Wednesday, October 29, 2014

52 Ancestors: #41 James O’Brian (1823-1904), Carpenter, Farmer, Husband, Father...But Whose Son?

Climbing My Family Tree: Huron County, Ontario, Canada
Huron County, Ontario, Canada

Climbing My Family Tree: Sanilac County Michigan USA
Sanilac County Michigan USA

James O’Brian is my third great grandfather, and Ann McClean O’Brian’s husband. I have a transcription of an obituary for him, too, in the family papers. Again, I have no indication what paper it came from (I will provide cite when I find out but it probably came from the Brown City or Imlay City, Michigan newspaper). The original transcription is in a compilation of family documents done by George J. Lutz, in May 30, 1972. The compilation was given to my father by his sister for Christmas a few years ago.

James O'Brian Passes Away at the Age of 82 Years

Another of the old pioneers has been called hence by the grim reaper death and now lies at rest in the "silent city of the dead." while a large concourse of friends pay tribute to him in attending the funeral which was held from the M.E. Church at 1 p.m. today, Rev. E. Yeger officiating, and his remains laid to rest in the village cemetery, by the side of those of his companion, who preceded him in death June 23, 1902.

James O'Brian, one of the oldest pioneers of this section of the state, passed away at his home on North Second Street, this village at 9:30 p.m., Tuesday, December 13, 1904. His work was done, and well done. To him and such as he, was committed the task of subduing the wilderness and making it habitable for the thousands that should come after them, and we bow in humble submission to the will of him who doeth all things well, and pay our tribute of respect to this departed one, let us not forget that there still remains our midst, still walk our streets with tottering steps, a few of that sturdy band, but, like ripened grain, their heads are bent and white unto the harvest. The sickle of the great reaper is ready and soon they will fall beneath its keen edge. Let us honor them and speak to them kindly words of solace in the dark hours of loneliness caused by the loss perhaps of a companion. Let us not wait to strew flowers upon the casket and grave above their lifeless clay, but plant them now in their pathway while yet they may behold their beauty, and that their hearts and lives may be cheered and brightened.

Among the early settlers in this part of the state came James O'Brian, born in Belville, Ontario, 82 years ago. He lived there til 18 years of age, when he located in London, where 55 years ago he was married to Miss Ann McClean. They came to Michigan 42 years ago, settling in Maple Valley, three and one-half miles south of Brown City, on the farm now owned by Joseph Morris, where they lived until 1882, when they moved to Brown City. Mr. O'Brian was a carpenter by trade, which avocation he principally followed during his residency in Michigan.

Mr. O'Brian is survived by seven children, as follows: Mrs. Kate Clink, of Capac, Mrs. Jennie Dean of Akron, Ohio, Mrs. Elizabeth Henn of Burnside, Mrs. Margaret Hether of Maple Valley, John and Anna single at home and Mrs. George E. Harris of Yonkers, N.Y.

He was brought up in the Presbyterian faith which he held during his entire life.”

A very florid piece, isn't it? My first thought when reading it before beginning any family research, was that the writer didn't know him and was padding the piece to make it look longer. After I looked into Ann & James, realized the writer did know him – maybe the writing style of those first two paragraphs was in fashion in the early 1900’s? Did you notice that, again, I have an obituary that doesn't mention who his parents are? But, unlike last week, I don’t have a clue who James’ parents are.


In the course of my research, I found James under several spellings of his last name, starting with Obrien, moving to O’Brien, and ending up with O’Bryan. We know from the obituary that he was born on July 12, 1823, in Belville, in Upper Canada (now Belleville, Hastings County, Ontario, Canada). He always indicated, whether in Canada or the United States, that he was born in Canada (Canada English). In one U.S. census that it states that both his parents were of foreign birth (1870 – the first after his immigration), but in the next two censuses (1880 & 1890) James stated his father was born in New York and his mother in Canada (Canada English).  

