Sunday, August 18, 2019

Portugal Travel Poster, 1954

Source: Boston Public Library Travel Posters.
On vacation, more posts to follow at the end of the month.

Vaudeville Performer

Buffalo Times, 9 Jul 1899
Here are more articles and advertisements mentioning Agnes Atherton as a performer & dancer around the country.
Nashville Tennesseean, 19 Jan 1885
Chicago Tribune, 27 Apr 1897
Pittsburgh Dispatch, 27 Oct 1889
Louisville Courier-Journal, 29 Sep 1889
NY Clipper, 13 Feb 1904

Saturday, August 17, 2019


Source: Library of Congress. 1897.
My previous post looked back at the family of my 3rd-great-grandfather John O'Brien. I'm now turning to the enigmatic Agnes Gillette mentioned in John's obituary in 1901. While I cannot guarantee this is 100% accurate, my strong belief is that Agnes was married to Alfred M. Gillette, a famous circus performer and actor. She appears in the Cook County, Illinois Death Index as Agnes Atherton Gillette, who died in Chicago on 7 November 1910.
Variety. 20 November 1910.
Before her move back to Chicago, Agnes was living in Cincinnati, Ohio. In the 1910 US Census she was sharing a household in Cincinnati with Alfred M. Gillette. Agnes appears in hundreds of articles in the New York Clipper, a well-known trade paper for theater, vaudeville and the circus community. The clipping below shows a farewell party for Agnes as she moved from Cincinnati to Chicago:
NY Clipper, 2 April 1910.
I don't know if Atherton was an early married name, old family name, an adopted name or a stage name. I'm leaning toward a stage name. After seeing Agnes connected to A. M. Gillette, I ran some old newspaper searches and found a ton of articles and clippings referencing them together. Agnes appeared in performances with the Gillette family and others as early as 1879, which would put her about 20 or 21 then if her age in the 1860 US Census is accurate. In 1860 she appeared in the convent/school/orphanage in LaSalle County, Illinois at St. Patrick's Church run by the Sisters of Charity.
St. Paul (MN) Globe, 28 Nov 1879
Agnes reappears in the 1880 US Census in Hancock, Houghton County, Michigan (on Michigan's Upper Peninsula), as a "performer in theater". The census was taken 3-4 June 1880. She is listed as 20 years old, although I think she was closer to 22 then.

It appears that Agnes was constantly on the road, traveling from city to city performing in a variety of shows. One article below features Agnes in a performance with Alfred Gillette's troup of acrobats.
Detroit Free Press, 8 Feb 1887
Minneapolis Star Tribune, 7 Nov 1886
Brooklyn (NY) Times-Union, 9 Dec 1890.
Agnes was known as a talented singer and dancer. She later managed her own shows, and was also a dress and costume designer for the clothes worn in these performances.

Given my great-grandfather Harry O'Brien's connection to the music business, I'd really like to think he inherited some of his musical talent from Agnes.

I'll have much more on Agnes in further posts. There are quite a lot of articles to dig through during her active performing years. 

Revisiting the O'Brien family mystery

In the years that I've been writing on this blog, an enduring mystery for me has been on my Dad's maternal line with the O'Brien family. I covered this back in May 2014 and before that in the first month of writing in January 2012. I recently took a closer look at this line, with a critical eye to the data in my tree, going back to John O'Brien's arrival in LaSalle County, Illinois.

John's obituary in the Shelbyville Democrat on 7 November 1901 contains a key passage:
"In 1831, tired of the sea, he came to America to make his home and seek fortune among the pioneers of the middle west, settling near LaSalle [Illinois], where he was married and to this union four children were born, three of whom are still living, John O'Brien of this city and Mrs. Agnes Gillette and Miss Anna O'Brien of Chicago. These children were left motherless when quite young and just prior to the civil war Mr. O'Brien moved to Shelby County, later marrying Miss Margaret Fagan, sister of Andrew and Christopher Fagan of this city, who survives him."

In revisiting this family, I'm first going to look at a young Irish immigrant named Bridget, who was left a widow caring for a young son in LaSalle County in August 1849 after her husband and two sons were stricken with cholera. Bridget appears in the 1850 US Census as Bridget Dooner, with four-month old infant son Michael Dooner. The census was taken on 24 August 1850, putting Michael's birth month at roughly April 1850.
Source: Ancestry. 1850 US Census, Salisbury, LaSalle, IL.
I looked at the Dooner name to see who Bridget could have been married to before 1850. I think but cannot yet confirm Bridget was married to Pat Dooner, who died in August 1849. Pat Dooner appears in the US Census Mortality Schedules in the same neighborhood where Bridget was living in 1850. Cholera also claimed two sons, John and Hugh Dooner.
Source: Ancestry. US Census Mortality Schedules.
I can't yet find a marriage record for John O'Brien and Bridget, but I do think they started a family together. Based on the obituary at the top of the post, here are the children for John and Bridget:
- Anna Maria O'Brien
- Isabella O'Brien
- John J. O'Brien
- Agnes O'Brien

I think Bridget died in LaSalle County sometime before 1860. Anna Maria, Isabella and Agnes appear together with the Sisters of Charity orphanage in the 1860 US Census. My assumption is that John put the girls in the convent/school at St. Patrick's Church, sent young Michael Dooner to live with a Dooner relative in LaSalle County and moved with son John to Shelby County. John married Margaret Fegan in Shelby County on 29 July 1861. I don't know if John just put them in the school and later moved them down to Shelby County, or if the girls found other homes.

I believe Isabella died in 1893, and I have news articles mentioning Anna Maria O'Brien living with her half-brother Michael Dooner in Chicago. I think I've also identified Agnes Gillette in Chicago, and will have much more on her in another post.

Michael Dooner reappears in Chicago and married Annie F. Byrnes on 19 January 1886. He passed away on 18 February 1918.

From the news clipping for the death of Anna Maria and John O'Brien's obituary, it does seem that the O'Brien siblings stayed in touch over the years. John J. O'Brien's daughters, Rose and Anna Alice O'Brien, worked with Anna Maria O'Brien before her death in 1914. 

Thursday, August 15, 2019