Kevin J. O'Brien in Killernan Graveyard, County Clare, Ireland June 1981

Kevin J. O'Brien in Killernan Graveyard, County Clare, Ireland June 1981
Kevin J. O'Brien in Killernan Graveyard, County Clare, Ireland June 1981

Saturday, April 14, 2012

O’Bryan to Bryant: Ireland, Canada, & Colorado

By Garry Eugene Bryant / Garaidh Eóghan Ó Briain

William M. O'Bryan/Bryant
     Traditions have contained within them various degrees of truth and my family has had a tradition that the family surname, use to originally be O’Brien/O’Bryan, but not one bit of paper documentation has been found that this was fact.
     The tradition that has been handed down in the family for five generations was that my great-great-grandfather William was a Catholic priest, who had a doctrinal disagreement with the church and left Ireland and immigrated to America landing in New York City in the mid 1800s, changed his surname in the New York courts from O’Brien to Bryant and headed to the western territory of Colorado during the famous Pike’s Peak Gold Rush of the late 1850s. Arriving at the gold fields around Central City he married a Native-American of the Sioux Indian Tribe. In the Central City area William became associated with the Caribou Silver Mine. 
     Such is the story told to me when age ten by my father, Ralph Bryant, as told by his father, Earl [1900 – 1967], who heard the story from his father, William Cullen Bryant [1867 – 1932].

Separate the truths from the myths

     Some fifteen years ago my mother was de-junking her files and throwing folders into the trash. She suddenly decided she ought to open them to be sure that they were indeed trash material. Opening the first folder was a three page history written by my father at the time of my birth that was somewhat different then the tradition he told me when I was ten.
     In the late 1820s to early 1830s, John and Mary O’Brien emigrated with their family from Ireland to Quebec, Canada, where they lived for a couple years on account that the community was devout Catholic as they were which shall be revealed later. From Quebec they settled in Ontario where on 19 March 1836, son William M. O’Brien was born. When about sixteen William’s parents told him that he was to follow his older brothers into the priesthood of the Catholic Church, in which he had several sisters that were also nuns. Having different plans William ran away from home, dropped the ‘O’ and added a ‘t’ to his surname changing it from O’Bryan [or O’Brien] to Bryant, and shows up on the Colorado frontier where he married the widow Mary Jane [Stacy] Beachley on 6 June 1864, at Black Hawk, Colorado.  [Mary’s obituary is a long article about her life. She was born in New York state, and her father later removed to Wisconsin and was a trader with the Indians.]
Nederland, Boulder Co., Colorado, c. 1872.
     The nearby town of Boulder was a supply center for the mining camps and the Bryant’s moved there, where they first appear in the local newspaper, Daily Camera, in 1867, mentioning that William Bryant was an election judge [William was never a naturalized citizen], and that he and wife were serving a quick fine meal at the county fair. The Bryant’s appear in the 1870 Federal Colorado Census living in Boulder, he being born in Iowa, and Mary Jane born in New York. They had two sons, the eldest boy being a son of Mary from her first marriage, John Albert assumed the surname of Bryant.

Ruins of Bryant cabin at Caribou, Colorado
     In 1872 the Caribou Silver Mine located about seven miles above Nederland near 10,000 feet above sea level. Nederland was about nineteen miles into the mountains from Boulder. At Nederland the Bryant’s would live for nearly twenty years, William building the Caribou Ore Mill for the mine, and the family had a small cabin at the Caribou mine. While William was the super-intendent of the mill and chief mechanic of the mine, Mary ran a boarding house where she said that one boarder named Mr. Pullman got the idea of the ‘Pullman Sleeping Car’ that became popular on passenger trains in America.  The following  year American President U.S. Grant visited Central City for it was known round the world as “the richest square mile on earth” because of the gold content. It was decided on that a sidewalk of silver bricks would be laid in front of the Teller House Hotel for the President to walk on from his buggy ride from the train. William Bryant was the man who poured the silver bricks and made the sidewalk of silver in the city of gold.
Silver bricks, 1873.
      The 1880 Federal Colorado Census for Nederland reveals that William was born in Canada, his parents born in Ireland. Mary Jane was born in New York as were her parents. They had three children: two boys and a girl. By the late 1880s the silver market prices declined and mining silver was no longer profitable and the Bryant’s moved back to Boulder living on west Pearl Street. On 23 March 1893, William was killed while moving a house and a section fell that crushed him according to the Daily Camera newspaper. I’ve viewed his death record but the official paper doesn’t have a place for the data the original held about his parent’s names, “John Bryant and Mary Bryant from Ireland.”
Caribou Mill crew, c. 1884: Four Bryants in front row.
      This isn’t the end of the paper trail on the origins of the Bryant family. For in the children’s records in the 1900, 1910, and 1920 Federal Colorado Census’, all report that their father was born in Canada, and the 1920 census states that his original ‘tongue’ was Irish, and their mother’s was English; an addition to the puzzle! But nothing stating that the original surname was O’Brien/O’Bryan.

