From the Archives: Dad Joins the Journey

Sepia Saturday 572. From the archives: In honor of my dad this Memorial Day weekend, here is a blog from the archives, originally posted in May 2014.

This Memorial Day, I’ll be remembering my dad Norm Charboneau — a WW II veteran and my enthusiastic travel partner on many family history road trips.

“Where are we going this time, Mol?” he would quip when I visited him and Mom each summer.

Dad joins the ancestral journey

Dad joined the journey in 1992, and for years we combed upstate New York together, or strategized by phone, in search of our elusive ancestors. But it wasn’t always that way.

Family photo circa 1946 of Norm Charboneau, 22, a U.S. Navy ETM3c. Scan by Molly Charboneau.

Dad grew up in the small Adirondack town of Otter Lake in Forestport, Oneida Co., N.Y., [1]Family Search requires free login to view documents. where he admired those in uniform — postal workers, bus drivers, train conductors — who saw more of the world than he did.

The first in his family to go to college, Dad interrupted his engineering studies at Clarkson University in 1944 to enlist in the U.S. Navy. He served in the Pacific until 1946 — as an Electronics Technician Mate, Third Class (ETM3c) — in the wider world he longed for.

My college years in the 1960s were interrupted in a different way when I gave up my studies and joined the peace movement to end the Vietnam  War. I was not sure I could ever heal the rift that caused with Dad.

Enjoying our shared heritage

But as years passed, we both mellowed. I eventually finished college and began researching our family. One day I realized that our time together was slipping away, so I called Dad.

“What would you say to a trip to Otter Lake, so you can show me everything and tell me all about it?” I asked him.

My dad, Norm Charboneau, at Otter Lake, Onieda Co., N.Y. (1992). On our first genealogy trip together, my dad posed in front of a line of pine trees that was planted decades before by his dad — my paternal grandfather W. Ray Charboneau. Photo by Molly Charboneau

Dad, who inherited the gift of gab from his mother’s Welsh-Irish side, loved the idea. And with that trip, the first of many,  he and I finally moved beyond what divided us and started enjoying the legacy we shared: family, ancestors, heritage.

Up next: Hoping to do some photo blogging to get my family photo collection scanned. Please stop back! Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2021 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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14 thoughts on “From the Archives: Dad Joins the Journey”

  1. I love the older colorized photos. Those tones and soft edges make a photo timeless.

    So glad that your father has joined in your family history travels.

    1. Thanks, Susan. I ran the black and white version of Dad’s photo on the original post. But I much prefer this one.

  2. I enjoyed reading this, Molly. Not only is it appropriate to revisit during the Memorial Day weekend, but Father’s Day is approaching. But most of all, I think, because of the many family rifts over politics in this time and place. As I am feeling particularly worn down by the state of things (I just ate ice cream for solace), it was uplifting to read. And because I love family history it’s great to read about your shared interest with your dad and the trips you have shared.

    1. Thanks, Kathy. Family rifts can sometimes work themselves out with time and effort. My reconciliation with Dad was preceded by a period of “peaceful coexistence” during my visits, when we avoided dicey political topics. So by the time we started researching together, we were both in a more amiable place.

  3. Vietnam certainly had an impact on how Americans view the military. I hope we have moved past it the way you and your dad worked your way through the rift. This Memorial Day, may all families who have lost a father, a son, a mother, a daughter in service to their country feel that Americans honor and appreciate their sacrifice.

  4. This tribute to your father was very appropriate to re-run for this weekend. Memorial day should be a time for honoring military service and reflecting on the sacrifice required of war.

    I happen to be reading a terrific history of WW2, No Ordinary Time, Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The author recounts the intimate personal story of the Roosevelts within the context of the war and American politics. It has helped me better appreciate the incredible stress and anxiety that consumed the world in the 1940s. As I read it I can’t help but weave the lives of my parents and grandparents into the history. They were a remarkably brave generation. This book is likely to become no.1 in my history book club’s best of all-time list.

    1. Thanks, Mike — and will have to look up that book. This month’s airing of “Atlantic Crossing” on PBS also captured the stress that war places on families — especially on regular folks who did not have the same relocation options as the royals.

    1. Thanks, Barb! And you’re right, this post about my dad is doing double duty for Memorial Day and Father’s Day.

  5. Not that I had any gaps to close with my Dad, but when I went to work in San Francisco where my Dad worked (different companies) Dad and I wound up commuting to the City from the East Bay on the same bus and I got to know him not just as my Dad, but as the man he was beyond that. On occasion we’d get together at lunchtime. He liked a place he and his colleagues called ‘The Dirty Spoon’. That wasn’t the real name, of course, and I can imagine how it might have got the ‘nick name’. Good food, though. And the summer we were building a cabin up at Lake Tahoe, the rest of the family would stay up there during the week, but Dad and I had to work, so we’d drive up to the lake together on Friday evenings after work – oft times listening to the S.F. Giants baseball games on the radio. Very special times which brought Dad and me especially close. I’m glad you found the way to be close to your Dad too! 🙂

    1. Great story! Like you, once I decided to reconnect with my folks more regularly around our shared heritage I got to know them better as adults — and it brought us closer.

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