Sharing ancestral stories online is a time-honored way to find distant cousins. But sometimes non-relatives show up, too, with photos and artifacts that add to the family story – as happened in Nov. 2021 on Molly’s Canopy.
“I have a very old advertisement of the grocery store Charboneau Bros. General Store, Holland Patent, New York,” wrote a reader in a blog comment. “Has a thermostat that works. Would like family to have it!”
Wow, exciting news! So, I responded immediately: “Thanks so much for reaching out. The Holland Patent store was run by two of my dad’s brothers, so I would love to have the ad to share with my siblings and their families.”
Childhood memories of the store
Her blog comment conjured up childhood memories of the grocery, which — as discussed in the last post — my dad’s oldest brother, Uncle Owen Charboneau, owned and operated in partnership with another brother, Uncle Fred.
The wood-framed building on Main Street had a store on the ground floor with an apartment above it – where Uncle Owen and his wife, Aunt Gig, lived with Ma Mère, her widowed French-Canadian mother.
On one visit to the store when I was little, I remember climbing steep stairs to the third-floor attic, where Aunt Gig had a litter of kittens for me to choose from. I picked a black kitten with white paws, we named her Minnie, and she was part of our family throughout my childhood.
Turns out, the Charboneau Brothers General Store had a connection to my reader’s family, too. “So excited to hear from you,” she replied to my email. “This was in my mom’s things. She grew up in Holland Patent as a child. I know she would be so thrilled to know someone could appreciate this.”
General stores in small towns often functioned as neighborhood social hubs – some even housing the local post office. Perhaps that’s why my reader’s mom saved the cherished 4×5-inch shadow box, which arrived in pristine condition — complete with a small embedded (and working!) thermometer to encourage customers to hang it up at home.
A true mom-and-pop operation
After the framed ad arrived, I checked on Google Maps and was relieved to find that the store building still stands at 9554 Main St. in Holland Patent, N.Y.
When the 1950 US Census was released, I was also pleased to find a mention of the store in my uncles’ enumerations. As discussed in the last post, Uncle Owen, 38, was listed as an “owner and manager” of a “retail grocery” while Uncle Fred, 32, was an “owner and proprietor.”
But surprisingly, my paternal grandfather Wm. Ray Charboneau, 62, also worked at the store as a “clerk” – a job he held until his retirement in 1953. And Aunt Gig’s brother Louis J. DesJardins worked there for a while, too, according to Louis’s obituary.
The Charboneau Brothers General Store was a true mom-and-pop family shop – with a story to share. So, I photographed the ad, wrote up some details about the store and its family connection, included my Grandpa Charboneau’s obituary (which mentioned him working there), added links to the Google photos and sent packages off to family members.
They were as thrilled as I was to have a memento of our late uncles and their general store – and all through the unexpected generosity of a Molly’s Canopy reader and her mom, who was once one of their neighbors.
Up next, Aunt Gig’s Charboneau family memories. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants.
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