Tag Archives: Norman J. Charboneau

Moose River and Otter Lake

When Dad and I made our first family history trip together in August 1992, we knew next to nothing about the family of our ancestor Arthur Bull — the father of Eva (Bull) Charboneau, my dad’s paternal grandmother. In fact, we didn’t even know he had fought with the Union Army in the U.S. Civil War.

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Aug. 1992: Norman J. Charboneau in his Otter Lake home town. Dad is standing at the edge of Otter Lake, in Town of Forestport, Oneida Co., N.Y., during our first family history trip together. The group of pines in the background was planted decades before by my grandfather, William Ray Charboneau. Photo by Molly Charboneau

All we had in hand was a copy of the 1880 U.S. Census showing that the Bull family, with Arthur at its head, lived in the Town of Lyondsale, Lewis County, N.Y. where he worked as a tannery foreman.

One of our goals, besides visiting where Dad grew up, was to find out more about Arthur and our other Bull ancestors. And it was on that trip that I first saw Moose River.

Driving north on Route 28, Dad initially passed right through his hometown of Otter Lake (in Town of Forestport, Oneida Co., N.Y.) because — as official tour guide for the trip — he wanted to start our journey at the old McKeever train station.

Dad pulled the car onto a sun dappled forest ledge with a clear view of the vacant station below — a lovely building that is now a renovated stop on the Adirondack Scenic Railroad. There, he gave me a lively rundown on how McKeever bustled with passengers during his youth.

Then the problem arose of how to get the car off the overlook and back onto the road — and I was suddenly transported back to my childhood and our family road trips with Dad behind the wheel.

He nearly pitched us over the edge trying to do a k-turn in the narrow space — his face reddening by the minute. Glancing over the precipice, I had a fleeting thought that our family history trip might end right there.

But much like the dodgy car maneuvers I remembered from years before, Dad somehow managed to turn the car and, sending an avalanche of dirt from the soft shoulder down toward the station below, headed us safely south to Otter Lake.

First view of Moose River

Back on the road, Dad calmed down and at one point cocked his head and said, “That’s Moose River over there.” I looked out the window at the narrow river, with its gravelly shoreline bordered by trees and no evidence of habitation or industry. It seemed like a place that time forgot, yet it was still touched by world events.

“My mother was riding in the car heading north from Moose River to Otter Lake when she heard the start of World War II announced on the radio,” Dad added, another of the spontaneous tidbits he regularly shared about my paternal grandmother.

Because of his brief comment, Moose River stuck in my mind — and the memory came back when I later discovered that Arthur Bull and his family once lived in Moose River Settlement.

“Exactly how close was it to Otter Lake?” I wondered. And I was very surprised by what I found when I went looking for historic maps.

More in the next post.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Broome County bride

Third in a series tracking my ancestor Arthur Bull’s family from the Catskills to the Adirondack foothills (1870-1875).

Pecking away at the family history of our Bull ancestors was a vacation ritual I shared with my dad, Norm Charboneau — and sometimes it yielded valuable information about the family of our Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull.

http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-f264-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Ahlborn’s Bridal Dress (1875). On a family history research outing, my dad and I found info about the Binghamton, N.Y., marriage of Arthur Bull’s oldest daughter Emma E. to Stephen E. Watson on Oct. 11, 1874 — placing the Bulls in Broome County that year. By: NYPL Digital Collections

Like the time in May 1997, during one of my visits, when my Dad and I ventured out on a research day together at the Onondaga County Public Library Local History and Genealogy Room in Syracuse, N.Y.

That’s where Dad and I first saw a copy of Genealogical gleanings from early Broome County, New York newspapers (1812-1880) abstracted and compiled by Maurice R. Hitt, Jr. and realized it contained loads of folks with the Bull surname.

Not yet clear on who was who, we decided to photocopy the lot. This meant using Dad’s library card and having the staff mail him the photocopies to forward on to me.

