Friday, February 3, 2012

A Family Mystery - John O'Brien in the British Navy

I have had an interesting exchange via email with a helpful person from the Erie Maritime Museum who has provided an alternate perspective on John O'Brien's obituary. Perhaps I have been reading it wrong, and John O'Brien was in the British Navy during the War of 1812, not in the American Navy. I previously posted about the muster roll records which show a John O'Brien on the Niagara in 1813 and captured on the USS Somers in 1814.

As Linda from the museum pointed out, I can't be certain yet this is my 3rd great grandfather, I need some further information to connect him to the War of 1812. She said that the men who served on the Niagara received prize money and there is careful accounting of who received it. She also provided some further sources to check, and I now have a researcher card for the National Archives so I will see if my John O'Brien received bounty land for service in the War of 1812 which he may have used to buy land in LaSalle County, Illinois before 1840. So far, I have not found John O'Brien on the pension index for War of 1812.

In reading the obituary again, it does reference several events worth exploring:
- Battle of Trafalgar, 1805 (he would have been 12 years old, a cabin boy on one of the ships)
- Battle of Lake Erie, Sept 1813
- Battle of New Orleans, 8 January 1815
- Battle of Waterloo, June 1815

If he was in the British Navy during this time, where would I look for confirmation? The British National Archives has an immense collection, but I have found searching on their site difficult.

This sounds like something for the PBS History Detectives, was John O'Brien in the American Navy or the British Navy during the War of 1812?

Here's what I know:
John returned to America in 1831, and the obituary says that he voted in the election of 1832 (popular vote would have been conducted in November 1832). He was in the 1840 Census in LaSalle, Illinois, so I want to look in the LaSalle records to see if there are land deeds recorded for him between 1831-1840.

Before he married Margaret Fagan, he was married in the LaSalle County area and had four children, including my 2nd great-grandfather John J. O'Brien. So far, I have been unable to find the name of his first wife. I do have the names of 2 other children, Agnes Gillette and Anna O'Brien, so I should dig further for information on Agnes as I already found the death record for Anna.

Where to check next:
- US National Archives - War of 1812 records, bounty land records
- Track down British Navy records for mention of a John O'Brien on the British side in the Erie campaign or at the Battle of New Orleans.
- Check for references to John O'Brien in ship records between 1815-1831

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