O’Brien Family History, Mary E. Lynch Gray, 1977

As this is the 100th anniversary of my mother’s birth (also my 60th), I thought I might put down some of the stories she told me of her childhood.  Also, I will add things I recall my grandmother telling me.


My mother, Mary Jane Agnes O’Brien, was the second child and eldest daughter of Thomas and Margaret (O’Connell) O’Brien.  They had both immigrated to this country at about age 16.  I don’t know their birthdates (My grandmother O’Brien said she never knew the date of her birth) but I guess they were perhaps 21 and 23 when my mother was born in 1877 in Bay City, Michigan.  They had been married in Dunkirk, N. Y. and their first child Charles was born there.  Thomas O’B. had come there to help his older brother John in a feed and grain business he was able to purchase, the store being located on what is now Route 5.  John sent money back to Dublin and brought first Tom, then his four sisters, Mary O’Brien a spinster, Ellen Carroll, Jane Cavanaugh and a fourth sister I will have to call Mrs. Mulligan as I do not recall her given name.  He finally sent for his mother, who lived with him, along with his sister Mary, and who [his mother] lasted to a ripe old age of 101.  They are all buried in a Catholic Cemetery in Dunkirk.


Text Box:  
Thomas O’Brien and Margaret O’Connell O’Brien.
My grandfather (Tom) took his bride and young son to Bay City, Mich. because he heard wages were good there and he wished to be more independent of his brother who had become like a father to him as his own father had died when children were very young (John never married).    They didn’t stay long in Michigan after my mother was born as my grandmother (Maggie) contracted malaria (which she called the A-gue).  They then moved to Erie, Pa. where my grandfather worked as a machinist, eventually becoming a foreman for Jarecki mfg. located then at 9th and Holland streets.


Five more daughters were born:  Mae, Anna, Alice, Nellie, and Rosie.  Rosie died at age 4 of convulsions.  Nellie Wild is still living in Erie and is, I believe, 93 yrs. old.




Text Box:  
Thomas O’Brien with his children, from left, Charles, Mae, Anna, and Jenny, about 1883.

My grandmother came from County Cork[1] and came with her family (I believe) in steerage to America.  Her parents ran a tavern in Buffalo and she later went to Dunkirk as a housemaid and there met my grandfather.  The rest of her family lived in Buffalo.  Her brothers Bill and Jim O’Connell and her sisters Annie ..... and Nellie ........   She told me many stories of her childhood in Ireland, how beautiful it was, the little donkey carts, the religious persecution and the sadness of leaving it.  Mass was held secretly in peasants cottages.  Always fearful they might be caught, the priests could not dress as priests and were hid as they passed from village to village.[2]  She remembered all the old Irish toasts and I wish now I had written them down for she had one for every occasion.  She loved sitting at the head of the dining room table surrounded by her family and raise a small glass of wine to health and happiness.  She had 4 married daughters (Charles died single at 41) and 7 grand daughters whom I will list later.







Text Box:  
Thomas O’Brien’s home at 538 East Fifth Street, Erie, Pennsylvania in 2012.



My grandfather was a very quiet, thoughtful man, whom I recall walking through the huge house at dusk whistling soft tunes and winding the clocks in each room, checking them against his large pocket watch.  As there seemed to be at least two clocks in each room, this was a lengthy chore, as he went from parlor replete with Victorian love seat, gentleman’s chair and lady’s chair in stiff hair upholstery with muted tan and gray tapestry, thru heavy gray velvet drapes, to the sitting room the coziest of all, lined with bookshelves, a beautiful library table with gas "Gone with the wind" lamp in deep tangerine and the big coal stove with icingglass windows glowing in winter and fainting couch, to the dinning room with its heavy oak sideboard to a huge kitchen with its monstrous wood and coal stove where a tea kettle hummed softly all day long.  My cousins and I loved the upstairs bedrooms best as there were so many nooks and crannies to investigate and lots of pretty things in Aunt Alice’s room.  Aunt Alice never married so she had to “put up” with all her nieces every Sunday when as my uncle used to say “We’ve all got to go to Ma’s.”

Text Box:  
From Left to Right: Eileen Lynch, Mary E. Lynch, Alice O’Brien (driving) and Margaret O’Connell O’Brien about 1927.  This is most likely the car that Alice O’Brien used to chauffeur her father, Thomas O’Brien, after his accident.  Vehicle identified as a 1925-6 Ford Model T Tudor Sedan.





