Category Archives: Stoutner

Gesundheit: A little linguistic legacy

If you are several generations removed from immigrant ancestors, you may find yourself longing — as I did — for some lingering evidence of a heritage connection within your own family.

Tissues. My family’s use of the word “gesundheit” when someone sneezed was likely passed down from my maternal German immigrant ancestors. By: Chris Costes

My advice is to pay careful attention, because — as I discovered with my maternal German ancestors — the evidence you seek might be found in the most unlikely place.

My German heritage comes from my maternal grandmother Elizabeth Christina Stoutner — who eloped with Anthony [Di Lorenzo] Laurence, the Italian-American boy next door in Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y.

My mom — their oldest daughter — grew up near both my grandparents’ families, with many reminders of her ethnic roots.

Where were my ethnic clues?

But off my mom went to college. Then there was a career move, marriage to my dad, children and more moves — so by the time I was growing up in the suburbs of Binghamton, Broome County, N.Y., we were an assimilated, Baby Boom family living several hours’ drive from our nearest relatives.

I envied my friends who had closer ties to their immigrant heritage — as I enjoyed perogies and kolachkis with my Eastern European friend up the block or watched a school friend’s Italian grandmother lay handmade pasta to dry over the backs of her kitchen chairs.

Alas, there were few ethnic clues in the basic meat-and-potatoes dinner my family sat down to most evenings. But then someone would sneeze, and we would all say, “Gesundheit!” — and presto, there was my first heritage hint.

A healthful heritage hint

Gesundheit means “health” in German, but I never gave this much thought as a child. It was just something our family said. Not until at school, when I heard others say “bless you,” did I realize that not everyone said gesundheit.

Many years passed before I delved into why — and many more years still until I seriously researched my German heritage and made the connection to this salutation.

It turns out the word gesundheit arrived here with early German immigrants — like my ancestors, who came to these shores in the mid 1800s — then proliferated through the general population as German immigration picked up.

“Used to wish good health to a person who has just sneezed,” according to, the word’s frequency of use over the decades is depicted by an online n-gram graph.

Who would have imagined that as my German-American ancestors sneezed down through the  generations, they would pass along the hearty response “Gesundheit!” as a little linguistic legacy from one generation to the next?

Or that their healthful German salutation would be passed from my immigrant Mimm, Stoutner, Albeitz and Edel great, great grandparents to their children, then to my maternal grandmother, my mom and me?

Such a small ancestral bequest — but one I am reminded of whenever I hear someone sneeze!

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Two Years: Second Blogiversary

Letter T: Twentieth of twenty-six posts in the April 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Wish me luck and please join me on the journey!

Tomorrow will mark two years since Molly’s Canopy first appeared as a family history geneablog on 24 April 2014. Since my Second Blogiversary falls on an A to Z Challenge rest day, I decided to celebrate early and reflect on the blog’s development since my First Blogiversary one year ago.

Two roses and rosebuds_2
Roses and rosebuds (2014). Two blooming roses for the Second Blogiversary of Molly’s Canopy and two rosebuds for the future. Photo by Molly Charboneau

At the start of my second blogging year, in May 2015, I was finishing up the last posts about my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull’s Union Army service during the U.S. Civil War.

The Civil War Sesquicentennial was drawing to a close and I attended and wrote about a ceremony marking the war’s conclusion 150 years before.

Over the summer of 2015, I finally had an opportunity to research in the U.S. Sanitary Commission collection at the New York Public Library — and came away with two more details about my ancestor’s medical treatment during the Civil War.

Then it was on to peace time and Embracing the Empire State, as Arthur Bull returned home to New York State and I began exploring his back story.

Spending a year and a half focused primarily on a single ancestor’s experiences taught me the value of taking a deep dive into one particular family on my tree and drawing lessons from the history they lived through. Subsequent posts unfolded in serial format, as my focus turned to the Bull family and their civilian lives before and after the war.

Cousins come calling

Perhaps the most exciting development in year two of Molly’s Canopy was the arrival of cousins — first my Dempsey cousins and soon thereafter cousin Don from my Bull line, whose ggg grandfather was likely a brother of my ggg grandfather Jeremiah Bull (Arthur’s father).

Through blog comments and email, we got to know one another and shared information about our respective research — making the family history journey so much richer.

