Tag Archives: Greene County NY

Tanners in my family tree

While hunting for the birth place of my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull I discovered that, not only do I have Catskill Mountains heritage — but I also have at least two generations of tanners in my family tree.

My ancestor Arthur Bull with his family of origin in the 1855 NYS Census for Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y.
My ancestor Arthur Bull with his family of origin in the 1855 NYS Census for Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y. (listed as A.T. Bull on line 13). The Bulls had been in Conklin only a year, and Arthur, his father Jeremiah and brother Milo were all tanners — a common occupation in the Catskills area where they likely resided until at least 1840. Screen shot by Molly Charboneau

How do I know this? From the general evidence provided by the Bull family’s enumeration in the 1855 New York State Census for Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. — which helps elucidate Arthur’s early life.

First, the census entry indicates that Arthur, his parents and siblings were relatively new arrivals to Conklin that year — judging by the number 1 appearing in the column “Years resided in this city or town.”

Next, all the Bulls are listed with Schoharie or Greene County birthplaces, including the  youngest child M. E. [Mary Elizabeth] Bull, 15, who was born in Greene County, N.Y. This information appears to place the family in the vicinity of the Catskills until at least 1840.

Finally, in the column for “Profession, trade or occupation,” Arthur, his father Jeremiah, and his brother Milo were all listed as “Tanner” — a common leather-producing job in the Catskill Mountains area of New York State since the early 1800s.

Alas, the census taker did not put the usual occupation of “keeping house” beside the entry for my great, great grandmother Mary — Jeremiah’s wife and Arthur’s mother.

But for now we can assume that was how she was occupied on a daily basis — and that some time after 1840 she rose to the challenge of relocating her family from Greene County to Broome County, N.Y., with all of the logistics such a move entailed.

So my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull likely spent his childhood and adolescence in the vicinity of his birthplace (in either Greene or Schoharie counties) — eventually becoming a leather tanner like his father as he reached young adulthood. Then, when he was around 20 years old — about a year before this census was taken — he relocated with his family of origin to New York’s Southern Tier.

What an amazing amount of family history information from just one historic document!

Knowing I have tanners in my family tree raises new questions: How was leather production done in the mid nineteenth century? Was it a robust industry, or one with booms and busts that forced families to move? Were there occupational hazards that may have affected Arthur’s war-related health issues when he went back to this work after his Union Army service during the U.S. Civil War?

The search for answers continues with the next post.

© 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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Windam’s winding border

Third in a series on searching for the birthplace of my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull.

County boundaries in New York State took a while to settle down after the Revolutionary War. As a result of this nineteenth century border wrangling, the elusive birthplace of my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull may have started in one county (Greene) and ended up in another (Schoharie).

http://www.loc.gov/item/2013593222/
Map of Greene County, N.Y., in 1858. The northernmost parts several Greene County towns — indented at the top of this map — were ceded to Schoharie County in 1836. Could this land have included my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull’s birthplace?  Image: Library of Congress

I can almost hear Arthur explaining this anomaly over the course of his lifetime:

“Well, I was born in Greene County, but now the land is part of Schoharie County.”

Thus leaving it up to census takers, town clerks and military personnel to pick one or the other to put on a form as his place of birth.

Of course imagining this is one thing. Finding sufficient evidence to satisfy the genealogical proof standard is quite another.

So I continued consulting historic maps and census records for clues to support the moving-borderline theory in hopes they might ultimately point the way to Arthur’s birth location.

Histories of Greene County, N.Y. —  which was created in 1800 from parts of Albany and Ulster Counties — indicate the county underwent a series of border changes after its founding. But the one that most interested me was the last one on 3 March 1836 — two years after my ancestor’s 1834 birth — when Greene County lost 30 acres of northwest land to neighboring Schoharie County.

Consulting historic maps

This acreage was carved out along an east-west ridge of the Catskill Mountains — and appears as in indent in the upper left of the Greene County map above. The land south of the mountains remained in Greene County, while the land to the north went to Schoharie County. In 1836, the ceded area bordered three Greene County towns:

  • Town of Prattsville (created from northwest Windham in 1833),
  • Town of Windham (which at that time included the the Town of Ashland, shown in yellow), and
  • Town of Durham.

I wondered: Had my ancestor Arthur lived in one of these towns — perhaps in the the ceded area — leading him to claim two counties as his birth place? Maybe census records could help me out.

Looking for census clues

In Schoharie County serendipity, I noted that the 1855 New York State census for Conklin, Broome Co., N.Y., gave the age of Arthur’s younger sister M.E. [Mary Elizabeth] as 15 and her birthplace as Greene County, N.Y. That could place his family of origin in the Catskills area at the time of Mary’s birth in 1840 — a federal census year.

So I searched digitized records of the 1840 U.S. Census for my great, great, great grandfather Jeremiah Bull (Arthur’s dad), and found someone by that name enumerated as the head of a household of six in Greene County’s Town of Windham — one of the towns that gave up land to Schoharie County. Yet if this was Arthur’s family, they were still living in Greene County four years after the 1836 land transfer.