As we filled out the required paperwork at the front desk and paid for the copies and postage, Dad pursed his lips and shot me the look my youngest sister calls the “Charbo-smirk.”  A couple of weeks later he sent his commentary with the materials:

Well, here is the info we finally pried out of the library. Dad

I had to laugh when I again saw his wry, handwritten note in my files — stuck to a stack of photocopies containing a clue about a Broome County bride that we discovered together nearly 20 years ago.

A Broome County bride

And it has indeed turned out to be a valuable lead regarding the Empire State meanderings of our Bull ancestors. Specifically, the following abstract from a Broome Republican announcement of the Oct. 11, 1874, marriage of Arthur and Mary’s oldest daughter Emma to Stephen E. Watson:

WATSON, Stephen E. [BR, 21 Oct., 1874] Marr. 11 inst. At the home of the bride’s father in the town of Binghamton by Rev. A.M. Brown: Stephen E. Watson to Emma E. Bull, both of Binghamton.

Wait…at the home of the bride’s father in Binghamton, Broome County, N.Y.?

That had to be my great, great grandfather Arthur Bull’s home. Which meant he and Mary — and their family — made one more stopover in the Southern Tier between the 1873 birth of their son William and their 1875 arrival in the North Country.

Perhaps they were once again trying to make a go if it closer to their Binghamton, N.Y., family. Maybe it wasn’t until later that they were lured north by better job prospects for Arthur. Hard to know for sure.

But either way, it’s been a fun having my dad along again in spirit on the Bull family research journey.

To be continued.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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A holiday gift: My grandmother’s voice

My parents named me after my paternal grandmother Mary Frances (Owen) Charboneau, whose nickname was “Molly.” A large Welsh-Irish woman from Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Md., she stood over six feet tall — as did her many sisters.

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My Welsh-Irish paternal grandmother Mary Frances (Owen) Charboneau in the early years of her marriage (circa 1910). I met her in the 1950s when I was a toddler, but did not get to know her until I inherited her diary. Scan by: Molly Charboneau

According to my dad, she met my grandfather, William Raymond Charboneau — who went by “Ray” — while she was working as a nanny for a Baltimore family that spent summers in the Adirondacks.

In those days before supermarkets, my grandfather delivered groceries to their house. My grandmother answered the door — and before you know it she had turned her back on the hot, teeming city for the handsome young man from Forestport, Oneida County, N.Y.

My dad’s recollections

I met Grandma Charboneau when I was a toddler — and still retain a vague image of her towering figure descending the central staircase during a visit to our farm in Albany County, N.Y. To my great regret,  she died when I was just 4, so I never really go to know her except through my dad’s sporadic recollections.

“My mother used to say if she could operate a sewing machine, she ought to be able to drive a car,” Dad would declare out of the blue — a prelude to a tale about her frustration that she never did get behind the wheel.

I could sense her presence in these fleeting anecdotes — animated by my dad’s sense of humor, which he picked up from her. (How I wish I had jotted some of those anecdotes down!) But it was not until I inherited her diary that I first heard my paternal grandmother’s voice.

Grandma Charboneau’s diary

In 1933,  Grandma Charboneau received a leather-covered Five-Year Diary — complete with a lock and key — as a holiday gift from her middle son. “Hubert gave me this diary for Xmas. Wet & cold today,” she wrote on 1 January 1934.

Family photo of the Ray and Molly (Owen) Charboneau Christmas tree, in the cottage at Otter Lake, Oneida, N.Y. (1942). Scan: Molly Charboneau
December 1942: Christmas tree in the cottage of Ray and Mary Charboneau in Otter Lake, Oneida Co., N.Y. My grandparents and their sons lived in this small, lakeside cottage when the Otter Lake Hotel they owned and operated was closed for the winter. Photo by Norman J. Charboneau

Dad told me Grandma C. was a great storyteller. But like most diarists just starting out, she seemed unsure what to put down when faced with the blank page.

So her early entries pretty much catalog the weather — and some bitter cold weather it was up there in New York’s North Country.

But by the time the 1934 holiday season rolled around, my grandmother, 45, had warmed to the task of expressing herself and reflecting in small snippets on her life and her family members who still lived at home — my Uncles Hube, 19, and Fred, 16; my dad Norman, 9; and my grandfather Ray, 46.

