Seeking a soldier’s records

Fourth in a series on how I found my Civil War ancestor Arthur Bull.

Not long after the amazing discovery that my ancestor Arthur Bull fought in the Civil War, I found out that the New York Public Library had the Index to Compiled Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served in Organizations From the State of New York on microfilm.

Since I was now living in New York City, one brisk October evening in 1995 I stopped by the library and strolled down the cool, marble corridor to the microfilm room for a look — and there I discovered two more valuable clues.

The New York Public Library, where microfilm research yielded new clues about my ancestor’s Civil War military service. Photo by Jeff Hitchcock

First, I found Arthur’s Union Army service details giving his rank as Private, his military unit as the 6th New York Heavy Artillery, and listing the companies he served in (L, E and F) — a very exciting breakthrough!

Then I checked the General Index to Pension Files 1861-1934, also on microfilm at NYPL — and up popped an image of a card showing that Arthur had filed for a veteran’s pension on 2 July 1880 and his wife Mary E. had filed for a widow’s pension on 28 June 1890.

Incredible! My great, great grandfather Arthur Bull — once one of my least tangible ancestors — was starting to morph into one of my most documented.

I called Dad to share the news and sent him photocopies of the latest finds. They brought us several steps closer to unearthing Arthur’s story — particularly his military history. Now, where to look next?

After a bit more digging, I learned that the National Archives in Washington, D.C. holds military and pension records — and a request could be made through the National Archives in New York City.

Then located off Varick Street in lower Manhattan — with a spectacular cityscape view — the NARA NYC office became a new locus for my research. With help from archives staff, I sent off a request in December 1995  for copies of veterans records from Arthur’s pension file.

Awaiting a reply, I paused to reflect. Had it really been just four months since I found out I had a Civil War ancestor?  What would the National Archives send back? And where would it take me in the search for my ancestor’s story?

Two months later, a packet of documents arrived.

To be continued.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved. 

 

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The tiny road map

Third in a series on how I found my Civil War ancestor Arthur Bull.

Sometimes in genealogy research the tiniest scrap of paper transforms into a road map that guides you to your ancestor’s history.

That’s what happened with the little bit of evidence I received about my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull from the Susquehanna County Historical Society.

I wrote the society asking about Arthur Bull, his wife Mary (Blakeslee) Bull, and their daughter – my great grandmother Eva Bull, who was likely born in Great Bend, Susquehanna Co., Penna. in the late 1860s before the state kept birth records. A researcher wrote back and sent the next clue:

SCHS Index Card A Bull marriage_4
The tiny road map. This marriage announcement became a tiny road map that led to important discoveries about my U.S. Civil War ancestor Arthur Bull. Photo by Molly Charboneau

“I am enclosing the marriage announcement for Mary and Arthur from our card files. It states that she was from Brookdale, which is part of Liberty township.

“Liberty is located on the New York State border. It is right next to Corbettsville, which is part of Conklin, N.Y.”

An index card? It doesn’t get much smaller than that.

But it was packed with information about my great, great grandparents — the date of their marriage, their geographical location on either side of the New York-Pennsylvania border, even Arthur’s political affiliation.

I got on the phone to my dad, Norm Charboneau, to schedule another road trip together — to Binghamton, Broome Co., N.Y. where the public library held abundant records about nearby Corbettsville in the Town of Conklin. So off we went, index card in hand.

I have written on this blog about The little check mark in Arthur’s 1865 New York State Census entry that Dad and I discovered on that trip — which delivered the astonishing news that we had a Civil War soldier in the family.

The tiny road map had done its work by leading us to this landmark find — the starting point of a new journey  to unearth the details of Arthur’s military history.

Where to begin the next phase of the search? This time, closer to home. It turned out that several important clues awaited discovery just a subway ride away from where I now lived in New York City.

To be continued.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved. 

 

 

 

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A Great Bend birthplace

Second in a series on how I found my Civil War ancestor Arthur Bull.

In 1992, I made a road with my dad, Norm Charboneau, to Oneida County, N.Y. mainly focused on our Charboneau ancestors.

Since we were in the neighborhood, we stopped in Lowville, Lewis County, N.Y. to see if we could find anything on our elusive ancestor Arthur Bull, who once lived with his family in nearby Lyonsdale.

An 1872 map showing Great Bend, Susquehanna County, Penna., the birthplace of Eva Bull. Digital image from Dave Rumsey Map Collection.
An 1872 map showing Great Bend, Susquehanna Co., Penna.(upper right) — the birthplace of Arthur’s daughter, Eva Bull. Click on map to enlarge. Image: David Rumsey Map Collection.

Alas, we couldn’t even get in the door at the clerk’s office. It was swamped by locals seeking property maps related to New York State’s recently-passed Freshwater Wetlands Act.

