Sunday, August 9, 2015

Mary McGowan Thornalley (1850 – 1912) My Great Grandmother on my Mother’s Side

Mary McGowan Thornalley
At this time all I know about the first twenty years of Mary McGowan’s life is that she was born in Ireland at the end of the Great Irish Famine that occurred 1845-1850. One million people died during the famine and another million immigrated. Her obituary stated that she was from the city of Dublin. Her father’s name was Roger McGowan – the middle name she gave to my grandfather John Roger Thornally. Roger McGowan was born in Ireland. I don’t know the name of Roger’s wife. Mary had a sister Catherine `Kate’ McGowan who was born in 1853. 

Mary McGowan married William G. Thornalley (1850 – 1913) from Lincolnshire, England on September 12, 1874, when they were both 24 years old. Dublin to Lincolnshire is 250 miles and involves crossing the Irish Sea – which begs the question, how did Mary meet William? They were married at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in New York. The handwritten record of their marriage shows that Mary’s sister Catherine served as a witness. That suggests that Catherine immigrated to the United States with Mary, but the 1910 census states that Catherine immigrated in 1875 – the same year she married John Ogilvie. I’d say the census if off by a year.
St. Francis Xavier Church in New York where Mary and William were married

On the 1900 census Mary and William each reported that they had immigrated to the United States in 1875, but the 1910 census shows that William immigrated in 1868, and Mary four years later in 1872. The later dates make more sense in that they jibe with the date of their marriage, which I am confident, is accurate.  It seems likely that Mary and William met in England or Ireland, made the decision to immigrate and agreed that William would come first, get established and then Mary would join him in the United States, but this is all supposition.  I have looked thoroughly for immigration records but as of yet have not found proof of when either Mary or William came to the United States.

Between the ages of 25 and 37 Mary bore six children: William Gilliat Jr., Charlotte, Harry Melville, John Roger, Samuel McGowan and Rosemary. Gilliat was William’s mother’s maiden name, Roger was Mary’s father’s name, and McGowan was Mary’s maiden name, which all suggests that the name “Melville” is also a family name – possibly Mary’s mother’s maiden name. Such clues can be the genealogist’s friend or nemesis. 
Charlotte Thornalley
Sadly, Charlotte her second born died when Mary was 49. Charlotte died on March 14, 1899 from a blood infection. She was buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland and later her body was moved to Evergreen Cemetery, in East Oakland where she was interred with her father and mother. Charlotte’s brother, John was deeply saddened by his sister’s death and named his daughter Lottie after his beloved sister.

Mary first appeared on a US census on June 4, 1880 when the family was living at 112 Bush Street in San Francisco. This document confirms that Mary and both of her parents were born in Ireland. Will Jr. was 5 and Charlotte “Lottie” was 2.  By 1887, according to the Oakland Directory – similar to a phone book - the family had moved to the East Bay and were living on Bray Avenue (now East 34th Avenue) near the Old County Road (Foothill).

The 1900 census, taken on June 9th, shows the family living at 288 Bray Avenue in the Fruitvale Precinct of Brooklyn Township. The town of Brooklyn was formed in 1856 when Clinton and San Antonio merged. Then in 1872 Brooklyn was annexed into Oakland, so it is curious that Brooklyn was identified as an independent town on the 1900 census. In 1900 there were three teenagers in the household – John 17, Sam 14 and Rosie 13. Will Jr. was 24 and Harry was 21. Will Sr., Will Jr. and Harry were all identified as carpenters, John was a painter, and Sam and Rosie were still in school.
This image is from a tintype loaned
 by my second cousin Jeri Oyarzo Hickey,
 Sam Thornally's granddaughter

The family remained there until 1904 when they moved three blocks to Bray near East 17th Street. Then in 1907 they moved to 1707 Fruitvale. 1707 still exists today but is now number 1715. The house that was originally painted off white is now mint green with white trim. It is a two-story home with wood siding. By the 1910 census only Samuel and Rose Mary were still living at home. Will Sr. was identified as a “Builder” and Sam was working as a carpenter. Rose Mary was employed as a stenographer and worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad. Her father and older brother Will had both worked for the S.P. Company in 1889 but were no longer there in 1910.
1707 (1715) Fruitvale home on the right, 2015

Mary and William were still living at 1707 Fruitvale when Mary died in 1912 from pneumonia.  The obituary that appeared on January 12th in the Fruitvale Progress noted that she’d been a resident for 35 years. It said, “She was one of the oldest pioneers and had many friends who are mourning her death. Mrs. Thornalley was a member of the Fruitvale Congregational Church.” The church was designed by Hugo William Storch and was dedicated November 16, 1911. Storch also designed the Fruitvale Masonic Temple (1909) that William built, and was a member of. 

The notice of Mary’s funeral announced said the service would be January 18th at 2:00 PM at the Congregational Church and that she would be buried at Evergreen Cemetery. Evergreen Cemetery opened in 1902, so was quite new when Mary was interred there. Today, it is also the final resting place of 412 victims the Jonestown mass suicide precipitated by Jim Jones. Other notables buried at Evergreen include Earl “Father” Hines a jazz pianist and Huey P. Newton, Black Panther leader.
Fruitvale Congregational Church on Fruitvale Ave at 18th Street
where Mary attended church and where her funeral was held.
Oakland History Room photo.

I was only five when my grandfather John died, so even if he had talked about his mother I would not remember what he’d said but from the photograph I have of my great grandmother she looks like a sweet woman and wonderful mother. I imagine her as petite with brown hair and blue eyes. I know she was courageous – she had to have been to leave Ireland and her family in order to make a new life in America. She raised four sons who were all successful tradesman and a daughter who was a professional woman – something quite rare at that time.

Sources for this post include several Oakland Directories, the 1880, 1900 and 1910 censuses, Mary's obituary and other newspaper articles, the Oakland History Room, and visits to the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland.