1890: Widow’s application reveals Bull family history

Sepia Saturday 427: Second in a series about my great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, a U.S. Civil War widow. Mary was the mother of my paternal great-grandmother Eva (Bull) Charboneau.

When my great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakeslee) Bull, 50, filed an 1890 Application for Accrued Pension after the death of her husband Arthur T. Bull, she had to prove several things.

First, she had to show that Arthur was a bona fide military pensioner from his Union service in the U.S. Civil War and that there was an accrued pension amount due.

An unidentified 1850 bride. In her application for a Civil War widow’s pension, my great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Blakesleee) Bull provided details of her 1856 marriage to Arthur T. Bull. Photo: George Eastman Museum

Then Mary had to verify that she was Arthur’s wife and therefore entitled to the accrued amount. This entailed providing the specifics of their marriage as excerpted below. (Handwritten entries are underlined; strikethroughs were manually entered.)

…that she was married to the said Arthur T. Bull on the Eleventh day of August, 1856, at Brookdale in the State of Pennsylvania; that her name before said marriage was Mary E. Blakslee (sic); that she had (or had not) been previously married; that her husband had (or had not) been previously married; that she hereby makes application for the pension which had accrued on aforesaid certificate to the date of death; that her residence is No. 82 W. State Street, City Village of Salamanca, County of Cattaraugus, State of New York, and her post office address is Salamanca, Cattaraugus County, N.Y.

A remarkable legacy

What a remarkable legacy with a few strokes of the pen!

Mary gave her maiden name, the exact date of her 11 Aug. 1856 marriage to Arthur and the  location of their ceremony in Brookdale, Pennsylvania — all of which backed up some of my earlier research.

Map of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. From Actual Survey by G. M. Hopkins, C. E. (Philadelphia: Lee & Marsh Publishers, 1858). Source: http://ancestortracks.com/Susquehanna_Resources.html
Survey map showing Brookdale in Liberty Township, Susquehanna County, Pa. (1858). To the left of Brookdale P.O. on this map the name Z. Blakeslee appears. He is my third great grandfather and the father of Mary E. (Blakeslee) Bull — so this is where she lived when she and Arthur married. Source: Ancestor Tracks

In addition, Mary gave the address where she and Arthur lived in Salamanca, N.Y., pinpointing where he spent his final days — which was new information to me.

And her signature on this document was my first tangible memento of my great-great grandmother, since I have inherited no photos of her.

March 1, 1890: Widow’s signature of Mary E. Bull on form 3-560, Application for Accrued Pension. (Widows.). Her signature on this document was my first  tangible memento of my great-great grandmother, since I have inherited no photos of her. Photo by Molly Charboneau


Alas, the court and the Pension Board were not just going to take Mary’s word. They also required witnesses and whatever documentation could be pulled together — not an easy task for the years before state-wide vital records were kept in Pennsylvania and New York.

Accordingly, Mary did not go alone when she filed her claim with Cattaraugus County Judge O.S. Vreeland. Pension paperwork indicates that two “reputable persons” went along to serve as her witnesses.

Who were these witnesses and what were their statements? More on this in the next post. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

 © 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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10 thoughts on “1890: Widow’s application reveals Bull family history”

  1. Signatures are indeed special, especially when they were done with an old style ink pen. I wonder what people of the future will think of our crude 21st century names digitally scrawled on computer touch screens.

    It occurs to me that the history of government bureaucracy is closely linked to military pensions. I don’t think it was just fraud that early officials worried over as much as that the great number of applicants made the first pensions a more substantial burden on state government budgets than lawmakers had first considered. Big problems with state funds create new layers of state rules.

    Two years ago after my father died, I took my mother to the Social Security office where we learned she was entitled to a survivor benefit. But only if she could produce a valid marriage license from 60+ years earlier! Fortunately my parents kept good records and it was not hard to find, but it was the first and only time that it proved to be such a very important document.

    Thank you, Molly, for your research on my Cedar Rapids string trio. I found more details and left a comment to maybe attract the attention of any family descendants.

    1. I think you may be right, Mike. The U.S. Civil War was so massive, and involved so many troops, that the pension processing was indeed a challenge. The massive National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. — formerly the Pension Office — is testament to the enormity of the task.

      I assisted my Mom with her widow’s application after my Dad, a WWII navy vet, passed and the paperwork and proofs are still a challenge to pull together — yet thinking about the records I was leaving behind for future generations made it easier to bear.

      Happy to help with your Iowa violinists. I hope some of their descendants find your post!

  2. The photo of the bride is beautiful. I know what you mean about the signature. It makes a connection in a more personal way than we had before.

    1. I love this wedding dress. If the underskirt were removed, it could almost be a modern, short dress. Her hair is stunning as well. I wonder if my gg grandmother Mary wore hers similarly.

  3. Like the matinees of old, you’re leaving Mary hanging from a cliff a la the Perils of Pauline till your next episode. Ah, but it keeps us coming back to find out what happened and how! 🙂

    1. Yes, genealogy research is very much that way…dangling clues leading you down the trail of discovery. Glad to know I’ve successfully imparted some of that suspense!

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