1906: My fashionable grandmother at age one

Sepia Saturday 384: Piecing together the origins of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s fashion sense.

For as far back as I can remember, my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence was a clothes horse. She followed fashion trends and kept up with the latest in age-appropriate clothing, footwear and accessories.

Me with my stylish grandmother (1950). Even for casual times, like holding me as a baby out on the porch, my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence was always fashionably dressed and accessorized. Photo by Norman J. Charboneau

A 1950 photo from the day that she and I first met in Gloversville, N.Y., shows her stylishly attired with every hair in place.

Not that she spent inordinate sums on her outfits.

Known in our family as Boom from my childhood rendering of Grandma as “Booma,” my grandmother was a serious sales shopper keen to find quality at reduced prices.

To this end, she frequented garment industry company stores once common in her home town and in the Albany Capital District, where she lived when I was growing up.

Fashionable from a young age

My grandmother at age one in winter hat, coat and bows (1906). Scan by Molly Charboneau

I wondered how far back her fashion sense went — then I discovered two photos of Boom taken in 1906 when she was about one year old.

Clearly, her German-American parents started her on a fashion-forward footing at a young age.

In the first photo, my grandmother’s shiny black hair peeks out from beneath a snug little winter hat.

She is posed for the studio photographer in a light, double-breasted fur coat with a Bishop sleeve. Atop her head and at her neck are full, fashionable bows.

A dress with staying power

In the second picture, my grandmother looks very smart in a crisp, white ankle-length dress and patent leather shoes — accessorized with a chain and pendant, a baby ring and a little bracelet.

My grandmother at age one in eyelet dress, patent leather shoes and accessories (1906). Scan by Molly Charboneau

Her dark hair, gathered up at the top, shines even more brightly in this photo.

The dress features an eyelet hem, eyelet detail and gathered sleeves with eyelet cuffs. Vertical stitching adds interest at the yoke, which falls from a lacy neckline.

As I studied the photo, something about the dress seemed familiar — so I took a look in the closet where I store family heirloom garments.

How wonderful to discover this dress among several recently given to me by my younger sister Amy — saved and passed down through four generations.

A textile legacy

My grandmother’s little eyelet dress at 111 yeas old (2017). Photo by Molly Charboneau

My maternal grandmother Liz was big on family and heritage. She set up “baby boxes” for her daughters (my mom Peg and my Aunt Rita).

Then — starting with their baby shoes — she filled each box with important artifacts and documents from their childhoods.

Boom also maintained a huge collection of family photos, passed on by her parents and my grandfather’s family — which she carefully labeled for future generations.

So is it any wonder that she would save her baby dress from that handsome photo?

The cherished outfit was probably tucked away and passed down by her mother — my great grandmother Celia (Mimm) Stoutner. Although ivory with age, my grandmother’s little dress has held together for 111 years.

Could this be the quality garment that started my grandmother Liz on a lifetime of carefully dressing for every occasion? If so, what a wonderful textile legacy.

Up next: My fashionable maternal grandmother at age five. Please stop back.

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1938: A magnanimous Matron of Honor

For Sepia Saturday 383, here is a prequel to Bridesmaids revisisted prompted by a family photo — the story of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s trip down the aisle as Matron of Honor for her younger sister Margaret.

My grandmother stands tall as Matron of Honor (1938). From right: The groom Ralph J. Rothbell, the bride Margaret Catherine Stoutner, the maid of honor Liz (Stoutner) Laurence and the best man, possibly the groom’s brother Spencer Rothbell. Scan of a family photo by Molly Charboneau

On Monday, 6 June 1938 my great-grandmother Celia (Mimm) Stoutner of Gloversville, N.Y., had the pleasure of announcing the upcoming wedding of her youngest daughter Margaret, to Ralph J. Rothbell from nearby Amsterdam.

News of the planned nuptials — made public at a bridge party Celia hosted — made it onto page three of the Gloversville and Johnstown Leader-Republican newspaper the next day.

My great-grandmother was undoubtedly thrilled that she would finally be Mother of the Bride — but I have to wonder what my grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence made of it all.

Headstrong oldest child

My maternal grandmother Liz, born in 1905, was the oldest child of Celia and Andrew P. “Pete” Stoutner, who were both first-generation German-Americans. Her younger brother Andy was born in 1909 and younger sister Margaret came along in 1914.

At age 18, over Celia’s objections, my headstrong grandmother Liz eloped to marry the boy next door — my Italian-American grandfather Antonio W. Laurence.

In A Valentine’s Day love story: My grandmother elopes I described the events leading up to my grandparents’ fateful 1924 trip to Detroit, Michigan, where they united in a marriage that lasted a lifetime.

Healing past rifts

Wedding announcement for Andrew J. Stoutner and Anna Grimm from page 12 of the Gloversville and Johnstown, N.Y., Morning Herald (2 July 1934). Source: Old Fulton New York Postcards

Celia did not get to be Mother of the Bride at that ceremony — but she was the proud Mother of the Groom when her son Andy married Anna Grimm in Gloversville on 30 June 1934.