Cameo appearances

The other development in year two was cameo appearances by individual ancestors and collateral relatives. First was my maternal Aunt Rita for Veteran’s Day, then my paternal grandmother Mary Frances (Owen) Charboneau for the holidays and most recently my maternal grandparents Tony and Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence for Valentine’s Day.

My readers particularly enjoyed these portraits — which provided a break from the longer saga of the Bull family and allowed me to introduce new ancestors who will appear again on the blog when their family’s stories are told.

GeneaBloggers introduction

Two landmark events turned the end of my second genealogy blogging year into a new beginning.

On April 18, I was honored to be introduced to the genealogy blogging community as part of the GeneaBloggers interview series profiling family history bloggers.

May I Introduce To You…Molly Charboneau could not have appeared at a better time, since this is my Second Blogiversary week!

In my challenge post for Letter P — Proud to be a family history blogger — I shared my tremendous sense of validation to be recognized by my peers in this way.

Blogging challenge

And now I am heading into my third year of Molly’s Canopy by participating in the April 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge — and a challenge it is, but an satisfying one.

Blogging daily, except Sundays, has allowed me to share shorter, single posts about individual relatives, research techniques, past discoveries and the joy of the search on the theme Ancestors From A to Z.

And I am meeting so many wonderful bloggers in the process — family historians; genealogists; writers of narrative and memoir, and other fellow travelers who show up at the page (or screen) and write passionately about the subjects that move them.

How wonderful to have them along as I celebrate Two Years: Second Blogiversary — joining my loyal readers who have accompanied me from the beginning — to usher me into year three.

Thank you all for making my family history journey so much more enjoyable!

Up next: Undergarments and Aunt Kate. Please stop back.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Quotes: Letting ancestors speak

Letter Q: Seventeenth of twenty-six posts in the April 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Wish me luck and please join me on the journey!

Quotes from relatives and ancestors enrich a family history story more fully that mere description. Letting our ancestors and relatives speak for themselves — through something they said or something they wrote — truly enlivens a family narrative.

Modern rendition of the letter Q. Quotes from ancestors, relatives or contemporaries can add depth to family history narratives and enliven events that shaped ancestors’ lives. By: Tibor Hegewisch

The voice and personality of my paternal grandmother Mary Frances (Owen) Charboneau made its way into A holiday gift: My grandmother’s voice through entries from her diary.

Because she died when I was very young, I barely knew her. But inheriting my grandmother’s diary allowed me to get acquainted with her — and to let her tell parts of her own story through quotes from her journal.

My maternal grandmother’s younger sister — my mom’s Aunt Margaret (Stoutner) Rothbell — told me the story about my grandparents’ secret meetings as they waited for the chance to elope. Aunt Margaret was an eyewitness to that family drama, so I quoted her rendition in A Valentine’s Day love story: My grandmother elopes.

Then there are my Uncle Fred’s letters (he was one of my dad’s brothers) written to my paternal grandmother during World War II — expressing in his own words a longing for home during the holidays.

Quotes from contemporaries can also animate a family history story. Such as the reactions of friends and co-workers in “You’re going where?” when I told them I was headed to a U.S. Civil War reenactment. Or the initial communications from my Dempsey cousins in Shamrocks and Shared Heritage.

Do you have quotable ancestors, relatives or friends? Have you interviewed any of them? Inherited letters or other writings? Bringing them onstage can add depth to your narratives and enliven the events that shaped your ancestors lives.

Up next: Research, repositories and relaxation. Please stop back.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Oneonta: City of surprises

Letter O: Fifteenth of twenty-six posts in the April 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Wish me luck and please join me on the journey!

When I was growing up, Oneonta in Otsego County, N.Y. was a place my family passed through on weekend road trips. The city marked the halfway point as we drove along Route 7 between our home near Binghamton, Broome County, N.Y. and my maternal grandparents’ farmhouse in Altamont, Albany County, N.Y.

Oneonta Normal School graduate Elizabeth Christina Stoutner. My maternal grandmother attended college in Oneonta, Otsego County, N.Y., and may have eloped from there to marry my grandfather in 1924. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Just about the time that my two younger brothers, two younger sisters and I were getting tired of sing alongs and road games, Oneonta would appear before us. This meant a welcome stop for lunch and curly fries at the Pink Pig, maybe some ice cream at Carroll’s and a chance to run around a bit.

