Tag Archives: Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull

First Blogiversary: A one-gun salute

Today is the First Blogiversary of Molly’s Canopy — the family history blog that I launched on 24 April 2014 to begin sharing the stories of my ancestors and the roads I traveled to find them.

August 2014: Union artillery reenactors. Consider this a one-gun salute on the First Blogiversary of Molly's Canopy -- 24 April 2015. Photo: Molly Charboneau
August 2014: Union artillery reenactors on Governors Island, N.Y. Consider this a one-gun salute on the First Blogiversary of my family history blog Molly’s Canopy. Photo: Molly Charboneau

In weekly posts for the past year, I have primarily chronicled the Civil War experience of my paternal great, great, grandfather Union Pvt. Arthur Bull of the 6th N.Y. Heavy Artillery.

So it seems fitting to celebrate the First Blogiversary of Molly’s Canopy with a one-gun salute by Union artillery reenactors.

This blog came to life amid the boom of cannon at my first Civil War reenactment — the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Saunders Field where my ancestor fought.

And out of that illuminating cloud of gun smoke marched ancestors who have waited patiently for years in my research files — advancing, at last, to tell their stories.

First came my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull who — despite war-related illness — was on duty for key battles of the U.S. Civil War during the 1864 Overland and Shenandoah Valley campaigns.

Soon, others joined him. Arthur’s wife, my great, great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, their children and extended family. His 6th N.Y.H.A. commanding officer Bvt. Brig. Gen. J. Howard Kitching and fellow artillerists Capt. John Gedney, Sgt. William Thistleton and Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds — whose writings helped animate Arthur’s wartime experience.

Then my late dad Norm Charboneau, a WWII Navy veteran, who traveled with me on many genealogy research trips and helped me discover Arthur’s story — along with numerous valuable clues about our other mutual ancestors.

Next was my Uncle Fred, dad’s youngest brother, whose letters home from his WW II Army assignment give insights into their family life — and Aunt Gig who gave his letters to Dad.

And most recently, my paternal Irish great, great grandparents Katherine and William Patrick Dempsey and family during their years in Civil War Baltimore, Md.

For the past year this blog has taken me on an incredible, almost magical, journey back through time — as I connected my ancestors to the places and circumstances in which they lived,  the great historic events that shaped their lives, and their unique position in the evolution of my family.

Writing my ancestors’ stories also reconnected me in ways I would not have imagined with my decades of genealogy research. The process helped me identify and evaluate unexamined details in my family history files — and pointed me toward new avenues of research and discovery.

Today, as I celebrate the First Blogiversary of Molly’s Canopy and the beloved ancestors who made it possible, I am so grateful that I went looking  for them all those years ago. They have taught me a lot during the past year — and the journey is far from over.

Tomorrow begins year two, during which new ancestors will make themselves known. My heartfelt thanks to readers of Molly’s Canopy who have hung in with me this past year. And a warm welcome to new readers — I hope you will subscribe and join me on the journey.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1865: The Dempsey twins are born

Second of three posts on my Dempsey ancestors in Civil War Baltimore.

During the final months of the U.S. Civil War, my Irish immigrant great, great grandparents William Patrick and Katherine Dempsey welcomed two additions to their large family in Baltimore, Maryland.

http://www.loc.gov/item/75694535/
Baltimore, Md. (1869). At the junction of Lanvale St. and Fremont Ave., shown above, my Irish great, great grandparents Katherine and William Patrick Dempsey, a blacksmith, lived at 2 Webster Alley in the wooded area to the right. Lafayette Square is shown at center. Image: Library of Congress.

On 28 Feb. 1865, Katherine gave birth to twin daughters — my great grandmother Elizabeth C. Dempsey and her sister Margaret M. “Maggie” Dempsey.

What was life like 150 years ago for my Irish ancestors in the city of more than 200,000?

