Mary K. Mallett
A. Kunckel, a bachelor housepainter from Toledo, Ohio, lived an
unremarkable life—except for one thing.
In 1904 when Frank was 24 his father died, leaving Frank as
caretaker for his widowed mother, Anastasia O’Neill Kunckel.
As “man of the house,” Frank oversaw his two younger
siblings, Arthur and Mary Loretta.
Frank also performed odd-jobs for his mother’s widowed sister,
Josephine O’Neill Sears. Frank
was a dutiful son and manifested great interest in his mother’s
immigrant O’Neill family. In 1937, at the urging of his nephew, Frank Kunckel undertook
a project which garnered him the interest of biographers and scholars
even today. My great-uncle
Frank wrote one of the earliest known family histories of the Eugene
admit that I had little interest in the details of the O’Neill
genealogy in the 1970’s when my father, Manley W. Mallett, cornered me
and tried to tell me about his new genealogical discoveries.
I was aware of my distant cousin relationship to Eugene
O’Neill. I read Moon
for the Misbegotten (Croswell Bowen with Shane O’Neill, 1959)
while I was in high school (mid 1960’s).
But during the 1970’s when my father was newly retired, he
immersed himself in writing several “books” about our family lines.
Often with little interest, relatives received copies of my
father’s proudly produced paper-bound booklets.
Dad’s last great endeavor was his own autobiography, My
Eighty-Four Ancestral Families, which he copyrighted in 1979, and
paid to have hard bound. By
the early 1980’s my father began
nursing my mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease.
He simply could not make the great leap to computer-based
genealogy, so his hobby faded away.
After my mother died in 1988, my father gave me albums and
cartons of well-labeled family photographs, but withheld his
genealogical notes and the special photos he had included in his books.
When he married again all his genealogical research somehow was
“misplaced”—not to resurface even when he died in 1998.
My Eighty-Four Ancestral Families includes a chapter on the O’Neill family history, drawn largely from the letter my father received in 1937 from Uncle Frank Kunckel. In the mid 1990’s, O’Neill biographer Arthur Gelb, a man I previously did not know, telephoned me to help him locate the original document written by Uncle Frank. With trepidation, I promised to research this for Gelb. I talked in vain with my father, who by then was deaf and deep into dementia. I carefully negotiated with my stepmother, who claimed to know nothing of the many boxes of genealogical research my father had once amassed. All I came up with was a lovely photograph of Aunt Josephine O’Neill Sears, which, fortunately, never made it into my father’s books so avoided the mysterious “disappearance.” (You may see that photograph today in O’Neill, Life With Monte Cristo by Barbara and Arthur Gelb, 2000.)
I present the details of Frank Kunckel’s writing, I declare my
complete deference to Barbara and Arthur Gelb for the correct dates for
various events in the O’Neill family history.
On the other hand, I find myself sometimes upset by the varying
spellings of O’Neill family names.
(I know from my personal experience of returning to my maiden
name of Mallett, that it takes a lot of legal documents and rulings to
change the spelling of one’s name in these times!) After my
first year of genealogical research, however, I have learned that our 19th
century forebears altered their names with some frequency and with no
legal proceedings to document these changes.
Take, for example, the various baptismal names now being found
for James O’Neill (Eugene’s father) and his siblings.
I believe these records reflect the rapidity of 19th
century Catholic baptism—sometimes even on the date of an infant’s
birth—before the new name is concretely agreed upon by the family.
Some of the baptismal names for the O’Neills in Ireland were more
nicknames than true Christian names.
(I refer you to the Gelbs’ writing on the birth names of the
O’Neills.) With all this
in mind, anyone studying
family history should allow for some ambiguity.
first ambiguities to be addressed in my O’Neill family history are the
names of my great, great grandparents.
The surname O’Neill has several variations in spelling.
Apparently the spelling we associate with the family was not formalized
until they settled into the United States. Happily, my great, great grandmother was clearly named Mary
and, perhaps, Mary O’Neill is the Mary for whom I was named.
My great, great grandfather’s name, however, was less certain,
except that it began with “Ed.” My father argued that because a daughter named her first son
“Edmund,” her father’s name was correctly spelled that way.
Uncle Frank, on the other hand, calls his grandfather
“Edwin.” The Gelbs say
the correct name is “Edmond.” Although
I lean toward my father’s theory, I really do not feel comfortable
with any of the spellings. I
now call my great, great grandfather simply “Ed.”
O’Neill’s grandparents (my great, great grandparents) were distant
cousins. Our O’Neill
family originated, according to Frank Kunckel, in southern Kilkenny
County, Ireland. They seem
to have moved around somewhat in this area as many of the O’Neill
family baptismal records have been found in Rosbercon, in Wexford
County, not far from southeastern Kilkenny County.
As many Irish families did during the great potato famine, they
chose to emigrate to the U.S. In
the 1850’s the parent
O’Neills with their eight children sailed from New Ross, Wexford
County, Ireland, on what Uncle Frank called the “Great India.” The
India was one of what we call the coffin ships. Many Irish died on these difficult sea journeys.
Miraculously, six weeks after leaving Ireland the O’Neill
parents and all eight children safely landed in Quebec.
The family shortly made their way by boat to Buffalo, NY. The
O’Neill family found joy and sorrow in Buffalo.
The eldest son, Dick, died and was buried there.