In his 19th year, James moved to London, Canada West (Upper and Lower Canada unified into one province called Canada; what became Ontario was then called Canada West in official documents). James would have turned 18 in July 1841, so that means he was in London for the 1842 Canadian Census. doesn’t have that one but does; however, it is really hard to read and the only name listed is the head of household and all others in the household are denoted by counts in categories. I haven’t yet sorted out which Obrien is my James (there is a James but I’m not certain it’s my James because of the difficulty in reading the form). I’ll continue to work on figuring it out, but I don’t have it now.

The first record I found James in was the record of his marriage to Ann McLean, in London, Middlesex, Canada on 31 August 1848, by James Skinner, minister of the United Presbyterian Church in Canada. The witnesses were Hector McLean and John Collie.
Climbing My Family Tree: McLean-O'Brien Marriage Record (1848 London, Upper Canada)
McLean-O'Brien Marriage Record (1848 London, Upper Canada)
Click to make bigger

After the marriage, I first found the couple in the McGillivray township of Huron County, Canada province with their first daughter, Catharine Priscilla (1 yr old), in the 1851 Census. James and Ann were 28 years old. James was a laborer, and, oddly, the couple was listed as belonging to the Church of Rome (Catholic) – I would put that down to the census taker, as otherwise, the family always self-identified as either Presbyterian or Church of Scotland (pretty much the same thing).  In 1861, James and the family were still in McGillivray, living in a log home. James was now a carpenter, and James and Ann had four more kids (so, five total):  Catharine (9), Jane (8), Elizabeth (6), Margaret (3), and John (1). The oldest three girls were in school. Another daughter, Ann, was born later that year after the census as taken.

Two years later, James and Ann moved the family to the U.S.A, to Sanilac County, Michigan. Two more daughters were born in Michigan, Christy Jane in 1864 and Ellen in 1867. Christy died at 3 years, 3 months old; on her tombstone are the words, “sleep on sweet babe and take thy rest God called you home he thought best.” The family must have been broken-hearted.

The U.S. Census data differs a bit from the narrative given in the obituary, albeit not in major ways. By 1870, James, 48, owned and worked a farm valued at $2700 (it would be about $49,090 in today’s dollars) and had personal property valued at $600 (about $10, 909 now) in Maple Valley, Sanilac County, Michigan. Only son John was in school at that time. At the time of the 1880 census, James (57), Ann (50), two of their daughters (Anna, 18, and Ellen, 13) and son John (21) lived in Burnside Township in Lapeer county MI. James was a famer and Ann kept house. Their son John was a carpenter and daughter Anna was a domestic servant. The 1890 census forms were burned in a fire so we have no data for that year. In 1900, James (76), Ann (69) and the youngest three kids – no longer kids --  lived in Maple Valley Michigan. James listed himself as a house carpenter. John (41) was a carpenter, Anna (38), a dressmaker, and Ellen (33) was a school teacher.

When he was 79, in 1902, James lost Ann, his wife  and companion of 53 years; he lived only two years longer, before dying of pneumonia and old age at his North Second Street home in Brown City Michigan.

If you know anything about where James came from, who his parents were, and the rest of his life, and are willing to share that with me, please contact me by leaving a comment, or by emailing me at the address listed in my Contact Me page.

Climbing My Family Tree: Death Certificate: James O'Brian (December 12, 1904)
Death Certificate: James O'Brian (December 12, 1904)
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I really want to learn who his parents are, and what his early life was like, and whether he had siblings (and about his parents’ lives too!), and more about the rest of his and Ann’s life.

 ---------------------; Archives of Ontario Series: MS248; Reel: 3, and Genealogical Research Library (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1801-1928 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA; Canadian Census of 1851 & 1861; U.S. Census 1870, 1880, and 1900;, Michigan, Death Certificate: The Library of Michigan, Michigan Death Records, 1897-1920; Rolls: 1-302; Archive Barcode/Item Number: 30000008530705; Roll Number: 74; Certificate Number: 4.

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