Dec. 22, 1934:  Married 24 years today. Time flies, but we have lots to be thankful for.

Dec. 24, 1934:  Went to midnight mass at Forestport. Then to Desjardins. Had a nice party. Home at 4:30 am. Trimmed the tree before we left. [Her oldest son, my Uncle Owen, was married to Aline “Gig” Desjardins.]

Dec 25, 1934: Didn’t get much sleep. Boys were up at 5:30 am. Had a lovely Christmas. Was well remembered. Chair & clock from R & boys.

Dec. 26, 1934: Can’t hardly get around the place. Christmas tree and presents all over the place. Boys have their toys everywhere.

I particularly love that last entry because I can almost see Grandma Charboneau standing there — hands on her hips — surveying the post-holiday wreckage in the small, lakeside cabin where the family  lived when the Otter Lake Hotel they owned and operated was closed for the winter. And her expression “well remembered” to describe pleasure with her Christmas gifts seemed to hint at her heritage.

My grandmother closed out the old year with one last entry:

Dec. 31, 1934: Fred, Hubert, Norman, Ray and myself had a little New Year’s party. Toasted the New Year with a glass of wine and heard it on [the] radio.

So let’s raise a glass and join them! Happy Holidays to you and yours from Molly’s Canopy — and best wishes for the New Year!

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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My agricultural ancestry

Perhaps because I lived as a child in an 1850s farmhouse on Route 20 in Albany County, N.Y., I take particular interest in the agrarian history of ancestors like my great, great, great grandfather Jeremiah Bull — who in 1860 lived with his family on a farm in Town of Conklin, Broome County, N.Y.

Standing on the porch of our 1850s farmhouse on Route 20 in Albany County, N.Y. (circa 1954). Photo by Norman J. Charboneau
Standing on the porch of our 1850s farmhouse at Whispering Chimneys on Route 20 in Albany County, N.Y. (circa 1954). Perhaps because I lived in farm country until I was seven, I take particular interest in the agrarian history of my ancestors. Photo by Norman J. Charboneau

When I recently discovered Jeremiah’s farm facts, my mind wandered back to the 10-acre farm where I resided in the early 1950s with my parents, maternal grandparents and two younger brothers.

We children absorbed the cycles of nature on the farm — which bore the official name of Whispering Chimneys on a high, swinging metal sign down by the road.

Our family raised only chickens and rented out the hay fields to nearby working farmers — in contrast Jeremiah, whose rural property was productive enough to require a live-in farm hand.

Still, in some ways, his homestead resembled ours. Not a fully working farm, really — since Jeremiah earned his living as a tanner (while my dad worked at General Electric and my mom was a school music teacher). But with a good amount of land — way more than our 10 acres, and sufficient for some working livestock and cultivated fields to provide food and income for his family.

Recalling my formative years at Whispering Chimneys, I conjure up the rush of cool creeks in spring, the taste of tiny wild strawberries in early summer, the warmth of just-laid eggs from the nests in our barn, and the smell of fresh crushed grass in the mouths of the ruminating cows that poked their heads through the fence from the Mennonite farm next door.

I also remember staring in awe at the majestic two-story snow drifts that blew up to the rooftop in winter — when candles were kept ready in case the power went down. And watching white cotton sheets billow skyward in warmer weather on the clothesline that stretched to the stately pines out back.

Of course mine are childhood memories. My dad, who had to deal with practical matters in our drafty farmhouse, took a different view. At age 78, he wrote down his recollections in a third-person story:

A young family came upon one of these mansions and was hypnotized by its ten acres of land, big red barns, and a few tourist cabins. [But] during the first winter they could feel the wind whistling through the walls, and had to fill the walls with poured insulation. It was still so cold that a second furnace was needed to heat the windy west side.

I wonder what Dad would make of having Jeremiah Bull as an agrarian ancestor? He’d probably be pretty amazed at how our early road trips unlocked so much of this family’s history — and how the lives of our ancestors in some ways resembled our own.

What more could I learn about the civilian lives of my Bull forebears during and after the Civil War? The search for answers continues in future posts.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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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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