Tag Archives: Norman J. Charboneau

Uncle Albert and the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918

Sepia Saturday 523. First in a new series about Albert Barney Charboneau — my paternal grandfather’s brother who died in the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918.

As we collectively live through the global Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, there is new interest in the last similar worldwide outbreak of a deadly respiratory disease – the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Surprisingly, news commentators and others generally say they knew little about the 1918 pandemic before now.

Yet I learned about that outbreak years ago because it claimed a collateral family member in the prime of his life – my paternal grandfather’s brother, Albert Barney Charboneau.

And it all started with a family photo.

The Charboneau brothers (circa 1910). From left, my paternal grandfather William Ray (b. 1888) and his brothers Albert Barney (b. 1885), George Dewey (b. 1899) and Orville Nile (b. 1892). The photo was taken at the John Mutchler Jr. Art Studio in Dolgeville, Herkimer Co., N.Y. Scan by Molly Charboneau

Charboneau brothers photo

When my parents retired and downsized to a new house, my dad hung the studio photograph shown above of my grandfather William Ray Charboneau and his brothers — Albert, Dewey and Orville. During a visit, I noticed the photo and asked Dad about his uncles. That’s when I first heard about Uncle Albert.

“Albert died in the 1918 flu pandemic,” Dad said, shaking his head. “Really a shame. I always thought he was the handsomest of the four brothers.” Sadly, Dad had to base his assessment on photographs because Albert died six years before my father was born.

The story of Albert’s untimely death stayed with me, and when I began doing regular genealogy research in the 1990s I asked Dad if he knew more. Alas, he did not.

“Well, it makes sense that the family wouldn’t talk about it,” I observed. “It must have been such a shock.”

“Oh, the family talked about Albert and what happened to him all the time,” Dad said. “I just can’t remember anything specific.”

A three-generation tale

So here was a 1918 pandemic story passed down through three generations of my family — from my grandparents to Dad to me. Yet the details remained elusive — and that got me wondering.

Why did Albert die and while other family members lived – including his wife? Who else got the flu in his area? What more could I learn about the deadly virus that claimed Albert and millions more?

In 1918, all four Charboneau brothers lived in the small Mohawk Valley town of Dolgeville in Herkimer Co., N.Y. — located northeast of Utica, the closest city. So how did the deadly influenza that was sweeping the globe arrive in this relatively sparsely populated area?

Infection control in Seattle, Wash., circa 1918, where passengers were not permitted to ride on street cars without wearing a mask. How did the deadly influenza then sweeping the globe arrive in sparsely populated Dolgeville, Herkimer Co., N.Y., and claim the life of my dad’s Uncle Albert? Photo: Library of Congress

Time to tell Albert’s story

Over the years as I researched my family, I began gathering information about the 1918 influenza pandemic – books, news clips, whatever I could find – with the idea that one day, when the time seemed right, I would tell Uncle Albert’s story.

I never imagined that the right time would arrive this year — more than 100 years after the 1918 outbreak — as humanity grapples with a new, global coronavirus pandemic.

Suddenly the unimaginable 1918 infection control measures I read about – homemade masks, venues and schools closed, no large gatherings, social distancing – have become part of our everyday lives.  The significance of Albert’s death to those who loved him has also become all too real — with so many now losing loved ones to Covid-19.

Beyond the statistics

Today, daily briefings sum up the coronavirus toll and our progress in stopping its spread. Yet so many personal stories of individuals, their families and their communities are hidden in the numbers.

In her book Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It, author Gina Kolata speaks to this phenomenon:

One way to tell the story of the 1918 flu is through facts and figures, a collection of data whose impact is numbing and whose magnitude is almost inconceivable….But the raw numbers cannot convey the scenes of horror and misery that swept the world in 1918, which became part of everyday life in every nation, in the largest cities and the remotest hamlets.

In this new blog series, I hope to rescue Uncle Albert from the statistical realm by placing him in the context of his family and community and telling what I have discovered about his life — cut short in its prime by the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Up next, First born son: Albert Barney Charboneau. Please stop back! Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2020 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Norm: My thirtysomething dad #AtoZChallenge

N is for Norm: My thirtysomething dad. Fourteenth of twenty-six posts in the April 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Endwell: My Elementary Years”— where my genealogy journey germinated. Wish me luck!

During my elementary years in Endwell, N.Y. my dad Norm was in his thirties. A Navy veteran of WW II and an electrical engineering graduate of Clarkson University, Dad was also a father of three and just starting out in his career.

So his job loomed rather large in the late 1950s to early 1960s — and that job was in Quality Control at General Electric in nearby Westover, a short drive from our house.

General Electric in Westover, N.Y. (1993). My dad worked in Quality Control at this GE plant from 1957-1969. Sadly, the building succumbed to flooding in 2011 and has since been torn down. Photo: Molly Charboneau

On weekdays I remember Dad donning his pressed shirts, skinny ties and suits — the ubiquitous corporate uniform — and heading out to the job, often after he and I had breakfast in the kitchen since I had to be in school early, too.

Enter the Fiat

When we first moved to Endwell, we had one family car — and Dad either drove that to work or had Mom drop him off. But soon enough it became clear that a second car would be needed. So Dad, who stood 6 foot 2, went to a new dealership in town and bought himself a little navy-blue Fiat 500.

My dad’s first Fiat 500. Deciding a second car was needed for his commute to work, Dad — who stood 6 foot 2 — went to a new dealership in town and bought himself a little navy-blue Fiat 500. Photo: Peg (Laurence) Charboneau

The other dads on our block were big on joking with each other — and as soon as they saw Dad’s tiny car they started in. Before long it became known as “Norm’s can of worms” — much to Dad’s chagrin.