The Dempsey family

According to Baltimore City Directories, from 1870 to 1886 William Dempsey, a blacksmith, lived at 2 Webster Alley — a typical location for working class housing behind the main-street buildings.

The list of Dempsey family members in the 1870 U.S. Census for Ward 8 of Baltimore City, Baltimore Co., Md., gives a rough idea of who might have lived in the household five years earlier — parents Katherine and William; sons Thomas, John and William; and a daughter Mary. The birth of the twins, Elizabeth and Maggie, would have brought that total to eight.

Unlike in the 1860 U.S. Census, when my great, great grandfather William declared a personal estate worth $40 (about $1,170 today), there is no dollar figure next to his name in 1870 — implying that the family was just making ends meet.

Oldest son Patrick, and younger sons James and Andrew — from the 1860 census — are not listed in the Dempsey household in 1870 . I can’t rule out a census-taking error. Yet their absence suggests an evolving family that may have weathered loss and heartbreak.

The wider community

When my Dempsey ancestors were first enumerated in the 1860 federal census, Maryland was a slave state. But there were many free African Americans residing in Baltimore — some of whom also lived and worked in the city’s alleys.

German and Irish immigrants swelled the city in the pre-war years — with the Irish-born population peaking in 1860 at more than 15,500.  The Catholic Church and the Hibernian Society — formed in 1803 to aid Irish immigrants — provided a social framework and support system that likely benefited my Dempsey ancestors.

Lafayette Square near the Dempsey home became Camp Hoffman, the 3rd Maryland Infantry’s barracks during the Civil War — a Union Army encampment where Northern troops recuperated from such hard-fought battles as Antietam and Gettysburg.

My ancestors probably grew accustomed to the sounds of Union soldiers marching and drilling, and the clomp of military horses along the pavement.

Which makes me wonder: As a blacksmith, did my great, great grandfather William do metal work for the Union Army? Or shoe their mules and horses?

More on my Dempsey ancestors in Civil War Baltimore in the next post.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Battlefield birthday

During October 1864, while he was stationed in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley with the 6th New York Heavy Artillery, my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull marked a special, personal event — his 30th birthday.

He was still young by today’s standards, but closer to middle age in those days when average life expectancy for white men was just over 40  years of age.

Since I did not inherit any of his correspondence, I can only imagine how my great, great grandfather felt to be spending his birthday on the battlefield so far from home and family.

Aug. 2014: Union encampment on Governors Island, N.Y.
Aug. 2014: Union encampment on Governors Island, N.Y. In October 1864, my ancestor marked his birthday on the battlefield far from home and family. Photo by Molly Charboneau

From my research, I know that Arthur was married and the father of three small children when he enlisted. So he may have felt much like his fellow soldier Pvt. Orson L. Reynolds did when he wrote this to his wife:

9 Oct. 1864: A soldier in the army has no intimation of what is to take place one hour hence. He is liable to be ordered away at any time….I think of you and the children often and hope that I may see you all again.

28 Oct. 1864: I can assure you that I miss the society of my wife and children very much and that there is none in this world that I prize so much. I hope all is for the best and that I shall yet return.

Through postal service to the front, Union soldiers received gifts from home — hand-made clothing, baked goods and the like. So his wife, my great, great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, and other family members may have sent him something.

He would also have enjoyed the camaraderie of his fellow soldiers to cheer him on his special day — which came during a month of victory and high spirits for the Union Army.

I think of Arthur there in the Shenandoah Valley with a sense admiration and affection — a young man fighting for higher ideals and celebrating his birthday on the battlefield 150 years ago.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

 

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Pension file epiphany

Sixth and last in a series on how I found my Civil War ancestor Arthur Bull.

More than a century ago my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull applied for a Civil War pension. He later requested increases as his health and his ability to work declined. After his death, his wife Mary E. applied for widow’s benefits.

Pension Records
Some documents from the Civil War pension file of my ancestor, Union Pvt. Arthur Bull. Photo by Molly Charboneau.

