Tag Archives: William Ray 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?

https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2017668638/
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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Grandparents and Aunt Rita

G is for Grandparents and Aunt Rita. Seventh 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!

Before my brothers were born, my early childhood family team was my parents, maternal grandparents (Tony and Liz Laurence, who we called Boom and Gramps) and my mom’s younger sister Aunt Rita. We shared a large farmhouse with my grandparents in Altamont, N.Y. — and Aunt Rita lived nearby in Albany.

Maternal grandparents and Aunt Rita

But families grow and change. So along came my brothers, then dad got a transfer to the Binghamton area from his GE job in Schenectady — and before you knew it we were arriving in Endwell and my grandparents and aunt became episodic visitors.

Christmas 1958: A visit from my mom’s parents Boom and Gramps and her sister Aunt Rita. The baby doll notwithstanding, I also got a new bike that year (parked behind me) which gave me freedom of travel around the neighborhood with my many neighborhood friends. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

The holiday schedule

During my elementary years, my parents worked out an equitable holiday schedule. My maternal grandparents came to our house for Christmas — and as shown above, my Aunt Rita joined them before her eventual move to San Diego, California. For Thanksgiving and Easter, we piled into the car for the three-hour drive back to my grandparents’ house at the farm.

In the summer, my brothers and I would travel on our own by train (and later bus) to visit Boom and Gramps. I went by myself at first — boarding the Delaware and Hudson Railroad in Johnson City, N.Y. and debarking at the Altamont train station, where my grandmother met me.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/7327243@N05/5462930480
Landmarked Altamont, N.Y. train station, now used as a library (2011). I traveled on my own to visit my mom’s parents, boarding the Delaware and Hudson Railroad in Johnson City, N.Y. and debarking at the Altamont train station, where my grandmother met me. Photo: Doug Kerr, Altamont, N.Y.

Later my mom sent my younger brother Mark with me — and I spent much of the trip distracting him, especially when the train went through a dark, frightening tunnel en route.

A spirit of independence

When train service ended, my mom put us on the bus. Usually, I went by myself for a week (my grandmother was in charge of me) and my brothers traveled together for a separate visit (overseen by Gramps).

“I would never send you alone today,” my mom told me years later. “But back then, things were safer.” And I’m glad they were — because those lone trips to visit my maternal grandparents fostered a spirit of independence during my elementary years.

Visiting Grandpa Charboneau

My dad’s father, William Ray Charboneau, was another story. Grandpa Charboneau was was older than my mom’s parents — and a widower [my paternal grandmother Mary “Molly” (Owen) Charboneau had died when was 4]. So it was on our  family to drive north of Utica, N.Y. to visit him and my dad’s brothers, who lived nearby.

My dad’s father, Grandpa Charboneau (1958). Grandpa C was a widower and older than my mom’s parents, so it was on our family to drive north of Utica, N.Y. to visit him and my dad’s brothers, who lived nearby. Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

Grandpa Charboneau lived in a small house in Holland Patent, N.Y. (such a cool name, I thought) with a stream out back and an elementary school across the street. Around the corner, my dad’s oldest brother Uncle Owen and Aunt Gig ran a grocery/convenience store, which they lived above with Gig’s mother “Ma Mere.”

Grandpa Charboneau’s house as it looks today (2015). Visiting my dad’s father wasn’t as much fun as visiting my mom’s parents at the farm. Much better was stopping by my Uncle Owen’s grocery/convenience store near Grandpa C’s house. Photo: Molly Charboneau

Visiting Grandpa Charboneau’s house wasn’t as much fun as visiting the farm — but my brothers and I made due with fishing for pollywogs in the creek out back or hitting the playground at the school across the street.

Much better was stopping at Uncle Owen’s store and climbing up the stairs to the cozy apartment above — an experience that so impressed my brother Mark that he went on to a career in the supermarket industry, including a brief stint as a small grocery proprietor.

So although we kids had no nearby relatives during my elementary years, my parents did a good job of keeping us connected to extended family — an effort I appreciate as I continue researching my ancestral heritage.

Up next: H is for Howdy Doody and Hooper School. Please stop back.

© 2016 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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1930s-1940s: Frank Owen’s later years

Sepia Saturday 414: Seventh in a series about my Welsh immigrant great grandfather Francis Hugh Owen, who married into the Irish Dempsey family in Baltimore, Maryland.

After the 1922 death of his beloved wife Elizabeth C. (Dempsey) Owen, my great-grandfather Frank H. Owen, 59, lived for more than twenty-five more years — finishing up his working life, then residing with his children during his retirement.

In 1920, Frank was working as a railroad watchman and four of his adult children — Arthur, Katherine, Joe and John — still lived with him and Elizabeth. By 1930 — the start of the Great Depression — his circumstances had changed significantly.

Francis Hugh Owen in his later years, on the porch of the Otter Lake Hotel in New York’s Adirondack region. My great-grandfather spent summers there with my grandmother — his daughter Mary “Molly” (Owen) Charboneau — when it was her turn to house him. That’s where my dad Norm got to know him. Photo by Norman J. Charboneau

The 1930 U.S. Census of Baltimore City, Maryland (10th Ward), enumerated on April 9, shows Frank as the head of a household that only included his daughter Katherine, 32.

They lived at 1215 Preston St. — likely in an apartment of a multi-family dwelling, because two other households are listed at the same address.

Katherine, single, was working as a operator in a tailoring shop. Frank, widowed, was not working — so presumably retired.

They were paying a monthly rent of $25 (about $355 today). The census gave Frank’s year of immigration as 1883 and indicated he was naturalized.

Living with one child, then the next

Around 1930 seems to be when my great-grandfather Frank began living with one child, then the next — which he continued to do until the end of his life.

A 1930 City Directory of Baltimore lists Frank renting at 803 n. Payson — again with his daughter Katherine, who is listed as an “operator” at the same address.

Frank Owen’s sons Arthur and Joe with their wives (undated). From left, Nettie and Arthur Owen, Joseph and Alma Owen. My great-grandfather took turns living with his children as he aged. Photo courtesy of Jane (Owen) Dukovic

Six years later, a 1936 City Directory of Baltimore shows Frank renting at 2830 Clifton Ave. —  the same address as Arthur T. and Nettie M. Owen (his son and daughter-in-law). Arthur is listed as a salesman for the Baltimore Sales Book Company.

By the time of the 1940 U.S. Census of Baltimore City (9th Ward), enumerated on April 3, Frank was living at 607 E. Thirteenth Street with yet another son and daughter-in-law — Joseph C. and Alama P. Owen. Joe was a mechanic at an appliance factory, and they had four children under the age of 10.

From the Adirondacks to Illinois to New York City

During 1930s and ’40s, Frank also spent summers in the Adirondacks with his oldest daughter — my grandmother Mary Frances “Molly” (Owen) Charboneau, who with my grandfather Ray ran the Otter Lake Hotel. That’s where my dad Norm got to know him.

From Otter Lake,  my great-grandfather traveled by train to Illinois, where his daughter Charlotte and her husband James Wilson also hosted him for periods of time. Then he would camp out with my Aunt Kate (his daughter Katherine), who by the 1940s lived in New York City.

Francis Hugh “Frank” Owen had come a long way from Wales — and he continued to venture a long way from his Baltimore home town as his children took turns housing him in his old age. Fortunately, his vagabond existence led to some correspondence and passed-on stories about him, which I will share in the next post.

Up next: Family lore and unanswered questions about Frank Owen. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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