Sunday, March 20, 2011

More on they guy I know as Charles "Pat" O'Neal

The mystery of Charles F. O'Neil keeps getting more and more mysterious.

Unfortunately, the more I find out about him the lower my opinion of him sinks.

That makes me sound rather judgmental, but family is family. And he's mine.

My Uncle Tom went to a Duggar reunion in Georgia a couple of months ago and found out a lot about this drifter, Charles F. O'Neil. He just sent me an email, which I'll share now, along with some information from my grandma. I'm really new to this whole family historian/quest for ancestors business so if anyone out there (ahem, Kate, ahem) wants to help out you are more than welcome to.

The initial F. does stand for Fitzpatrick, which is why he went by Pat, at least when my great-grandmother, Mary (Gladys) was born.

Fitz is a prefix for the Anglo-Norman patronymic naming system and means "son of." So, it's possible that Charles is the son of Patrick. However, the Irish name Fitzpatrick doesn't necessarily mean this. In fact, it's the English translation of the name of a clan in Ireland: the Mac Giolla Phádraig clan. So it's also possible that Charles was just in this family-clan and his father's name could have been anything.

It is interesting that he put his birthplace as France on the 1910 census since his wife, Gladys, and family were under the impression that he was from Ireland, and they kept that impression forever, it seems, since my grandma had quite the shock when my dad broke the news that her grandpa was from France.

"It can't be!" she said, "It just can't be!"

Grandpa O'Neil, it seems, was somewhat of a...drifter.

As my grandma put it in the history she started writing, "When Gladys was about five years old her father left town with another lady and never came back."

Uncle Tom adds a little more detail to this account. "On the day his last son [with Laura] was born in Miller County, Georgia, he left Laura with Evia Dunn King and moved to West Palm Beach, Fla."

It appears he and Mary (Laura) got married in Quincy, Gadsden, Florida on February 15, 1909, and, just seven months later, my great-grandma Mary (Gladys) was born, apparently premature, also in Gadsden county. They had moved to Colquitt, Miller county in Georgia before the birth of their two sons: Blucher (Butch) in 1912 and John Daniel in 1914.

Charles had a previous marriage in Pensacola, Florida, as Charles William Nell, presumably to Annie Neel (who was from Ireland). They had five children together and, at the time of the 1900 census: Charlotte, Eugene, Felix, Genavae, and unknown. I don't know if this is the right spouse, but it's the only one I can find who is married to a Jessie Neel from France. 

Charles also had children with Evia Dunn King. I found a Charles O Neel on the 1920 census living in Palm Beach, Florida, married to Eva J O Neel. They have four children: Rossie, William, JD, and MA. It seems Eva is a good twenty years younger than Charles so he must have been somewhat of a charmer.

My Uncle Tom met some of Charles' progeny and worked with them to collaborate on family history. 

They came up with several names that he went by and I've tried to find records for each of them.

Jessie Neel in 1900 census (birthplace France)
Charles Fitzpatrick O'Neal in 1910 census (birthplace France, although he told his family Ireland)
Charles Thomas O'Neal in 1920 (birthplace Ireland)
Chas. T. Neel in 1928 (birthplace France; on his death certificate)
Charles William Nell, Sr., on his tombstone in Pensacola, Florida

A "cousin in Georgia says she found he came from Ireland and was living in Alabama before marrying my grandmother, Laura," according to Uncle Tom. And, it seems that he "stayed in touch with is sons in Pensacola because after his death they went to West Palm Beach to bring his body back to Pensacola to bury him."

He seems to list France more often than Ireland on his documents, but who is to say how reliable any documents of his are. My uncle Tom got a rather steamy email from a contact who said, "The story about 'Jessie' Charles William Nell, Sr., who you know as Pat O'Neil is [that he is] from France and jumped ship with another man named Dubois. He was thought to be an illegal alien in this country."

It's a good thing I don't live in Arizona or I'd probably have head-hunters after me right now since my ancestor was an illegal alien from...somewhere over the ocean. Though he apparently naturalized by 1910 when he was approximately 48 years old.

The record in my family tree says he was born in 1876 but it seems much more likely that he was born between  1858 and 1862 somewhere between France and Ireland. How and when he got to America is still a bit of a mystery, but it was before 1900...


  1. Wow, this is so insanely interesting! I was not sold on it being "France" on that 1910 census, personally (Danny thought it looked like "Ireland - Irish"), but it *sounds* like you're getting lots of other corroborating evidence to show that yeah, maybe it WAS France. Wow!!

    I'm not gonna lie, I was so excited to find that. And this is not even my family! It totally made my day, and makes me want to institute "Irish Ancestor Search" as part of a St. Patrick's day tradition hahaha.

    My biggest general advice for family history is to be really, really, really, really, REALLY picky. Use original documents, not hearsay. A definite name, date, and a place are ALL needed on the same document to make it really reliable. And HOW you get to a document is just as important as what it is. And I'm a nut; I really prefer to see the actual image of a document than to use a transcription.

    What do you think you're going to do from here?

  2. Wow. I didn't notice the fonts were all messed up. Sheesh, Blogger!

    From here? Probably try to find supporting documents. My uncle Tom has some of the documents in his possession and said he'd bring them to the next reunion.

    I'm pretty positive about the information he gave me because the relative he worked with from Georgia was county clerk in Miller county.

    But I think I'll definitely try to get to the family history library this summer and see if I can find any "originals" or at least facsimiles.

    Thanks so much for all your help, Kate!

  3. My grandfather was Pat O'Neal, and my father was William Fleming O'Neal, from the third family in West Palm Beach, Fl. Pat O'Neal was 60 years old when my dad was born in 1916. My dad said his father was born in Ireland and sailed from Dublin, Ireland to New York. He said his dad talked with an Irish brogue, and he was a farmer in the Glades. This would put Pat O'Neal's birth at around 1856. JD was born two years after my dad, when Pat was 62 years old. Later, they were living in West Palm Beach, and their dad sent them to St Ann's Catholic School. My dad said that people called his father Pat or Paddy and my dad named me Patricia O'Neal and I was always called Patty. I named my son Patrick, because of the stories my dad told me about his father. My father said his dad was a cabin boy on a ship, when he was 8 years old and had sailed around the world 3 times by the time he was 13 years old. My dad said his dad told him he was born in Ireland. My dad said that his half brother from Pensacola (Frank) came and stayed with them in the glades for a while. He said that a traveling salesman who traveled all around Fl went out to the glades and recognized Pat from Pensacola, and told his family in Pensacola where he was. My dad had 8 children, 7 of which are still living. We are from the third family. We never knew of the second family until recently and some of us went to the reunion in Seminole State Park and got to meet some of our other family. When my father left this place on January 1, 2005, he had over 60 descendants. JD had a large number of descendants also. One thing is for sure, we may not know for sure what the legal name of our grandfather (Pat O'Neal) was, where he was born, where he came from, where he went or what his story was. What we do know is that he has left a lot of descendants behind, who were able to find one another, a lot of good people who we call our family, and no matter what our name is, have descended from this man who could not be traced, yet left traces behind, traces that helped us to find one another.