the late 1950s. I was just starting second grade.

Growing up, I thought it was odd that we had no family members nearby. Most of my friends from the neighborhood, and at school, seemed to have loads of local  relatives — grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, big extended families.

My local family — on the other hand — consisted of me, my parents, two younger brothers and two younger sisters. If we wanted to see our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins we had to pile into the car and drive for up to four hours.

How I envied my classmates and the kids on my street — with their hordes of relatives within shouting distance!

Yet today I sometimes wonder: Was it because I lacked nearby relatives as a child that I developed an interest in my family’s history? Did isolation from my extended family become a wellspring for genealogy research?

Maybe so. But this much I know for sure: Finding and writing about my Bull ancestors living near Binghamton in 1865 has deepened my connection to the area where I grew up — and genealogy research has finally provided me with those long hoped for hometown family ties.

In the next post: Holiday greetings from my paternal grandmother Mary Frances “Molly” (Owen) Charboneau.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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My agricultural ancestry

Perhaps because I lived as a child in an 1850s farmhouse on Route 20 in Albany County, N.Y., I take particular interest in the agrarian history of ancestors like my great, great, great grandfather Jeremiah Bull — who in 1860 lived with his family on a farm in Town of Conklin, Broome County, N.Y.

Standing on the porch of our 1850s farmhouse on Route 20 in Albany County, N.Y. (circa 1954). Photo by Norman J. Charboneau
Standing on the porch of our 1850s farmhouse at Whispering Chimneys on Route 20 in Albany County, N.Y. (circa 1954). Perhaps because I lived in farm country until I was seven, I take particular interest in the agrarian history of my ancestors. Photo by Norman J. Charboneau

When I recently discovered Jeremiah’s farm facts, my mind wandered back to the 10-acre farm where I resided in the early 1950s with my parents, maternal grandparents and two younger brothers.

We children absorbed the cycles of nature on the farm — which bore the official name of Whispering Chimneys on a high, swinging metal sign down by the road.

Our family raised only chickens and rented out the hay fields to nearby working farmers — in contrast Jeremiah, whose rural property was productive enough to require a live-in farm hand.

Still, in some ways, his homestead resembled ours. Not a fully working farm, really — since Jeremiah earned his living as a tanner (while my dad worked at General Electric and my mom was a school music teacher). But with a good amount of land — way more than our 10 acres, and sufficient for some working livestock and cultivated fields to provide food and income for his family.

Recalling my formative years at Whispering Chimneys, I conjure up the rush of cool creeks in spring, the taste of tiny wild strawberries in early summer, the warmth of just-laid eggs from the nests in our barn, and the smell of fresh crushed grass in the mouths of the ruminating cows that poked their heads through the fence from the Mennonite farm next door.

I also remember staring in awe at the majestic two-story snow drifts that blew up to the rooftop in winter — when candles were kept ready in case the power went down. And watching white cotton sheets billow skyward in warmer weather on the clothesline that stretched to the stately pines out back.

Of course mine are childhood memories. My dad, who had to deal with practical matters in our drafty farmhouse, took a different view. At age 78, he wrote down his recollections in a third-person story:

A young family came upon one of these mansions and was hypnotized by its ten acres of land, big red barns, and a few tourist cabins. [But] during the first winter they could feel the wind whistling through the walls, and had to fill the walls with poured insulation. It was still so cold that a second furnace was needed to heat the windy west side.

I wonder what Dad would make of having Jeremiah Bull as an agrarian ancestor? He’d probably be pretty amazed at how our early road trips unlocked so much of this family’s history — and how the lives of our ancestors in some ways resembled our own.

What more could I learn about the civilian lives of my Bull forebears during and after the Civil War? The search for answers continues in future posts.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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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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