Tag Archives: William Ray Charboneau

Seeking my Dempsey-Owen heritage

First in a March 2017 series about my Irish (Dempsey) and Welsh (Owen) ancestors in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Maryland.

March is here and with it the annual series about my Irish (Dempsey) ancestors in time for St. Patrick’s Day. This year, I will include a bit about my Welsh (Owen) ancestors, too.

Celtic shamrock pattern. NARA cenus research on my Dempsey and Owen ancestors prompted a genealogy road trip to Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Md., to find out more. By: Internet Archive Book Images

The last few years I have written about my Dempsey ancestors in Civil War Baltimore, my great, great grandparents Katherine (Gormley) Dempsey and William Patrick Dempsey the blacksmith and speculated on possible Viking heritage — because William hailed from County Wexford.

Meanwhile, the Dempsey Cousins Family Research Team is now up to 17 descendants, We have made some valuable discoveries together and continue to stay in touch — sharing stories and family history finds as they come our way.

So this year, I thought I would write about how I got started researching my Dempsey and  Owen ancestors — which ultimately led to these wonderful cousin connections. And also what I have learned about my Irish-American great grandmother Elizabeth C. Dempsey and her Welsh husband Francis Hugh Owen — also called Frank and, in his later years, Pop.

The research journey begins

This particular genealogy journey began in the early 1990s, when I lived and worked for several years in Washington, D.C. — home of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

Although I had previously dabbled in family history research, I hadn’t pursued it in a concerted way before moving to D.C. But all that changed when I discovered the baptismal record of a Charbonneau ancestor while vacationing in Montreal — and a friend told me I could find even more genealogy records at NARA.

Seriously? Just a Metro ride away? That’s when I began spending my free evenings and Saturdays at the National Archives!

Armed with two binders — a blue one for my Dad’s side and a red one for my Mom’s side — I poured through the federal census returns looking for any and every ancestor.

What great way to get started! Nearly every NARA visit yielded a new discovery — details I frequently shared with my parents and siblings. So the research strengthened family connections, too — much as it has with my Dempsey cousins.

My mystery ancestors

Pretty soon, my research binders were bursting and my new discoveries less frequent — so I turned to analyzing what I had found. Of particular interest were my Dempsey and Owen ancestors, who were somewhat of a mystery to me.

My paternal grandmother Mary Frances Owen was born 22 March 1889 in Baltimore. The oldest child of Elizabeth C. Dempsey and Frank Owen, she was also a grand-daughter of William Patrick and Katherine (Gormley) Dempsey.

She met my grandfather William Ray Charbonneau in New York’s Adirondack region while working as a nanny for a Baltimore family that summered there.

When they married, she became an “away” descendant, geographically removed from her large Dempsey-Owen family in Baltimore — so I learned little about these ancestors when I was growing up.

A Baltimore road trip? Why not!

However, my NARA research began to provide details about my Welsh-Irish heritage and piqued my interest in finding out more. I only lived about an hour from Baltimore — why not plan a genealogy road trip to visit the houses and neighborhoods where my Dempsey and Owen ancestors once lived?

To be continued. Please stop back!

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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New Year’s Eve 1937: My grandparents in Times Square

I hold a special place in my heart for my ancestors who have spent some time in New York City — my chosen home town — either as residents or visitors. So imagine my delight to discover that my paternal grandparents spent New Year’s Eve 1937 amid throngs of revelers in Times Square.

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Times Square north at night. (1934) My paternal grandparents, Molly and Ray Charboneau, were among the throngs of revelers who gathered here on New Year’s Eve 1937. Photo: Library of Congress

This bit of family news came from entries in the diary of my paternal grandmother — Mary (Owen) Charboneau — describing her 1937-38 holiday trip to New York City with my grandfather Ray.

Throughout the year, my paternal grandparents lived way upstate in sparsely populated Otter Lake, Oneida County, New York.

They operated the Otter Lake Hotel, which bustled with tourists during the warmer months. My grandfather also drove the local school bus during the school year to help make ends meet.