Sigh. I tucked my copy of Arthur Bull’s 1880 U.S. Census entry back in my bag — a mystery to be solved another day.

Fast forward to 1993. Dad and I were on the road again, headed to Dolgeville, Herkimer Co., N.Y., the adult hometown of my great grandmother Eva Bull — Arthur’s daughter — and her husband Will Charboneau.

This time there was no crowd at the clerk’s office, and we left with many valuable documents — including a verified transcript of Eva’s 1941 death certificate indicating she was born in Great Bend, Susquehanna Co., Penna., and giving the maiden name of her mother, Mary Blakeslee.

We now had two new clues in the search for Arthur Bull! Next question: How to follow up?

After our trip, I found the Susquehanna County Historical Society and wrote to them requesting research help. (That’s right, snail mail. Remember, this was before the Internet.)

I included a copy of the 1880 U.S. Census entry for the Bull family and provided the new information from Eva’s death certificate — then I sat back and waited for a response.

Soon enough, the next clue arrived.

To be continued.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved. 

 

 

 

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The Lyonsdale lead

First in a series on how I found my Civil War ancestor Arthur Bull.

The quest to find my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull began almost by accident in the early 1990s when I was living in Washington, D.C.

I was telling an out-of-town friend about my recent, exciting discovery on a trip to Montreal — the 1832 baptismal record of my great, great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau.

“You know, you have the National Archives there in D.C.,” she said. “You could look up some of your other ancestors in the U.S. Census. The records are open after 72 years.”

The National Archives and Records Administration building in Washington, D.C. Photo by mrgarethm

Seriously? I was totally new to genealogy then. This was too good to be true!

So one night after work, I took the Metro over to the National Archives and Records Administration and stepped through a towering door into a wonderland of family history research.

In those pre-Internet days, I began by watching NARA’s video “Reeling Through History” about how to create a soundex code of my ancestors’ surnames to find them in an index, and from there in the census. Then I’d pull rolls of microfilm from endless cabinets lining the walls and load them into a reader.

The hunt for my Bull ancestors started where many searches do with the fully indexed 1880 U.S. Census — the first to show relationships to the head of household. From my dad, Norm Charboneau, I knew the maiden name of my great grandmother Eva Bull. I was thrilled when I located her family in Lyonsdale, Lewis Co., N.Y.

And there, in that hushed NARA research room, was where I first met Eva’s parents — my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull, 46, a tannery foreman, and my great, great grandmother Mary E., 41, who was keeping house. When the census taker called on 28 June 1880, they had eight children living at home — four daughters and four sons.

I wanted to learn more, and would drop by the archives on free nights to continue researching the Bulls — but to no avail. I had hit my first brick wall.

One lead from the 1880 census proved invaluable, though: Eva was their only child born in Pennsylvania. And a road trip with my dad to her adult hometown yielded the next breakthrough in finding Arthur Bull.

To be continued.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved. 

 

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Prescription potions

Civil War doctors used an arsenal of medical weapons to battle illness and injury among the troops. Wielding a pharmacopoeia of odd-sounding remedies – such as iodide of potassium, acetate of potash, Fowler’s solution, wine of colchicum and syrup of sarsaparilla – they treated the chronic rheumatism that afflicted my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull.

A collection of Civil War era medicines. Photo by Raymond Bryson

Opiates were given for pain. Morphia was administered at bedtime to aid sleep. Irritant lotions, warming plasters and carded cotton wrapped in oiled silk – even arnica, which is still used today – were applied externally to affected joints.

For my great, great grandfather’s irritable heart, doctors brandished other medicines – digitalis, aconite, veratrum viride and belladonna – to lower and steady the pulse, reduce the force of the heart, calm cardiac irritability, reduce pain and restore regular heartbeat.

These were the days before modern medicine. The Medical and Surgical History of the War of Rebellion sums it up:

“Rest constituted the essential of treatment; tonics and diet the adjuvants.”

Hence Arthur’s two-month stay at De Camp General Hospital in July and August 1864 – where his prescription potions were compounded onsite and his diet followed the recommendations of The Hospital Steward’s Manual (1863). 

My dad, who was all about the food on our genealogy road trips, would totally identify with our ancestor’s full diet. It reads like the basic meat, fish, potatoes and vegetables, with coffee or tea, that Dad consumed all his life — with fruit or jams donated by local communities rounding out the hospital fare.

And the thoughtful writer of the Steward’s Manual deserves accolades for including this balm for Arthur and the other patients:

“It is believed by the author of this work that a pint of some mild malt liquor might advantageously, and without too great expense, be added to the dinner of a general hospital in most localities.”

Now that Arthur is resting and recuperating until his September 1864 return to the Civil War battlefields, I have time to answer the questions many of you have asked: How did I find my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull in the first place? And what did it take to unearth his Civil War history?

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved. 

 

 

 

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