Category Archives: Road trips with Dad

1894: Hattie Charbonneau attends Sunday School

Seventh in a series about my paternal Charbonneau and Zinsk ancestors in New York State’s Adirondack region during the 1800s.

My great grandfather Will Charboneau’s younger sister Harriet — better known as Hattie — had the genealogical misfortune of coming of age in New York State’s Adirondack region during a period for which records are hard to come by.

https://www.google.com/search?q=Forestport+Presbyterian+Church&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjLscL0qu3RAhUG_IMKHT0VAysQ_AUICigD&biw=1168&bih=497#imgrc=8uE49rR_qw7UZM%3A
Presbyterian Church, Forestport, Oneida, N.Y., founded in 1839.  During a 1992 family history road trip, my dad and I discovered references to Hattie Charbonneau in this church’s Sunday School attendance records. Photo: Woodgate Library – Fallon Collection

Most of the 1890 U.S. census returns were destroyed in a fire, and the 1892 New York State census records for Oneida County are missing. By the next census, in 1900, she was married.

So I have little information about Hattie as a child or a single young woman beyond the 1880 U.S. census for Boonville, Oneida County, N.Y. — enumerated when she was just 4 years old.

Road trip with Dad yields clues

Nevertheless, armed with the evidence we had, my dad and I made a valuable discovery about Hattie on a family history road trip to Forestport, Oneida County, N.Y., in 1992.

From my great, great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau’s obituary, we knew his 1903 funeral was held at the Presbyterian Church in Forestport (pictured above). So we decided to stop at the church to see if they had any records.

Making a cold call at the church without advance notice was a long shot — but our effort was rewarded. The minister drove up just after we arrived, and she was happy to show us the few records they had.

Dad’s disillusioning discovery

Dad and I divided up the work: he reviewed the minutes of the Presbyterian Church meetings and I tackled the Sunday School attendance records.

Dad didn’t find any references to our family members in the minutes — but he did unearth something else.

“You know, I’ve lost respect for some of the prominent names in town based on their dismal meeting participation,” Dad remarked dryly when he finished his task.

He grew up in the area, so this disillusioning discovery tarnished his childhood image of the town — one of the pitfalls of family history research that fledgling genealogists are warned about.

Hattie’s attendance records

Fortunately, I did better with the Sunday School attendance records. Jotted here and there in the ledger books was Hattie Charbonneau’s name (with various spellings) — as summarized in the table below, with her age added as a point of reference.

Sunday School Attendance Records – Forestport, Oneida County, N.Y. Source: Transcript in author’s files
Year Page Name Age
1894 8 Hattie Charbonneau 18
1895 36 Hattie Charbono 19
1896 64 Halter Cherbono 20
1897 92 Hattie Charbonnos 21
1898 125 Hattie Charbonnos 22

There was no scanning or photocopy equipment available at the church, and our visit predated smartphones, tablets and portable scanning devices — so we could not copy the records. But Dad and I were still thrilled with this discovery.

While Dad chatted with a man who had popped by the church — someone he recognized from childhood — I carefully transcribed what we’d found.

From Lutheran to Presbyterian

Hattie’s presence in the Presbyterian Church records over a period of years seems to indicate that my Charbonneau ancestors had a longstanding relationship with this church.

They may have become Presbyterians after their previous German Evangelical Lutheran Church parish declined — a second transition for Laurent, who was raised Roman Catholic in Quebec.

The family’s change in church affiliation points to a possible new line of research into the lives of my immigrant great, great grandparents Laurent Charles and Ursula Angeline (Zinsk) Charbonneau and their three children — Will, Herbert and Harriet (Hattie) — in the late 1800s.

Please stop back next week when this series concludes with Laurent’s transition from lumberman to family farmer.

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Laurent Charbonneau arrives from Québec

First in a series about my French-Canadian ancestor Laurent Charbonneau, who emigrated from Québec to New York State around 1852.

Around 1852, decades before my Bull ancestors arrived in New York State’s North Country, my paternal French-Canadian great, great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau moved to the same area from the Province of Québec.

Montréal, Québec, Canada in 1852, around the time my great, great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau left the Province of Quebec and moved south to New York’s sparsely-populated Adirondack foothills. By: Philippe Du Berger

Exploring his life is vital to piecing together my family’s heritage — and discovering how the Charbonneau and Bull families became linked while they lived in the Adirondack foothills (and later connected with my Dempsey-Owen line in the same area).

Unanswered questions

Who were Laurent’s parents, grandparents and ancestors? Why did he leave Québec? Did any family members travel with him? How did he feel to leave his home province — anchored by the large, bustling city of Montréal — and start a new life in rural, sparsely populated upstate New York?

As with most of my ancestors, I have inherited no journals or correspondence from Laurent to answer these questions. But because he was an immigrant, naturalization papers offer some clues — as do the federal and New York State census returns and a Canadian census in which he appears.