Small wedding parties were common during the Great Depression and Anna chose her own Matron of Honor — so although my grandmother Liz surely attended Uncle Andy’s ceremony, she was not in the bridal party.

By the time Aunt Margaret’s wedding was announced in 1938, my grandmother had been married for 14 years and had two daughters — my mom Peg (born in 1926) and my Aunt Rita (born in 1929).

Engagement announcement for Margaret Stoutner and Ralph J. Rothbell, from page three of the Gloversville and Johnstown, N.Y., Leader-Republican (7 June 1938). Source: Old Fulton New York Postcards

The success of Liz and Tony’s marriage and the passage of time appear to have healed past rifts over her elopement.

My grandmother magnanimously agreed to be Margaret’s Matron of Honor and finally got to walk down the aisle before friends and family — including her once-disapproving mother — in this valued supporting role.

Holding a large bouquet, Liz stood tall beside her sister Margaret in a photo of the wedding party — and Celia probably felt a mother’s pride to have all of her children married and moving on with their lives.

Up next: My grandmother Liz, at age 1, sports a different kind of white dress. Please stop back.

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1948: Aunt Rita at nineteen

On 31 Oct. 1948, my mom’s younger sister — Rita Mary Laurence –sat down and penned a letter to a family friend, who recently shared a copy with me.

Although it was Halloween night, Aunt Rita must not have greeted the trick-or-treaters because she didn’t  mention any ghouls or goblins in her missive.

Aunt Rita’s college home

Aunt Rita visited us at Whispering Chimneys, our farm in Altamont, N.Y.  (circa 1953). That’s me as a child sitting on my aunt Rita Mary Laurence’s lap. Next to me is my maternal grandmother Elizabeth and in front of her, on the step, is my maternal grandfather Tony. The others are my grandparents’ friends. Scan of a family photo by Molly Charboneau

What she did write provides a window into her life when she was a 19-year-old college student living at 63 Van Schoick Ave. in Albany, New York.

Dear Alicia, What have you been doing for excitement lately???? As you can see from my address, I’ve changed my residence in Albany again. This place is really wonderful — I’m practically one of the family — more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

Training for a medical career

Aunt Rita’s new home was near the college where she was studying to be a blood bank technician. She was clearly excited to be preparing for her professional career.

They’ve really been giving us the business at school this year — I think all the prof’s are going test crazy or at least it seems that way to me.

But truthfully it’s really fun — at the lab we’ve done all kinds of blood tests — we work on each other when we do venipuncture — lose more blood that way — We’ve also fixed, cut , and stained tissue sections for examination…

Wanderlust takes hold

And then came the hint of wanderlust that would send Rita cross-country six years later for a job in San Diego — a move that left my high-strung grandmother beside herself.

Tell your mother to start looking for a job for me — of course I don’t get thru here for 1 1/2 years yet but when I do I don’t want to stay in this next of the woods any longer than necessary — !!!!!!!!!

Alicia’s mother was a childhood friend of my maternal grandmother — Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence — from Gloversville, New York. She had moved miles away to Florida and here was Aunt Rita considering doing the same.

But first — about a month after writing this letter — Rita would stand up as maid of honor at my parents’ November 1948 wedding.

We’ve got everything almost set for Peg’s wedding — I’m to be maid of honor — that should be priceless to say the least — Guess that’s all for now…Write soon — don’t follow my example. Love, Rita.

A precious letter in Rita’s voice

For a few years after college Aunt Rita remained geographically close to our family. She was around for my birth (when she stayed with my mom and dad to help out) and my early childhood, as shown above (when I lived at Whispering Chimneys with my parents and maternal grandparents).

I even remember going with my grandmother to visit Aunt Rita’s basement apartment in Albany when I was little. Used to country living, I was scared by the rickety metal doors on the sidewalk near the corner store — until my grandmother explained they covered stairs to the basement, just like at Dorothy’s farmhouse in Wizard of Oz.

But in 1955, Rita finally made the fateful trip to California, got a job, set up house and never looked back — and my later memories of her are from photos, home movies, family stories, presents at Christmas, and her occasional visits back east.

So the gift of this letter — from a young Aunt Rita in her own voice — is precious indeed.

Up next, one more maid of honor: My maternal grandmother in 1938. Please stop back.

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Bridesmaids revisited #tbt

Lately I have been writing about family reunions and social gatherings — those landmark events that bring together relatives, in-laws and family friends in celebration of life’s special occasions.

So I was delighted when my sister Amy sent me a photo recently of my dad and me at my youngest sister’s wedding 30 years ago — just in time for #throwbackthursday. Dad was the father of the bride and I was maid of honor.

Father of the bride and maid of honor (1987). My dad Norm Charboneau and I share a relaxed moment at my youngest sister’s wedding 30 years ago. Photo by Norma Tagliaferro

Dad, 63,  was still working but preparing for retirement. On the table in front of him, as always, was his trusty camera — evidence of his lifelong passion for photography.

