Category Archives: Owen

County Wexford and the Vikings

Second in a series on the Dempsey Cousins Family Research Team.

Not long after Dempsey descendants Barb, John and I agreed to form a cousins team — to research our mutual gggrandparents William Patrick and Katherine (Gormley) Dempsey — John generously shared a document that was totally new to me.

By: Skellig2008
County Wexford, Ireland. News that my gggrandfather William Patrick Dempsey hailed from County Wexford — from an obituary shared by a Dempsey cousin — raises the possibility of Viking heritage. Photo by: Skellig2008

From the 3 May 1900 issue of the Baltimore Sun, it was a small, one-column obituary of our great, great grandfather William Dempsey.

Just eighteen brief newspaper lines (transcribed below) summed up our ancestor’s life — but what a masterpiece it was and what a lasting gift to his descendants.

WILLIAM DEMPSEY

Mr. William Dempsey, a well-known blacksmith died yesterday at his home, 1602 East Chase street, of paralysis. He was born in County Wexford, Ireland, 62 years ago and came to this country when about 12 years of age. For several years he resided in Troy, N.Y., and then moved to Harford county, Maryland and afterward to Cecil county. For many years he had resided in this city [Baltimore, Md.]. He is survived by 10 children — Mrs. Thomas Byrnes, Mrs. Charles Conway, Mrs. Clinton Webb, Mrs. Ernest Kratz, Mrs. Frank Owens [sic.] and John, James, William, Peter and Lieut. Thomas F. Dempsey, of the Northern police district; 32 grandchilden and 5 great-grandchildren. He was a member of St. Paul’s Catholic Church.

The anonymous writer (who seems to have interviewed a detail-oriented informant) names William’s surviving children, totals up his grand and great-grand children, and lists several places where our ancestor once lived — laying out a virtual road map for us Dempsey cousins to follow as we reconstruct William’s travels from his arrival in North America to his final home in Baltimore City.

But what really jumped out at me was the news that William Dempsey was “born in County Wexford, Ireland” — for this was the first time I learned my great, great grandfather’s county of origin. A breakthrough indeed! And all thanks to our Dempsey cousins collaboration.

Vikings in the vicinity

Looking up County Wexford to get some background information led me to the next revelation — we Dempsey descendants might have Viking heritage!

The Irish Times Irish Ancestors web page for County Wexford — listing Dempsey among the county’s common surnames — contains this brief history, which echoes similar versions I have found elsewhere:

The county takes its name from the principal town, which was founded by the Norsemen in the tenth century as “Waesfjord”.  A similar reference to Wexford Harbour, the large sheltered lagoon which is the reason for the town’s existence, is found in the Irish name. [Waesfjord translates as “inlet of the mud flats.”]

The Vikings made incursions into the Wexford area in the eighth and ninth centuries, but by the tenth century had abandoned their usual return trip to Scandinavia. Instead, they settled down in coastal Ireland and over the centuries mixed in with the general population.

So, possible Viking heritage! And all thanks to a clue in our great, great grandfather William Dempsey’s obituary.

Certifiably Viking

I found this prospect very exciting and perhaps went a bit overboard as I shared the news with family, friends and co-workers — and rushed out to buy a faux fur throw for my couch.

“Well, that would certainly explain your personality!” one of my friends quipped dryly.

But then I went to an Irish heritage workshop at a genealogy conference and discovered that the prospect of Viking heritage — though new to me — is old hat to long-time Irish family history researchers.

In fact, at the DNA table, one guy even boasted that so many people with his surname had tested positive for Viking DNA that, “My surname is certified Viking.”

Whereas I was merely behaving like a certifiable Viking — with no real proof. At least not yet.

So — after dressing as a Viking for Halloween and throwing a Viking-themed trim-a-tree party for the holidays — I finally calmed down, curled up under my new throw, and resumed research on the broad sweep of more recent history in County Wexford.

And that’s when I learned about the blacksmiths and the 1798 Irish Rebellion.

To be continued.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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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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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.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Baltimore_Riot_1861.jpg#file
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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