When I was ten, which would be 1927, my grandfather was almost killed in a tragic accident I will never forget.  Jarecki manufacturing was moving to a new plant and he had promised my grandmother as soon as they moved he would retire and they would make a trip back to Ireland.  His favorite song was “I will take you home again Kathleen” but he substituted Maggie for Kathleen.  As he was supervising the removal of a big piece of machinery a pulley stuck.  Not wanting to endanger the lives of the young men around him he climbed up to see what the problem was when the rope snapped dropping the machine on him, crushing his chest and shoulders.  He suffered horribly for a long time with broken ribs and collar bone wearing a steel brace to keep him immobile.  By some miracle, he recovered as medicine was not too well developed at that time and the steel brace was really archaic by our standards.  The trip to Ireland was cancelled but he spent many happy months with Aunt Alice as chauffeur going from one of his properties to another collecting rents and talking to farmers on property he owned. 


By sheer will power and denying himself and his family all the little niceties of life, he had amassed quite a small fortune.  My mother tells that all his savings, gold $10 pieces, were saved right in their home.  At work he designed long lengths of pipe with nipples on each end and these he dropped with ropes down in the rafters of the house from an attic room.  Each week he added gold pieces by pulling the rope up, unscrewing the nipple and dropping in a few more gold pieces.  This way he figured if the house burned, the pipe would not and his fortune was safe.  



Text Box:  

Song lyrics from Ireland-Information.com


Gradually, he invested in mortgages and also bought a farm on Lake Pleasant Road.  He also inherited most of his brother John’s estate which included a 100 acre grape farm in Silver Creek, New York and the family feed and grain store at Eighth and Parade which then became a bakery and later Lynch’s Tavern (no relationship).[3] 


Text Box:  
O’Brien family photo possibly taken at one of the farms owned by the O’Briens about 1919.  Left standing: Thomas O’Brien and Margaret O’Connell O’Brien.  Left kneeling or sitting: Mary E. Lynch, Frank E. Lynch, Jean Lynch, and Jennie O’Brien Lynch.  Possibly John O’Brien, sitting far right.

Text Box:  
Building at the corner of Eighth and Parade in Erie, PA that may have been the feed store (from Google Maps Street View).

Text Box:  
Mary E. Lynch in the backyard garden of 217 E. Eighth Street, Erie, Pennsylvania.  The house no longer exists.



We lived at 217 E. Eighth Street as children and I remember him passing home at noon hour all in black with a black derby, smelling of shop grease.  He never stopped in, just asked “How’s your mother?’ or “How is school?” and walked on in his heavy work shoes with a walk that you knew was from tired and aching feet.


My mother recalls as a child having to take a hot supper to him in a metal lunch pail at six at night as he often worked from 7 AM to 9 at night – all those years in a one floor frame shop painted barn red that stretched for almost a block and, as I recall passing it, always chugging, chugging from noisy machines, the windows so dirty you could not see inside.


After his accident, he finally had more time for his family.  He also decided to give each married daughter her inheritance before he died so as to prevent inheritance tax which he hated.  He visited each daughter and presented her with two or three mortgages with a combined value of $10,000 for each daughter.  In his will, he also gave them the two farms, the one in Silver Creek, New York and the one on Lake Pleasant Road, Erie County, Pennsylvania.  He left my grandmother the homestead and $50,000 in gold bonds[4] and my Aunt Alice also $50,000.  This was just before the crash of ‘29.  Had he known that the depression deflated invested money I wonder if he would have done differently.




All photos from Barry Gray’s Picasa web page except the store at Eighth and Parade.


Back to family history | Home | Bob Gray Consulting | Genealogy

Copyright 2012, Robert F Gray

[1] Believed to be from the Castlemagner Parrish near Kanturk, County Cork, Ireland

[2] For more details, see History of Roman Catholic Church in the Castlemagner Parrish from Historical And Topographical Notes, Collected By: Colonel James Grove White J. P., D. L.

[3] This is most likely the grain and feed store managed by William J. Carroll, son of Thomas and John O’Brien’s sister, Ellen.  See later discussion.

[4] From Collectible Stocks and Bonds from North American Railroads: Guide with Prices by Terry Cox, 2003:   “Gold Bonds promised repayment in gold coin as opposed to ordinary paper money.  Promising repayment in gold probably had more to do with promoting sales than anything else.”