Tag Archives: Leather tanner

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.

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