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Recently my focus in maritime history has prompted me to look at the curious past of great great great-grandfather  Owen O’Neill. Many questions are unanswered. I want to know what jobs he worked at sea and if in fact he was born off the coast of South America.  I posted about Owen recently when findagrave.com led me to the family burial plot at Holy Cross in Menlo Park. Owen died 28 May 1871. [Link]

San Francisco Bay / painted by Ch. Jargensen ; etched by A. Drescher.

San Francisco Bay / painted by Ch. Jargensen ; etched by A. Drescher.

I found him and his family in the 1860 curious although the spelling of Owen’s first name as Eugene does not make sense.

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Owen O’Neill, Township 3, San Mateo, California, roll 65, page 85, accessed on Ancestry, 1860 US Census.

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page 86.

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Eugine or Owen [?] O’Neill, born 1830, male, white, sailor, born in England

Ellen, born 1827, female, born in Ireland

Ellen A, born 1852, female, born in Massachusetts

Matthew J, born 1855, male, born in California

Kate T O’Neill, born 1857, female, born in California

Hannah O’Neill, born 1859, female, born in California

Charles _, born 1846, male, Indian, born in California

The names of the family members in the household are proof that this is the correct family, but what remains curious is the head of household. Is this Owen O’Neill or another man named Eugene. Maybe the census taker heard his name and entered how it sounded phonetically.

This Owen O’Neill heading the household in 1860 is a sailor born 1830 in England. The 1860 Census also led to the discovery of a daughter named Hannah who is only 1 year old. She most likely passed away before 1870 as she is not in the following census. The boy named Charles who is Native American is someone I have never heard of.  The following census of 1870 provides conflicting biographical information on Owen.

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Owen O’Neill, Township 3, San Mateo, California, roll 87, page 371A, accessed on Ancestry, 1870 US Census.

Owen O’Neill, 1870 Census, Belmont.

Owen O’Neill, male, white, born 1825, farmer, property valued at 2000, personal estate 200, born in Central America, parents of foreign birth, citizen

Ellen, female, white, born 1827, keeps house, born in Ireland, parents of foreign birth

Ellen M, female, white, born 1852, at home, born in Massachusetts

Matthew J, male, white, born 1854, at home, born in California

Catherine, female, white, born 1858, at home, born in California

Eugene, male, white, born 1853, at home, born in California

Wiiliam J, male, white, born 1855, at home, born in California

John Ah, male, chinese, born 1835, cook, burn in China, alien

John Rice, male, white, born 1848, day laborer, born in New Brunswick, citizen, 

In adjacent census records, occupations, birthplaces, and birthdate are completely different for Owen. The most jarring conflict are his birthplaces. Was it England or Central America?  These kind of challenges should be familiar to Irish researchers who find that some or all records provide conflicting information. Owen most likely worked two jobs, running the freight boat but also tilling land.

I continued to search online and snagged another clue on Ancestry. This came from the California Voter Registration Lists. Owen appears on the 1867 List.

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California State Library, California History Section; Great Registers, 1866-1898; Collection Number: 4 – 2A; CSL Roll Number: 122; FHL Roll Number: 977285. Accessed on Ancestry, California, Voter Registers, 1866-1898.

He was 37 making his birthdate around 1830 and listed his birthplace as Brazil. His occupation is boatman and he registered to vote in Belmont.

I then came to the San Mateo County Genealogical Society’s (SMCGS) website. The indexes are great and I searched everyone to collect as many references as I could. I focused on Owen but would need to go back and record references to the children. This allows me to explain what researchers for this county can access online.

I’m always fascinated by court records and SMCGS has a name index to early court registers. Owen appears four time and one reference shows he was addressed as “Captain O’Neill”.

Vol 5, page 148, O O’Neil

Vol 5, page 234, Captain O’Neill

Vol 5, page 266, O O’Neill

Vol 5, page 296, Owen O’ Neill

Land Record indexes came up with two references.

O’Neill Owen 17 Dec 1858 D1 472 grantee
O’Neill Owen 29 May 1861 D4 101 Grantee Swamp and Overflow Land

I was excited when I found that an obituary was published in the San Mateo County Gazette, 3 Jun 1871. There is also an impressive name index to a local historian’s genealogy collection called the Schellens Index that includes references to the family.

I am interesting in finding a genealogist in the area who would transcribe at least the obituary. I begin to think about what local maritime museums close to San Francisco could offer. There is an impressive site called the Maritime Heritage Project. The site is useful to anyone who had a mariner from California in their family tree or if their ancestor traveled to San Francisco 1846-1890 because a lot of passenger lists are transcribed from local newspapers. I will probably spend a lot of time on this website the next couple of days perusing their resources.

The next step is to make a timeline for Owen and his family as the number of sources are starting to accumulate.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Jake Fletcher, Travelogues of a Genealogist.

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