52 Ancestors: Patrick O’Brien, #5

Since I missed a week, I’m going to keep numbering along with the 52 ancestors challenge calendar.

This week’s theme is in the census. The first ancestor I thought of when I read that was my ancestor Patrick O’Brien who immigrated to Boston, Massachusetts from County Cork, Ireland. The only documents that I have both seen and know pertain to him so far are the 1880, 1900, and 1910 U. S. census records and his line in the Boston death registration index for 1916. There are many documents that *might* be his on Ancestry and FamilySearch but there were a lot of Patrick O’Briens in Boston in the late 19th Century.

What the family stories said

According to my mother and aunts, Patrick left Ireland at a young age, maybe even as young as thirteen. He left because he allowed the family beehives to swarm while he attended a local fair against instructions and felt he had no choice but to leave the country and go to Boston. My mother told me that he left Boston for a while to go to Prince Edward Island and provide assistance after some sort of catastrophe. While he was there he met Ellen Hughes, married her and brought her back to Boston.

What the censuses said

Patrick and his family first appear in the 1880 U. S. census:


Patrick and his wife Ellen were living with their three children and Ellen’s mother Jane Hewes (Hughes, wife of James) in Boston, Massachusetts. In this census, Patrick was 32 years old and all his children are five years of age and younger.

Next is the 1900 U. S. census:


In this census, Patrick and his household consisted of two adults and four children. Patrick’s age was reported as 40 and his wife’s as 47. The length of their marriage was given as 20 years or since 1880.

Some questions that were not in the 1880 census concerned immigration and naturalization. People were asked about their own place of birth as well as their parents, the year they arrived in the United States if they weren’t born here, the number of years they were in the U. S. and whether they were naturalized.


Patrick’s and his parents’ place of birth was reported as Ireland, the year he arrived as 1879, that he had lived in the U. S. twenty years, and that he was naturalized.

Then the 1910 U. S. census:


Patrick died in 1916, so this was the last census he could be included. In this census, the family consisted of Patrick, his wife, and three children. The ages of both Patrick and his wife were recorded as 60 years of age and the length of their marriage as 35 years.


Patrick’s recorded immigration year had changed since the 1900 census. In the 1910 census he was recorded as arriving in the U. S. in 1874 and his wife in 1875. His daughter Kathryn was recorded as arriving in 1883 and having been born in Canada!

To make sense of some of the age and marriage discrepancies, I made a table of the changes over the 3 censuses:

Screenshot 2018-02-03 21.47.37

One of my hypotheses is that if Patrick was very young when he arrived in Boston, he might have lied about his age to be able to get employment of some sort.  As he and his wife grew older, that would be less of an advantage, so there was no need to lie about it anymore.

Going through this exercise made me realize that I needed to do a full timeline on Patrick and Ellen along with their children. There are birth records I don’t have yet but hopefully, the digitization project NEHGS is working on with the Boston Archdiocese will unearth some useful records.

To be continued…



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