My brother Jeff, who took an interest in this family before I did, was also able to unearth some valuable background information from descendants on other branches of the Charbonneau family tree.

My inspiration ancestor

I have long thought of Laurent Charbonneau as my inspiration ancestor, because finding his baptismal record in a Montréal archive set me on a path of regular genealogy research — an experience I wrote about in Charbonneau breakthrough: Hooked on family history.

So when my dad, Norm Charboneau, and I began taking genealogy road trips together in the early 1990s, finding details about Laurent and his family was among our main goals.

We did pretty well in those pre-Internet days — compiling what we could in advance from microfilm, correspondence, and by phone; getting a helping hand from Jeff (who planned our early itineraries); then hopping in the car (paper maps in hand) for our upstate New York adventures.

Road trip rewards

The natural beauty, the remoteness and the down-home feel of the North Country stay with me as I continue to research and write about my ancestors who lived there. I probably learned as much driving around the unfamiliar Adirondack foothills with Dad (who grew up there) as I did from the genealogy records we discovered.

Conversations in the car were like road trip rewards, as Dad entertained me with stories of his youth and pointed out the landmarks we passed on our Charbonneau heritage quest — memories I particularly treasure every Father’s Day.

And we returned each time with some new detail about Laurent Charbonneau and his extended family to connect us more firmly to our French-Canadian roots.

Now that I have begun writing about the lives of my Bull ancestors in the North Country, it’s time for my paternal French-Canadian great, great grandfather Laurent Charbonneau to put in an appearance. I hope you will join me on this new journey.

To be continued.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Swiss family Zinsk

Letter Z: Last of twenty-six posts in the April 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge. Crossed the finish line today! Thanks for joining me on the journey!

The Swiss family Zinsk was a late arrival on my family tree . They showed up unexpectedly while I was investigating my paternal Charbonneau ancestors — and restored Switzerland as a long-forgotten source of my family’s roots.

http://backroadstraveller.blogspot.com/search?q=Otter+Lake+Community+Church
Otter Lake Community Church (2015). My Swiss ancestors, the Zinsk family, attended services here when it was St. Trinitatis — a German Evangelical Lutheran parish in Hawkinsville, Oneida County, N.Y. The church was later moved to its present location on Route 28 in Otter Lake, where it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. Photo by Tom/The Backroads Traveller

I was excited about our Swiss ancestry because my family was completely unaware of this heritage  — or so I thought until I called my dad to tell him the breaking news.

“You know, I seem to remember hearing something about that,” Dad said thoughtfully, while I rolled my eyes and had a face-palm moment at the other end of the phone.

Yet in some ways it’s understandable how awareness of our Swiss heritage might have faded with each succeeding generation, given how challenging it was to find details about these elusive ancestors.

Seeking Ursula’s maiden name

My first hint of our paternal Swiss ancestry came from the 1900 U.S. Census for Forestport, Oneida County, N.Y. The record for my great, great grandfather Laurent Charles Charbonneau (spelled Charbono), who emigrated from Quebec to New York’s Adirondack foothills, listed his wife Ursula — born in Switzerland.

To learn more, we needed her maiden name — always a challenge. So Dad and I added this to the list of goals for our next pre-Internet family history road trip in August 1992.

We examined Laurent’s tombstone in Beechwood Cemetery, Forestport, Oneida County, N.Y., but the inscription was no help. All it said was “Ursula, His Wife.”

Then Dad and I found Laurent’s obituary in the Irwin Library and Institute in Boonville, Oneida County, N.Y. — but Ursula’s name did not appear in that, either, much to Dad’s chagrin.

A census breakthrough

Clearly, we needed more to go on. So back I went to the census, where the various spellings for Charbonneau (such as Charbono, Charbonno, Sharbono and Sherbenon) slowed my microfilm research.

But one evening — while browsing door-to-door through the 1870 U.S. Census for Boonville, Oneida County, N.Y. — I found Nicholas Zink, 84, and Barnard Zink, 40, (both from Switzerland), living in the home of Laurence Sharbono (from Canada) and his wife Angeline [Ursula](from Switzerland). This looked like the breakthrough we needed on Ursula’s maiden name!

There were more surname variants to come — from Zink to Sink to Zingg  to Zinsk — which eventually led to records that clarified our Swiss ancestors’ family relationships and even identified the church where they worshipped, shown above.

Best of all: I found my ggg grandfather Nicholas’s naturalization papers, on which his signature confirmed Zinsk as the correct spelling of the surname — opening the door to future research into my family’s once-hidden Swiss heritage.


With this post, I have completed my first April 2016 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme Ancestors From A to Z. I made it! I’m thrilled! And I can’t wait to order my tee-shirt!

Coming soon – One-stop summary: Ancestors from A to Z Please stop back for the victory lap.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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