At 37, I was not yet bitten by the genealogy bug — but  I was becoming nostalgic.  On my left wrist I wore a vintage wind-up dress watch my mom gave me — a gift to her from Dad. And my antique necklace resembled the one my mom’s sister, Rita Mary Laurence, wore as maid of honor at my parents’ 1948 wedding.

Meeting extended family

A new family connection took root that day when I met some of my Welsh-Irish collateral relatives for the first time — my dad’s cousin Jane (Owen) Dukovic, her husband Jim and their son John.

Jane is a daughter of Arthur T. Owen, a brother of my paternal grandmother Mary (Owen) Charboneau. I didn’t know it then, but Jane is also the family historian for the Owen-Dempsey branch of the family.

Several years later, when I began doing genealogy research in earnest, Jane’s knowledge, photos and carefully-crafted family trees proved invaluable. And that family connection has continued to grow — as evidenced by the great turnout at a recent reunion of  Dempsey and Owen descendents.

Aunt Rita as maid of honor

The bride and her maid of honor (1948). My aunt Rita Mary Laurence, right, adjusts my mom Peg’s veil before her November 1948 wedding in Gloversville, N.Y. Scan of a family photo by Molly Charboneau

My Aunt Rita was maid of honor for my mother — her only sibling — wearing an aqua gown with matching jewelry. She was 19 and training for a career as a blood bank technician. My mom, Peg, was 22 and working as a music educator.

On 31 Oct. 1948 — shortly before my parents’ wedding — Rita wrote with her usual wry humor about the upcoming nuptials in a letter to a family friend, who was kind enough to send me a copy.

We’ve got everything almost set for Peg’s wedding — I’m to be maid of honor — this should be priceless to say the least.

The happy couple are center stage at a wedding. But supporting cast is also important — at major events, in a family’s history and in life — as captured in this pair of #throwbackthursday photos and the stories behind them.

Up next: Having introduced Aunt Rita’s letter, let’s hear what else she had to say about her life at the time. Please stop back!

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2017: Dempsey-Owen Family Reunion

Giving my paternal grandmother her due, here’s a post about a recent reunion of descendants from her ancestral families.

July 2017: A colorful welcome sign directs Dempsey and Owen cousins to the family reunion in Maryland. Photo: Mary Jentilet

The last post featured a journal entry by my paternal Welsh-Irish grandmother Mary Frances “Molly” (Owen) Charboneau about a 1934 Charboneau Reunion .

So what better time to write about this year’s reunion of descendants of her Dempsey and Owen ancestors?

Ancestral diaspora

My Grandma Charboneau moved to New York State’s Adirondack region from Baltimore, Md., after meeting my grandfather William Ray Charboneau during a summer stay in the North Country.

When they married in 1910 she put down new roots and raised her family in upstate New York. So our Charboneau branch was geographically removed from her large Owen-Dempsey family in Baltimore — a diaspora experienced by other branches of the extended family, too.

Dempsey-Owen Reunion reconnects Welsh and Irish cousins

July 2017: Owen-Dempsey Reunion in Maryland. More than 40 cousins attended the reunion — some of them meeting one another for the first time. Photo: Max

Yet where there is a will to reconnect with family, there is always a way. That’s how the wonderful Owen-Dempsey Reunion drew more than 40 cousins to Maryland in July 2017 — some of them meeting one another for the first time.

The Owen Reunion of cousins descended from my great grandparents Elizabeth C. (Dempsey) and Francis Hugh “Pop” Owen  — Grandma Charboneau’s parents — has been held every few years for some time. My late dad, Norm Charboneau, regularly attended with my mom Peg.

Meanwhile, Molly’s Canopy readers may recall that a Dempsey Cousins Family Research Team — descendants of my great-great grandfather William Patrick Dempsey and his first and second wife, including many Owen cousins — has been connecting and researching together since 2015.

A landmark event

July 2017: Cousins get acquainted. Cousin Barb from the Dempsey Cousins team, center, shares family trees and stories at the Dempsey-Owen reunion in Maryland. Cousin Randy Charboneau, at rear, represented our branch of the family along with his wife Joyce. Photo: Carolyn Dempsey

“What about inviting the Dempsey cousins to this year’s Owen Reunion?” asked cousin Dorene. Cousins Mary and Diane, the reunion organizers, enthusiastically agreed. So that’s what happened — and the group photo captures the landmark event!

Everyone was thrilled to meet their new cousins and reunite with family branches long separated by time and circumstance — and the genealogists and family historians in the group were gratified to find one another and compare notes.

Alas, not all the cousins could make it — so mini-reunions are a possibility for the future. Meanwhile, I can’t help but think how pleased my dad and grandmother would be to see so many branches of their ancestral Dempsey and Owen families uniting once again.

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Growing family trees one leaf (and road trip) at a time