William M. [O’Brien/O’Bryan] Bryant – b: 19 Mar 1836, Ontario, Canada; d: 23 Mar 1893, Boulder, Boulder Co., Colorado. M: 6 June 1864, to Mary Jane [Stacy] Beachley [b: 12 Oct 1834, New York; d: 25 July 1930, Boulder, Boulder Co., Colorado], at Black Hawk, Gilpin Co., Colorado.

           1.   John Albert “Pike” [Beachley] Bryant – b: 12 Aug 1862, Rollinsville, Boulder Co., Colorado; d: 1901, Poorman Mine explosion, Boulder Co., Colorado. M: 1st to Cammille Liming; 2nd to Alice Maxwell [three daughters, one lived into adulthood].
      2.   William Cullen Bryant – b: 4 Aug 1867, Black Hawk, Gilpin Co., Colorado; d: 31 Jul 1931, Boulder, Boulder Co., Colorado. M: 1st to Ann Phillips [no children], 2nd Lottie Hugo [two daughters, one lived into adulthood, div.], 3rd 1898, to Sylvia G. Kerr (b: Dec 1877, Decatur, Illinois; d: 16 Oct 1917, Nederland, Boulder Co., Colorado] [three children, one son lived into adulthood].
      3.  Maud Bryant – b: 14 Jun 1871, Nederland, Boulder Co., Colorado; d: 18 Jul 1924, Boulder, Boulder Co., Colorado. M: 1st to Fred Hawks [no children, div.]; 2nd to Allen Keehn [no children].
      4.  Patience Bryant – b: late 1870s, d: died before 1880.
      5.  Bessie L. Bryant – b: 10 November 1882, Nederland, Boulder Co., Colorado; d: 22 Mar 1945, Boulder, Boulder Co., Colorado. M: 1897, to John “Jack” Clark, Colorado Springs, El Paso Co., Colorado. [Six children, one daughter lived into adulthood].

Maud, William C., Bessie, Mary Jane sitting.
Proof is in the DNA

In the fall of 2002 a genetics professor at Brigham Young University wanted to see if DNA would be useful in researching genealogy. A national genealogical conference was held locally and the BYU students took blood samples along with ones pedigree charts from those who volunteered, and I was one. However the DNA volunteers wouldn’t be allowed to view the results. For several years I wished that I could afford to know my DNA results but couldn’t afford the tests.
     A few years went by and during this time there ensued communication between Kevin O’Brien of Overland Park, New York, USA, through email and phone calls. We had a mutual passion for family history and especially the O’Brien Clan, just often told him that I wished to know if I was an O’Brien, or an English Bryant.
     In May 2007 I got a phone call from Kevin and he informed me to search a website by Sorenson Molecular Genealogical Foundation [SMGF] where I found my pedigree charts with the living names blocked out, but they were mine alright. [The professor was hired away to setup his research by a private company.] Kevin informed me that what I was looking at on the website was the match’s of 37 DNA markers. At the top of the list were three names which had a match of 100%: an O’Brien in Ireland, a Bryant in Colorado, and another O’Brien from Ireland; all three were 37/37. I still didn’t quite understand, than Kevin said, “We’re not only cousins who share a common ancestor, but in the O’Brien DNA Surname Project of 150 participants [in 2007] we are the closest match to the Chief of the O’Brien Clan. Wow! Finally the proof was even better then a paper document, it was in blood. The family tradition was right along. The surname was changed from O’Brien/O’Bryan to Bryant. An added bonus was the finding of Irish Type III DNA markers a few years ago that reveals that those who are Dalcassian have a certain DNA marker profile unique to the tribe, and Kevin and I have that too.
The Bryant extended family 1990.
     The bummer in all this is that the knowledge just makes one want to know or find more and it just isn’t there in Ireland because records were lost, destroyed, or never kept past the early 1800s. I never have found where in Ontario, Canada the family lived at or the names of the various family members. Supposedly William had a younger sister named Ellen who married a Mulek/Mulick and lived in Nebraska. Just haven’t located William in the 1851 Canadian census with his parent’s family. Then there’s the common ancestor for Kevin and me who lived between the eighth and tenth generation in the Thomond area in western Ireland. Kevin’s O’Brien ancestors settled at Killarnan in west County Clare. My theory is that since Kevin O’Brien’s ancestors are probably part of Cromwell’s transplants may have come from east Thomond from the Ara area in north-west Tipperary. Being four markers off of ‘The O’Brien’ line that puts our branch of the O’Brien’s breaking off around 1250-1325 A.D.
      At one time my wife said that I could change my surname back if I ever found proof that it was changed. I waved the computer print out in front of her face and stated that my proof is in the blood. She still won’t let me change it, so I go by two names; one English version, and the other Irish, having been told by the Irish consulate in San Francisco that many in Ireland have done this.
     DNA isn’t the answer for everyone, but when the paper trail ends, it can be helpful.

I am of Ireland, “Lamh Láidir an Uchtar!”

Garry Eugene Bryant / Garaidh Eóghan Ó Briain. [If one can add to this history please contact]

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