But when winter arrived in the Adirondack foothills, and schools were on break, Ray and Molly (as she was known) had a chance to get away — which is just what they did 79 years ago this week.

A 1937 holiday journey

According to my grandmother’s diary, she and my grandfather left Otter Lake for New York City on 29 Dec. 1937 — which meant they arrived in the city just one week after the Lincoln Tunnel opened to traffic.

Dec. 29, 1937: Left Otter lake for N.Y. Drove to Utica and then took train. Nice weather. No snow. Arrived N.Y. 6:30 pm.

They likely stayed with my grandmother’s sister, Katherine (Owen) Negri — known in our family as Aunt Kate. She always rolled out the welcome mat for relatives, according to various family members who had stayed at her West 78th Street apartment.

I’m sure Aunt Kate, a long-time Manhattan resident, advised my grandparents on what sights to see — because my grandmother cataloged a busy itinerary.

Dec. 30, 1937: Went to Radio City & Music Hall. Very beautiful. N.B.C. very interesting. I like New York.

Dec. 31, 1937: Down-town to see the stores in N.Y. Times Square at night to see Old Year out. What a mob! Never again.

I had to laugh at her mixed review of the huge metropolis, because New York City is exactly that way — much to love and a sparkling jewel at holiday time, but be prepared for the crowds!

A museum, a show and dinner with friends

Nevertheless, my grandparents continued undaunted through two more days of touring  — jamming as much as they could into their brief time in the city before returning to their routines back home.

Jan. 2, 1938: Took in Museum of Natural History. Show at Lowe’s State Theatre. Went to Ed and Kay Unser’s for dinner. Nice time. Rainy.

Jan. 3, 1938: Home again. Very tired, but had a grand time. Hope we can go again soon.

Jan. 4, 1938: School again. Very open winter so far.

In the end, my grandmother gave New York City a good review. And why not? The city undoubtedly gave her great stories to share with friends and family back home — and with the hotel delivery people she liked to sit and chat with over a cup of tea during the long, snowy winter afternoons.

Happy New Year to you and yours from Molly’s Canopy!

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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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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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 Dempsey ancestors in Civil War Baltimore

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

During the U.S. Civil War, Baltimore, Maryland — home of my Irish immigrant great, great grandparents Katherine and William Patrick Dempsey and their family — experienced great political and social ferment.

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Massachusetts Militia passing through Baltimore. The city where my Dempsey ancestors lived was placed under federal martial law in 1861 after a pro-slavery mob attacked Massachusetts Militia members en route to federal service in Washington, D.C. Image: Wikipedia

At the start of the war, in 1861, Baltimore City was placed under federal martial law after a pro-slavery mob attacked the Massachusetts Militia as it passed through the city en route to federal service in Washington, D.C.

Known as the Pratt Street Riot, the confrontation resulted in the first bloodshed of the U.S. Civil War and led to the placement of Union soldiers all around Baltimore City — in hospitals, camps, and barracks — where they helped keep belligerent Southern sympathizers at bay.

Meanwhile — like my Dempsey ancestors before them — new waves of immigrants were arriving in the city to seek a better life. Free and formerly-enslaved African Americans were joining the newly-formed U.S. Colored Troops and heading to the front.

And in late 1864, Unionists in the Maryland legislature succeeded in passing a state constitution that abolished slavery — which was followed on 3 Feb. 1865 by Maryland’s ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

It was into this cauldron of rapid social change 150 years ago that my great grandmother Elizabeth and her twin sister Maggie were born to the Dempsey family on 28 Feb. 1865 — early arrivals in the first generation that would grow up after the U.S. Civil War.

Two generations would pass before a descendant of my Irish ancestors Katherine and William Patrick Dempsey (my paternal grandmother Mary Frances “Molly” Owen) would marry a descendant of my Union Army ancestor Arthur Bull and his wife  Mary (my paternal grandfather William Ray Charboneau).

How fascinating to discover that, before they were joined, these two branches of my family had a separate yet parallel experience of living through a defining period in U.S. history.

More on both families in future posts. For now, we return to my ancestor Union Pvt. Arthur Bull on duty at Bermuda Hundred, Va.

© 2015 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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