So we’ll start with Mary O’Brien, born approximately 1825 in Ireland. Unfortunately, Mary O’Brien is an incredibly common Irish name. If she was working as a servant in 1860 at the age of 35, it seems likely that she had previously worked as a servant and might, five years before, have been in a nearby house — but there’s probably a 20+ year window in which she might have immigrated.
According to the 1855 Massachusetts State Census, there were nine “Mary O’Brien”s in the state who were born in Ireland between 1824 and 1826. (We’re going to temporarily ignore variants for simplicity, but more on that later.) In 1860, our Mary O’Brien was living in the Kenrick household, and while she could theoretically have been married with a family and just living separately for a stretch, that does seem less likely — and more likely that she was single.
Mary O’Brien #1 in the 1855 MA Census lived in New Bedford, MA (Bristol County), where she was by all indications a servant in the Bourne household, though she isn’t specifically listed as such. Worth noting that New Bedford is a stretch from Newton/Boston but not out of range.
Mary O’Brien #2 and Mary O’Brien #3 in the 1855 MA Census lived in Springfield, MA (Hampden County). This is Western Massachusetts, clear across the state, at a time it would make more sense for someone to be moving west than east. Mary #2 was a servant in the Chapin household. Mary #3 lived with her husband and two small children.
Mary O’Brien #4 lived with her husband, a “laborer” ten years her senior, and four small children, the eldest of whom was 8, in Cambridge, MA in 1855.
Mary O’Brien #5 lived with her 30-year-old husband , also a “laborer,” and their 1-year-old child in Lexington, MA in 1855. Mary O’Brien #6 cuts a similar profile, living with her husband, a 32-year-old “laborer,” and their two children, ages 3 and 1, in Boston Ward 7.
Mary O’Brien #7 has an EBY 1824, but in 1855 she was apparently a servant in the Faucon household in Boston Ward 11, along with another Irish servant woman a year younger.
Mary O’Brien #8 has an EBY 1826 — in the 1855 Census she’s with her 30-year-old “laborer” husband and their five small children in Somerville, MA. Similarly, Mary O’Brien #9, whose EBY is also 1826, appears in the 1855 Census in Boston Ward 7 with her husband, a 30-year-old “tailor,” their three small children, and another Irish woman.
Beyond that, though, there a couple dozen more women in the 1855 MA Census with variants on “Mary O’Brien,” from “Mary O Brien” to “Mary Breen” to “Mary A Bryan.” But I wanted see if I could find the 9 women from the 1855 Census in the 1860 U.S. Federal Census. If I could find them there and NOT in the Kenrick household, then they weren’t our Mary. I also figured I could start to gauge how much of a complication the name variants were going to be.
I found four of them.
In 1860, Mary O’Brien #2 was still in the home of the Chapins in Springfield, MA. Interestingly, she appeared to have aged only two years in the intervening five. (I found the Bournes of New Bedford, too, but when the census was recorded in 1860, they had no servants listed in the home.)
Mary O’Brien #3 was in Springfield, too, still living with her husband and adding children. Mary O’Brien #6 was also where we last saw her, still living in Boston Ward 7 with her husband Patrick and adding more kids, too.
Mary O’Brien #8 had moved into town, going from Somerville in 1855 to Boston Ward 1 in 1860, but she, too, was still with her husband Jeremiah and the same five children in the home.
This means that Mary O’Briens #1, 4, 5, 7, and 9 are unaccounted-for. Given that Marys #1 and #7 were in service in 1855, either could have become our Mary with the Kenricks in 1860 — or not. I suspect that Marys #4, 5, and 9 are probably with their families somewhere, hidden behind a typo or just buried in the listings of a state I’m not expecting.
But they’re also unaccounted-for along with a staggering number of variants in name and age that I can’t rationally sift through. The mysterious slow aging of Mary #2 aptly illustrates that confining my search to Marys with an EBY 1824-1826 as based on the 1855 and 1860 censuses likely means I’m excluding at least a few dozen Marys who were victims of the census-taker’s typos or their/their families’ own ignorance or shoddy memory/record-keeping.
Unfortunately, there probably isn’t much purpose in continuing to chase Mary, so I’ll move on, but I did have one final observation, looking through the families of these Irish immigrant women. I generally saw two models: A) the couple in which the young wife started having kids by about 21, and B) the women past 30 (usually past 35), married or unmarried, with one or no children. We’ll keep an eye on both groups as we look for the other Kenrick Serving Women.