A while ago, I found through google search, the diaries of Denis J Oliver (my 3rd great-grand uncle) and his family. They are located at the California Historical Society, so I wrote to the archivists expressing my interest in these materials and they were able to send me the finding aids. Generally, a finding aid is a subject index and briefly describes each item, however the author of this finding aid, took the liberty to use a more opinionated and speculative writing style. Although archivists discourage this, I find it interesting to read and makes me all the more excited to see these diaries, whenever I get the chance.

This manuscript item contains the diaries of Denis J Oliver, his wife Bridget M.E. (McGlynn) Oliver and there children Anna Maria Josephine, Minnie A.C. Oliver, and Joseph Assumption Oliver. Only Joseph outlived his father and survived into maturity. Anna and Minnie died when they were teenagers and the rest of their children died in infancy.

Here is the short biography the author of the finding aid wrote on Denis J Oliver:


Dennis J. Oliver was born in Galway, Ireland, circa 1823, and emigrated to New York as a young man. There he married Bridget McGlynn on May,11 1848, a for awhile was in partnership with her brother, John A McGlynn, in the paint business. Eight months after her marriage, news of the gold fields took him to San Francisco with John McGlynn and William F. White, where he restablished his paint business in a tent in the sant at Montgomery and Sacramento streets. His diary describes the desolation, dust and high prices of San Francisco at that time. After six months, lonely and discouraged, he bought a ticket for home, but at he last minute decided to stay in San Francisco. Bridget joined him with her brother Daniel, who became a partner and friends (although an expensive one since Dennis signed many, many notes for Daniel which Dennis had to pay off).

Dennis had several partners during the following year and was burned out twice, but he prospered by providing the paints, oils, glass, etc. needed by the growing city. He was not adverse to speculating and price ifixing and he made and lost several fortunes. One of his purchases was a ranch in Menlo Park, and he was responsible for giving the town it’s named based on Menlough, Ireland: “a lovely place on the bank of Lough Corrib tow miles from the town of Galway.”

Dennis and Bridget had nine or ten children, five of whom died in infancy and only one of whom outlived his father.

Dennis was a patriotic Irish Catholic and was close to many of the clergy in San Francisco. He gave generously of his time and money to catholic charities, church debt funds, and the Hibernian Society. His diaries mention many of the early organizations, personalities, and events in San Francisco. The first diary (1854-57) is very interesting and reveals his emotions even though there is evidence that it was copied over and edited by the writer. Later diaries tend to be brief lists of masses and meeting attended, who came to visit, walked, number of gallong of lead purchased, etc.

It also includes his lists of residences in California, the locations of his painting business. His diaries span fourteen volumes, the first one, spanning 1848-1857, are according to the author, “a goldmine of information about San Francisco from 1848 to 1857.” It talks alot about his trip to California and his trouble establishing his paint business,  as well as talking a lot about many other aspects of San Franciscian culture. Other major topics are his family’s travel experiences to Europe and his sister’s death.

What made this finding aid more valuable were the inclusion of Oliver family tree charts. The finding aid included the genealogies of Denis J Oliver (confirming the name of his parents, Bartholomew and Catherine), his wife Bridget McGlynn, his brother John B Oliver (my 3rd great-grandfather), and Denis’s son, Joseph Assumption Oliver.

I am  very excited to receive this and have a lot to sift through and add into the family tree. Will follow up with more bios and information.

Update: my cousin put all of it in pdf, click her to view the link: Denis J. Oliver diaries

Copyright (c) 2009 by Jake Fletcher

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