Their applications, along with supporting documents, sat tucked away in a file at the National Archives for five generations. There they remained — mute testimony to Arthur’s life and his family’s — until the day I arrived and asked to see them.

Beneath the vaulted ceiling of the Research Room, I followed the procedures for accessing Arthur’s pension file. Sunlight filtered in through tall, paned windows gently illuminating the table where I waited.

When the archival folder was finally delivered, I caught my breath as I opened it. Inside were original documents my ancestors had actually touched, filled in, dictated and signed.

I carefully leafed through page after page of delicate records — medical reports, military service details, affidavits from family members, rejections and reapplications for an invalid pension, widow’s pension paperwork.

Here at last was the story of my ancestor’s Civil War years. But even more, here was the story of my own family and our direct connection to the fabric of U.S. history – a legacy once lost to us, but now restored.

What if I hadn’t searched for my ancestor? Would Arthur and Mary’s story have languished and been forgotten? And how would future generations learn about the family stories I was collecting?

I photocopied the documents to bring home with me. They were my steady companions for several years as I tracked Arthur’s movements with his military unit and fleshed out the lives of my Bull ancestors. Those precious papers provided evidence that I am still learning from and sharing on this blog.

Looking back, I realize that holding Arthur’s pension file in my hands also marked an epiphany in my genealogy research, a subtle turning point after which my quest for names, dates and evidence broadened into a search for narrative — a way of resurrecting my ancestors through story so future generations could meet and get to know them.

Now it is September. The days grow shorter, the air cooler and the leaves begin to color and fall – much as they did in 1864 when Union Pvt. Arthur Bull was sufficiently recuperated to return to active duty on the defenses of Washington, D.C.

That is where we will meet up with my  great, great grandfather again as his Civil War saga continues.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved. 

 

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An enlightening envelope

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

In early February 1996, I opened my mailbox to discover an envelope from the National Archives and Records Administration.

“At last!” I thought. I had waited two months for copies of documents from the pension file of my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull.

NARA Pension Info
This pension document sent by the National Archives identified a new residence for Arthur Bull. Photo by Molly Charboneau

Carefully unsealing the envelope, I took out the papers — eight pages in all — and studied each new nugget of information about my great, great grandfather and his family.

The first document was pure gold: an 1883 report from the War Department Adjutant General’s office listing Private Arthur Bull’s presence, or absence due to illness, during his Civil War service with 6th New York Heavy Artillery.

There was also an 1888 declaration, completed when Arthur applied for a pension increase due to war-related debility, giving his residence as Salamanca, Cattaraugus County, N. Y. — an entirely new location.

“How did he end up in western New York?” I wondered.

An application for a widow’s pension by Mary E. (Blakeslee) Bull said she married Arthur on 11 August 1856 in Brookdale, Pennsylvania — cornfirming earlier research.  Sadly, she also provided the date of Arthur’s death — 30 January 1890.

A general affidavit signed by Mary in 1890 said she had two children under age 16, both born in Moose River, Lewis County, N.Y. — Alice I. Bull in 1876 and Waples H. Bull in 1878. A “family record is hereto attached,” she said, but there was no copy of it.

Mrs. Carrie A. Graff, identifying herself as “a daughter” of Mary, signed a supporting affidavit saying she was present at the birth of her two young siblings — they were delivered by a midwife who had since passed away.

I spread the contents of the enlightening envelope across my kitchen table and sat back to absorb their message.

They outlined Arthur’s Union Army service in the Civil War, his wartime illness, his declining health, and his death at age 56 — leaving Mary a widow with two minor children.

But they also spoke of happier times — my ancestors’ marriage, the growth of their family — as well as their geographic mobility.

Wouldn’t Arthur’s complete Civil War pension file tell me even more? There was only one way to find out. I would have to travel to the National Archives and see it for myself.

To be continued.

© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved. 

 

 
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