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.
Dad grew up in the small Adirondack town of Otter Lake in Forestport, Oneida Co., N.Y.,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.
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.
N is for Norm: My career-building dad. Fourteenth of 26 posts in the April 2021 Blogging From #AtoZChallenge. Theme: “Endwell: My Early Teen Years”— adding my story to the family history mix. Please join me on the journey.
From 1963-65, while I was engaged in early teen activities in Endwell, N.Y., my forty-something dad Norm was busy career building at General Electric in nearby Westover, N.Y.
Dad’s job was a short trip from our house, on the way to Johnson City — and he bought a little Fiat 500 for his commute to the plant so my mom could have the big car to shop, shuttle us kids around, drive to grad school in Ithaca and eventually to her own job at a parochial school.
Dad’s General Electric career
In general, my family members did their own thing by day — then we met up around the family dinner table at night to report on our activities.
That’s where we got used to hearing about Dad’s job at GE — along with his primary task, Quality Control (known as “QC” at our house) — as he focused on climbing the corporate ladder.
But except for our dinnertime chats and our family’s annual restaurant trip to celebrate Dad’s raise, his work life seemed remote from my day-to-day early teen concerns.
Dad’s family life
Yet Dad was concerned with his children’s lives — and I was pleasantly surprised to find a couple of news reports on his role in the Endwell Parent-Teacher Association (PTA).
The clip at left is from 1963 when I was 13. About halfway down, it lists my parents as “advisors” to the Hooper School PTA — and the last line says Dad served as Scout Liaison.
My younger brothers were Boy Scout age then — and I was still in Girl Scouts in 1963.
An earlier clip from 1961 says Dad was program chair for a panel on “Your Child’s Future: Must Everyone Go to College?” — a question Dad would answer with a resounding “yes,” as he and Mom wanted that for all of us kids.
Dad on the weekend
On weekends, Dad focused on household tasks and family time.
And on June 10, 1961, about four years after we moved to Endwell, N.Y., Dad paid $850 for our lot on Page Lake — where we spent most Saturdays in the summer during my early teens.
I’ve written about feeling trapped there as my teens progressed because I missed my friends and busy life back home.
Yet I now feel fortunate to have had that “away” time at camp in my early teens, where I learned to appreciate nature and solitude — which I’m sure is what Dad had in mind when he purchased the land all those years ago.
Up next, O is for Orange juice can curlers and On-the-roof suntans. Please leave a comment, then join me as Endwell: My Early Teen Years unfolds one letter at a time!
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.
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?
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.