Sepia Saturday 680. First in a new series focusing on letters written by my dad’s brother Frederic Mason Charboneau while in the US Army during WWII.
At the end of 2014 , I wrote a blog post titled Uncle Fred’s Letters highlighting a holiday letter sent home by my dad’s brother Frederic Mason Charboneau when he was serving in the US Army during World War II.
I promised then to share more about Uncle Fred, along with excerpts from his letters. Now, nine years later, I am finally keeping that promise — starting with an edited reprise of that earlier blog post.
Memories of Uncle Fred
I have no memory of meeting my Uncle Fred — Frederic Mason Charboneau — who was born on 13 March 1918. He was the youngest of my dad’s four older brothers and died after an illness on 12 Dec. 1952 when I was just a toddler.
Growing up, I remember hearing that Uncle Fred was a US Army veteran who received a Purple Heart for an injury during WW II. He married Jean Bastow, but they had no children.
That was about it — until 1992 when Dad and I began exploring our roots together and went on a two-day genealogy trip to Otter Lake, Dad’s hometown, in Forestport, Oneida Co., N.Y.
We stayed overnight with my Aunt Aline who still lived in the area. She was French-Canadian and the widow of my dad’s oldest brother Owen Albert Charboneau. We all called her “Gig.”
After wise-cracking around her kitchen table over a Pitch card game — which Aunt Gig won as usual — we got talking about family history. Aline and Dad shared stories about their youth in Otter Lake and fondly reminisced about our mutual ancestors.
Uncle Fred’s letters
Something about that visit must have touched them both — because the next time Dad went to see Aunt Gig, she gave him a cardboard box containing a treasure trove of family photos and documents.
Among the items in the box was a stack of Uncle Fred’s letters — written to his mother [my grandmother Mary “Molly” (Owen) Charboneau] during the war — along with some photos of him and his obituary.
When I read his letters for the first time I was struck by two things. Uncle Fred’s handwriting was amazingly like my dad’s. And much of his writing was not about the war but about family events back home.
The quest begins
Uncle Fred mentioned places and people in and around his Otter Lake hometown — some names familiar to me from Dad’s childhood stories, others because they were paternal relatives. That got me thinking.
Why not go through all of Uncle Fred’s letters to see what more I can learn about Fred and Dad’s childhood years and the people that surrounded them in that idyllic place — Otter Lake — that seemed to rise from the mist like Brigadoon whenever Dad told his tales?
What records can I find to supplement Uncle Fred’s narratives and create a fuller picture of Dad’s hometown and his family of origin?
Where might this Adirondack trail lead?
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