Fiat 500 in profile. As a young father with a growing family, Dad believed in living on a budget — so every morning he folded himself up into the two-cylinder Fiat and off he drove. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

But as a young father with a growing family, Dad believed in living on a budget — so every morning, despite the ribbing, he folded himself up into the two-cylinder Fiat and off he drove.

Mentoring and civic involvement

Dad was always one for getting involved in community projects, too. He had been on the school board in my early childhood, when I went to Altamont Elementary near Albany, N.Y.

Once we moved to Endwell, Dad was more focused on career networking,  joining the Endwell Rotary Club and becoming active in the American Society for Quality Control — known around our house as QC.

Dad and his mentee in a photo for the GE newsletter. Dad was matched up with a younger engineer at GE to serve as his mentor — and they developed a friendship that lasted for the rest of his life. Photo scan: Molly Charboneau

He was also matched up with a younger engineer at GE to serve as his mentor — and they developed a friendship that lasted for the rest of his life.

Weekend Dad: hobbies galore

Weekday Dad was a suit-and-tie guy — but Weekend Dad engaged in umpteen interests and hobbies. He raised tropical fish and (a camera buff since high school) built a small darkroom in the basement.

Of course he did the usual household tasks — painting, repairs and killing dandelions to achieve a perfect suburban lawn. But he did fun stuff, too — like hooking up a DIY coffee-can speaker under the outdoor eaves of our house to broadcast holiday tunes at Christmas.

Blue irises were my dad’s favorite flower and still remind me of him. Photo: Pixabay

On summer weekends, Dad drove our family to our camp on Page Lake so we could learn to swim . And ever the ice cream lover, he even found a country ice cream stand with what seemed like hundreds of flavors for us to stop at en route.

Dad also loved to garden. Under his tutelage, I planted my first potatoes in a small plot behind our house and learned how to separate the roots (corms) of our beautiful blue irises — his favorite flowers, which still remind me of him each spring.

Up next, O is for Overtown: An Endicott escape. Please stop back! 

© 2020 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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Fourth Blogiversary: Dedicated to my parents Peg and Norm

Sepia Saturday 416: Today is the Fourth Blogiversary of Molly’s Canopy, which I am dedicating to my late parents Norman J. and Peg (Laurence) Charboneau.

Reviewing the last four years of Molly’s Canopy, I can hardly believe what an incredible family history journey it’s been — filled with new research, ancestral discoveries, friends, cousins, and blogging experiences (like the A to Z Challenge and Sepia Saturday).

And I owe a debt of gratitude to my parents for accompanying me on my fledgling steps down this road.

Mom and Dad: The start of it all

My genealogy journey began in 1950 with my first road trip with Mom and Dad. That’s me in the cat overalls with my parents Peg (Laurence) and Norm Charboneau. Back row, from left, my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence, paternal grandfather W. Ray Charboneau and maternal grandfather Tony W. Laurence. At the far left, with just her elbow showing, is my paternal grandmother Mary (Owen) Charboneau. Photo by Rita Mary Laurence

Because in truth, my genealogy journey began long ago — with my first road trip with Mom and Dad, when I was six months old,  to move in with my maternal grandparents.

My early childhood in our shared farmhouse near Albany, New York, chronicled in Whispering Chimneys: My childhood home, planted seeds that grew into an abiding interest in my family’s history.

And decades later, when I was ready to start looking back, so were my recently-retired Mom and Dad.

They were happy to join me on family history road trips to their upstate New York hometowns — where they showed me around, introduced me to relatives, helped with oral history interviews, and shared the joy of discovering unknown family stories and documents.

They also enthusiastically embraced my subsequent genealogical finds about our common ancestors — whose stories have unfolded on Molly’s Canopy these last four years. So I regret that my parents are not around to read the stories their love and support engendered.

Dad, Mom and me in the 1990s on a Cape Cod family vacation. When I was ready to look back at our family history, so were my recently-retired parents — and they enthusiastically accompanied me on my fledgling steps down this road. Photo by Jeffrey A. Charboneau

Wish they were here

My dad — who was a blogger before mepassed in 2012 before Molly’s Canopy was launched. But our shared discovery that we had a  Union Army ancestor, Arthur T. Bull, was what led me to start this blog in 2014 during the U.S. Civil War Sesquicentennial. And Dad has appeared or been quoted in many blog posts since then.

Sadly, my mom passed last month — a loss I am still mourning. But I have also written about Mom and her family in numerous posts, which I read aloud to her over the last couple of years. And my most popular post continues to be A Valentine’s Day love story: My grandmother elopes about her parents’ clandestine marriage — which includes a story Mom prompted her Aunt Margaret to tell me.

Creating a legacy

So today, I am thinking of my parents as I head into year five of Molly’s Canopy — remembering what fun we had exploring our common heritage, recalling all the stories they told me about each of their extended families, and grateful for the many photos they lovingly preserved and passed on.

There is still plenty of ancestral history to explore on each side of my family. And although Mom and Dad are no longer physically present, they are definitely along for the ride in spirit — as memories of their enthusiasm, good humor and curiosity inspire me to continue researching and writing about our family’s history, and creating a legacy that would make them both proud.

Up next: A Spring Break for Molly’s Canopy. May will be a busy month, so I am taking a much-needed blogging break to refresh and recharge. Please stop back when regular blogging resumes in June — and in the meantime, visit my fellow Sepia Saturday bloggers here.

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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