Did this debunk my theory? Or might the Bulls have lived further north at the time of Arthur’s birth? And how could I determine if this actually was Arthur’s family when only the head of household’s name appears on the 1840 census form?

To be continued.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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A Greene County clue

Second in a series on searching for the birthplace of my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull.

Two possible birth locations for my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull — Greene County and Schoharie County, N.Y. — appear on various civil and military documents spanning several decades — a curious phenomenon that I wrote about in last week’s post Schoharie County serendipity.

Naturally, questions spring to mind: Why the fluctuating birthplaces? Did Arthur really not know where he was born? Or is this seeming conundrum actually a promising lead that might help me identify the place of Arthur’s 1834 birth and pinpoint where he spent his early years?

http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47da-f249-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Map of Greene County, N.Y. by cartographer David H. Burr (1829). On 3 March 1836, a northwest portion of Greene County was annexed to neighboring Schoharie County, N.Y. Could my ancestor Arthur Bull have lived in this area as a child?  Map: NYPL Digital Collections 1
In search of answers, I turned to several historic sources — and found my first clue in the 1860 Gazetteer of the State of New York by J.H. French. The  Schoharie County chapter begins:

This county was formed from Albany and Otsego, April 6, 1795. A small part of Greene was annexed in 1836.

This sounded promising. If Arthur’s 1834 birth took place in the portion of Greene County that — two years later — was annexed to Schoharie County, it might explain why these two counties were given interchangeably as his birthplace on various documents over the years.

Next, I looked at a digital version of the New York: Atlas of Historic County Boundaries, which contains a section titled New York: Individual County Chronologies. Scrolling down the list to Greene County, I found the date of the land transfer along with a legislative reference I could follow up on later:

03 Mar 1836  GREENE lost to SCHOHARIE. (N.Y. Laws 1836, 59th sess., ch. 31/p. 33)

So where was this annexed land located? I kept digging, and on the New York: Atlas of Historic County Boundries web page found a digital document with maps of county borderlines and their changes over time.

One Greene County map in this collection clearly shows the land that was ceded to Schoharie County in 1836. Could this be it? Had I found the area where my ancestor Arthur Bull was born?

To be continued.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Footnotes

  1. Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library. “Map of the county of Greene” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed August 17, 2015. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47da-f249-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Schoharie County serendipity

First in a series on searching for the birthplace of my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull.

Lately when I fill a glass with New York City tap water, I marvel at a serendipitous connection to my family heritage — for a portion of my city’s drinking water comes from the upstate Schoharie Reservoir near where my paternal great, great grandfather Arthur Bull was born in 1834.

http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nyschoha/map1895.html
Map of Schoharie, Greene and Delaware Co., N.Y.(1895). Preliminary family history research suggests my ancestor Arthur Bull was born in the area at the northern edge of the Catskill Mountains where these three counties meet. Image: Rootsweb

This water source is located at the northern edge of the Catskill Mountains, where Schoharie, Greene and Delaware Counties meet.The reservoir was created in the 1920s, requiring the village of Gilboa — its remnants still visible during droughts — to be moved to the west to make room.

My preliminary family history research suggests my ancestor Arthur was born in this general vicinity. The question is: Where?

Nine years before he joined the Union Army, Arthur, 21, was enumerated with his parents and two younger siblings in the 1855 New York State census for Conklin, Broome County, N.Y. 1 — a census that asked what county each person was born in.

Arthur’s birthplace was given as Greene County, N.Y. — the same birth location as his mother Mary, 46, his brother Milo, 19, and his sister M.E. [Mary Elizabeth], 15. Only his father Jeremiah Bull, 52, was enumerated with a Schoharie County, N.Y., birthplace.

Yet other sources — such as the New York, Civil War Muster Roll Abstracts, 1861-1900  — give Arthur’s birthplace as Schoharie County, N.Y.

Schoharie County’s name comes from a Mohawk word for driftwood — and that certainly seems to apply to Arthur’s birth location, which floats back and forth between the two Empire State counties over several decades depending on which records I reference.

Here is the genealogy challenge: How to account for this? And how to resolve it so I can determine where to search for more definitive primary records to verify Arthur’s date of birth and illuminate his childhood years?

My research trail through the Catskills begins with the next post.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Footnotes

  1. 1855 New York State census, Broome County, N.Y., population schedule, Town of Conklin, p. 2, enumeration district (ED) 2 , swelling 9, family 11, line 13, A.T. Bull; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://interactive.ancestry.com/7181/005207111_00358?pid=1654594523&backurl=http%3a%2f%2fsearch.ancestry.com%2f%2fcgi-bin%2fsse.dll%3fdb%3dGeneral-7181%26indiv%3dtry%26h%3d1654594523&treeid=&personid=&hintid=&usePUB=true : accessed 13 Aug 2015); citing Census of the state of New York, for 1855. Microfilm. New York State Archives, Albany, New York.