Obituaries are fascinating things. A nice, chatty obit can be a goldmine of information. A bare-bones (pun intended) death notice consisting of two lines can be cause for gnashing one’s teeth, followed by a visit to the dentist to repair the damage. Some have glaring factual omissions, leaving the reader to speculate whether this was due to oversight, malice or some other reason.
Then there are the occasional obituaries that might be described as being just slightly…wrong.
Case in point: Annie O’Hara, widow of George W. Oakes of Adams Co., Wisconsin. Her obituary states that she was born in Toronto, Canada on 25 July 1843. Her death certificate states that she was born in Toronto, Canada on 18 July 1842. Well, at least the month is consistent. The 1900 census isn’t much help; it looks like the census taker originally wrote July 1842 but the 2 then appears to have been written over with a 1.
The obituary says that Annie’s father and brothers died in Canada. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. It’s fairly certain that she had a father – his name was Patrick O’Hara according to her marriage record and death certificate – but where he died is anyone’s guess. Whether or not Annie actually had brothers is a question yet to be answered.
It is stated that Annie and her mother moved to Wisconsin when Annie was a small child, following the death of her father and brothers. However, the 1900 census gives her year of immigration as 1860. A woman who was born in 1842 or 1843 would have been at least seventeen years old in 1860 and could not be any stretch of the imagination be called a “small child”.
Annie’s mysterious mother who supposedly accompanied her to Wisconsin – a credible assumption given the fact that Annie would have been an unmarried girl in her teens – was named Jane. That is absolutely everything that is known about her and that much comes from Annie’s marriage certificate. One can be fairly confident that Annie did, in fact, have a mother. Trusting Annie to know her mother’s given name presents no problem. After that, things get a bit murky, because no trace of Jane has ever come to light. She might have remarried, which would explain the failure to locate a Jane O’Hara, but finding a woman named Jane whose age can only be guessed at within a fifteen to twenty year range, born in Ireland, surname unknown, who arrived in Wisconsin probably in 1860 but possibly much earlier – and then identifying which candidates might possibly be Annie O’Hara’s mother? Good luck with that.
Nor does turning to Canada offer any solutions. Finding Annie’s parents on a passenger list for a ship arriving in Canada before 1842? That kind of thing mostly happens in dreams. The one Canadian census where Annie should show up in her parents household would be the 1851 enumeration. There is no shortage of men named Patrick O’Hara in 1851 Canada. But a Patrick O’Hara with wife Jane, an 8- or 9-year old daughter Annie and at least a couple of male children – oh, and probably Protestant (Annie was married by a Methodist Episcopal minister, which makes it unlikely that she was a good Irish Catholic girl). Anybody seen that family hanging around Toronto or anywhere else in the vast wilds of 1851 Ontario, Canada? Didn’t think so.
So there you have it, a fun case study of obituary genealogy. It’s enough of a headache to make one consider buying stock in aspirin companies. Or maybe Jack Daniels.