When heading northeast, my dad — who was all about short cuts — would make a left turn just before we hit traffic on Main Street and drive uphill, then turn right and pass south of Oneonta State, then another right and back down to Route 7 for our lunch stop. Dad would reverse this maneuver on our trip home.

We did this for years as a family — but we were always preoccupied with getting to our destination. So imagine my surprise when I found an ancestral connection to Oneonta, which until then had been a mere stopover in our lives.

My grandmother’s college years

Mom told us that her mother Elizabeth Christina (Stoutner) Laurence went to college. Sorting through yearbooks and other materials inherited from my maternal grandmother, I discovered that she attended the Oneonta Normal School (now the State University of New York at Oneonta or “Oneonta State”).

The Oneonta Normal School was founded in 1889 as part of a statewide effort to expand public education and train teachers — among them my grandmother, who attended in the early 1920s and taught at a schoolhouse near her Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y. home town.

While in college, she  lived on Elm Street near the campus, a side street that we drove right by on Dad’s short cut through Oneonta — though we were oblivious to its significance to our family!

My grandmother elopes

A more dramatic connection to Oneonta involves my maternal grandparents’ marriage — which I wrote about in A Valentine’s Day love story: My grandmother elopes.

Elizabeth’s mother did not want her to marry the boy next door from Gloversville — my Italian-American grandfather Antonio. W. Laurence [Di Lorenzo]. But they continued seeing one another in secret until my grandmother turned 18 and could marry without permission.

Until the day he died, my grandfather Tony carried my grandmother’s calling card in his wallet. On it she had handwritten her Elm Street address in Oneonta,  which is where I suspect he fetched her when they eloped and married in 1924.

Amazing that my family drove blissfully through Oneonta for all those years and never even knew!

Are there places where your family regularly traveled that might hold a secret family connection? Take a closer look. You may be delightfully surprised by what you find.

Up next: Proud to be a family history blogger. Please stop back.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Library research leads

Letter L: Twelfth of twenty-six posts in the April 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Wish me luck and please join me on the journey!

Online family history research is great — but because there are still so few genealogical resources that have been digitized, library research leads continue to play a significant role in my ancestral journey. And that’s fine.
Gloversville Free Library in Fulton Co., N.Y. On a family history visit here with my mom in 1991, we researched our Italian and German ancestors and met a librarian who knew one of our collateral relatives. Photo: Front Page Gloversville

Some of my most valuable clues and evidence have come from libraries — and the wonderful librarians who work there — both on road trips and by phone. Here are just a few examples.

Pictured is the Gloversville Free Library, which my mom and I visited in August 1991 on a family history trip to her home town. There, we consulted city directories that listed our Italian and German ancestors.

Even better, we met a librarian who knew Lucy Edel — a cousin of my great grandmother Celia (Mimm) Stoutner,  who my mom said, “could have been her twin.”

She told us Lucy was a career librarian at the Free Library and was very proud that she earned enough money to buy her own house. Now that’s not a story you will find on the Internet!

My dad and I made a similar trip to his Otter Lake home town in August 1991. At the Irwin Library and Institute in Boonville, Oneida County, N.Y., using an ancient microfilm reader, we found the obituary of our Montréal-born ancestor Laurent Charles Charbonneau — a landmark discovery! Alas, we were not so lucky on that trip learning the name of his spouse.

“His wife? His wife?” Dad fumed when he saw her nameless entry in the list of Laurent’s survivors. “Doesn’t she even get to have her name in the paper?”

Helpful librarians: a phone call away

Calls to libraries have also yielded breakthroughs. The Salamanca Public Library in Cattaraugus County, N.Y., maintains a index of newspaper obituaries. With a phone call to their librarian, I was able to obtain the obituaries of my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull and his mother-in-law, my great, great, great grandmother Hannah (Hance ) Blakeslee.

And when I called a helpful librarian at the Little Falls Public Library in Herkimer County, N.Y., he found and sent me the long-sought-after obituary of my Grand-Uncle Albert B. Charboneau — my paternal grandfather’s brother — who died in the 1918 Influenza Pandemic.

Are there libraries in the towns where your ancestors lived? Check their catalog and resources online, then consider planning a visit to see what genealogical treasures they hold. Not sure where to start? Call their help desk and speak to the librarian. And always send a thank you note, by mail or email, when they help you make a discovery.

Up next: Maps point the way. Please stop back.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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