As I continue to make great progress on my genealogy, one line, being the ancestry of my grandmother Helen O’Neill, has stirred much curiosity within me. When I begin to study my family history, one surviving document from her grandmother Jane Barre O’Neill Weld suggests a rich maritime heritage.
Fig 1. Ancestry of Helen O’Neill (1926-2004)
Helen’s ancestry is a great example of the romantic rags to riches life of an American family. Her immigrant roots range from famine Irish immigrants to Swiss merchants, showcasing the complexity of most American’s genealogy. Many of her forefathers came to immerse themselves in a nation that offered a chance to make something of themselves. From paint merchants to philanthropists and prestigious military career her ancestry could be a rich book in itself. However, the scope of this blog post is dedicated to her direct paternal line that bears her maiden name, O’Neill.
Referring back to the document written by Jane Barre (circa 1920), it shares a fascinating O’Neill legacy. She begins with the oldest known ancestor, Helen’s great-great grandfather, Owen O’Neill from Queenstown (now Cobh), Cork, Ireland was a sea captain of a British Man-O-War. It remains unlikely that an Irish man ever commanding a British ship considering the animosity of both nations in the 19th century, yet an investigation to these facts has not been conducted. My research has uncovered a lot about his son also Owen O’Neill. According to Jane Barre, he was born at sea off the coast of South American and after coming of age, was inspired to travel as his father did to America. Jane Barre states that Owen O’Neill married Ellen Russell in New York in 1852 before moving to San Francisco.
This letter presented a lot of information that needed to be investigated. My first clue came in the 1870 US Federal Census. The family of Owen and Ellen O’Neill was residing in Belmont, San Mateo, California.
Owen O’Neill is listed as a farmer and was born in Central America around 1825. This adds weight to the fact he was born on his father’s ship. Their first child, Ellen M, age 18 is the only child with a birthplace other than California, hers is Massachusetts. So I wondered if the family ever met in New York. To my surprise, I located the marriage record and it was in Boston, Massachusetts 3 Nov 1850.
Fig 2. Marriage Record of Owen O’Neill and Ellen Russell, 3 Nov 1850, Boston, Massachusetts.
According to the Record, Owen O’Neill was 25 years old, occupation Seaman, his father was Matthew O’Neill (no mother listed) and born in Ireland. Ellen Russell was 26, born in Ireland, her father was James Russell. Neither had married before.
The O’Neill couple and there one daughter had decided to settle in the booming state of California. The family settled in San Francisco around 1853, removing to Belmont in 1857. According to Jane, Owen apparently suffered from arthritis and retired from long sea explorations to live a more modest life. In his final years, he ran a shipping freight from Belmont to San Francisco. Moving on to the 1880 US Federal Census has Ellen O’Neill now as head of the household and is widowed, so our range of death for Owen is between 1870 and 1880.
I decided next if he was a person of local notoriety, he might appear in the public newspapers. San Mateo County has a wealth of online genealogy records including obituary notices for the San Mateo Time Gazette. The index had both Capt. Owen O’Neill d. 28 Apr 1871 and Ellen M O’Neill d. 1 Aug 1883. Luckily, my BPL card gives me FREE access to an amazing database of historical newspapers, but not this particular one. I searched the digitized newspapers for San Francisco and came across the Death Notice for Ellen.
Fig 3. Death Notice for Ellen Russell O’Neill, San Francisco Bulletin, San Francisco, California. She died 1 Aug 1883 and is noted to be a native of County Cork, Ireland.
Right off the bat, I have many genealogical clues at my disposal. I now have evidence of her Irish county of origin (County Cork) and the location of her burial, Menlo Park. The age at her death, 54, would make her birth year 1829, different from that of earlier documents, suggesting 1824. Newspapers seem to refer to Owen as Captain, but this could stem more from his character and “public notoriety”.
And almost minutes later, with knowledge of when both my 3x great-grandparents passed away, the internet led me to a picture of the family grave in the Holy Cross Cemetery at Menlo Park.
Fig 4. Owen O’Neill Family Grave. Those interred are as follows:
d. 28 May 1871,
age 44 years,
d. 1 Aug 1883
age 54 yrs,
Kate F. O’Neill
d. 2 Dec 1895,
age 37 years,
Murten J. O’Neill
d. 6 May 1890
age 4 years,
James T. O’Neill,
3 Nov 1866,
age 3 years
Copyright (c) 2015 by Jake Fletcher
 Ancestry.com. 1870 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch, Township 3, San Mateo, California; Roll M593_87; Page 371A; Image 205; Family History Library Film 545586
 Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Marriage Records, 1840-1915 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013. Marriage Record for Owen O’Neal and Ellen Russell, 3 Nov 1850, Boston, Massachusetts.
 Ancestry.com, 1880 United States Federal Census, Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2000. San Mateo, San Mateo County, California, Roll T9_80, Family History Film 1254080, Page 375.2000, Enumeration District No.237, Image 0634, Family No.29, Household of Ellen O’Neill.
 San Mateo County Times Gazette Index, 1859-1899, Karl A. Vollmayer Local History Room, Redwood, California. http://redwoodcityhistoryroom.com/san-mateo-county-times-gazette-index-1859-1899.html
 San Francisco Bulletin (San Francisco, California), Death Notice for Ellen M O’Neill, 2 Aug 1883, 41:3. Accessed through America’s Historical Newspapers.
 Findagrave.com, Gravestone for Owen O’Neill, Holy Cross Cemetery, Menlo Park, California. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=107360347