Margaret (Maggie), the first and only one of the O’Neills to be
born in the United States, was born in Buffalo in December, 1851.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night we hear Eugene O’Neill’s
version of grandfather Ed
O’Neill’s leaving his family and going back to Ireland.
My family’s oral history was very similar to what the play
presents. Frank Kunckel
wrote in 1937 of Ed leaving his family: “He went back on a visit and
was poisoned on saleratus biskets baked by his favorite niece.
She made a mistake and used stricknine instead.”
Ed’s little visit home stretched into six years and, in honest
hindsight, looks much like desertion of his family.
Ed went back to Ireland,
the family followed eldest daughter, Josephine, to Cincinnati, Ohio.
According to my father, Josephine married a prosperous
saloon-keeper from Covington, Kentucky, a short ferry-ride across the
Ohio River from Cincinnati. (Cincinnati
had many restrictive laws pertaining to alcohol, while Kentucky laws
were more relaxed.) During
the Civil War, however, Cincinnati was Union territory and Kentucky was
Confederate. Crossing the river for recreation ceased.
It was during those years it is believed that the childless
Josephine took her little brother, James, to live with her and her
husband in Norfolk, VA.
O’Neill had an older brother named Edward, who is believed to have
died in the Civil War as a Union soldier.
Frank Kunckel says that Edward died in the “marching line and
was buried in Greenville, North Carolina.”
My father did not address whether Edward died in the Civil War,
but wrote only that he doubted Uncle Frank’s facts on this.
(The Gelbs conclude that Edward died after an arm amputation in
Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1865.
The National Archives contain a petition for a Civil War pension
placed, successfully, by Edward’s mother, Mary O’Neill.)
great grandmother Anastasia O’Neill, sister of Josephine and James,
married a handsome widower, Henry Berkeley Kunckel.
Henry took her north from Cincinnati to live at his home in
Toledo, Ohio. Josephine,
married five times, settled in her last years outside Toledo, close to
her sister ‘Stasia. In
fact, Josephine’s death certificate indicates that, at the time of her
death, Josephine had moved to a few doors away from Anastasia.
James O’Neill passed through Toledo with his famous play, “The Count
of Monte Cristo”, my father reported that James came to dinner at my
great grandmother Stasia’s house.
I imagine these visits were infrequent until Henry Kunckel’s
death, however, because as a Methodist-turned-Catholic, Henry held to
the belief that card playing, dance halls, and theaters were places of
sin. The relationship
seemed to be strained from James’ side also, because James, according
to Uncle Frank, “married a Cleveland Society Girl who was close to a
Millionairess, and that was the reason we never saw or became intimately
acquainted with him.” Frank seemed to be a fan of James O’Neill in spite of
all of this, as evidenced by this statement: “In about the year 1860
your Great Uncle James O’Neill went on the stage and became a famous
actor who always lived a clean wholesome Christian life.”
the sad times endured by the O’Neills and the disagreements among
them, Frank Kunckel summarized his beliefs about the O’Neill family
tree on a positive note: “I
hope these few notes may help you, Manley, and I think you will find
their tree is of the Sturdy Oak.”
In 1979 my father’s description of the “Sturdy Oak” was
O’Neill (ca. 1805 - ca. 1856) married (ca. 1835) Mary O’Neil (ca.
1815 - ca. 1860). Issue 9
children who lived past infancy:
Richard/Dick (ca. 1836 - ca. 1851?)
Josephine (ca. 1837 - December 19, 1933) m. 5 times, last surname
(ca. 1838 - ???) m. John C. Jones
Edward (ca. 1840 - 1865?)
Mary (August 15, 1842 - October 19, 1923) m. Patrick Brown
Adelia (ca. 1843 - ca. 1883) m. John Powers
James (1846 - August 10, 1920) m. Ella Quinlan
Anastasia (May 4, 1849 - November 12, 1937) m. Henry B. Kunckel
Margaret (December 31, 1851 - October 9, 1922) m. Paul Platz
B. Kunckel and Anastasia O’Neill had three children together:
Frank Alonso Kunckel (1880-1943), Mary Loretta Kunckel
(1887-1939) and Arthur E. Kunckel (1883-1949). Only
Mary Loretta had offspring. In
1907 Mary Loretta married the 18-year-old Manley Martin Mallett.
(Family lore has it that she claimed she was pregnant at the time
of the wedding). Their
first child—my father, Manley William Mallett—was not born until
1909. Grandma Stasia is reported to have quit talking to Mary Loretta
for marrying outside of the Catholic Church.
Eventually Anastasia forgave her only daughter.
Mary Loretta and Manley Martin went on to have a daughter, Mary
Louise, who died as a child. They had two other sons, William and Earl Wayne, who grew to
adulthood. I have one
sibling, Manley Martin Mallett, II, and four Mallett first cousins. Anastasia O’Neill Kunckel now has dozens of great great
Today O’Neill family historians have several genealogical sources to use as references. They may find a copy of Frank A. Kunckel’s letter in the Louis Sheaffer-Eugene O'Neill Collection at Connecticut College's Charles E. Shain Library. My father, Manley W. Mallett, donated his book, My Eighty-Four Ancestral Families to several U.S. libraries, including the Library of Congress. Family tree sites on the Internet, like Ancestry.com, have O’Neill family trees of varying accuracy. The Internet has been a way to bring the O’Neill family closer together than we have been since we set sail on the “Great India”!
© Copyright 1999-2008 eOneill.com