My third great-grandmother, Mary Temperance Mathis, is the last proven ancestor in my direct maternal line. She is also one of those frustrating ancestors who generates more questions than answers each time you look at her information. Her date of birth, place of birth, and even her name are all up for debate. So, what do we really know about Mary Temperance Mathis? Not much for certain, as it turns out.
Since my Grandma told me that her grandmother, Nellie Barrett, referred to her mother as Temperance, that's what I'll call her here.
Date of Birth
Temperance was born between 1833 and 1839, likely in September or October. Her obituary, dated July 7, 1899 and printed in the O'Fallon Progress, states, "Died at her home here on Thursday morning, Mrs. Mary O'Hare wife of Michael O'Hare Sr. aged 59 years 10 months." This would make her birth year 1839. However, the 1860 census shows a 27-year old Temperance living with her first husband, a six-year old daughter and a two-year old son. This would make her birth year 1833. I'm inclined to believe the census rather than the obituary, in this case. If Temperance was really born in 1839, she would have been 15 when her first child was born. That's certainly not impossible, but it seems more likely that the obituary is incorrect. As noted further below, the obituary contained other errors, as well.
Date of First Marriage and Children From That Marriage
Temperance was married first to Samuel Burns. The 1860 census indicates that he was born in Tennessee about 1811, making him twenty years older than Temperance. They were wed on April 24, 1859 in Williamson County, Illinois, as proven by their marriage license. Temperance and Samuel had at least two children: Robert Burns and Martha Burns. As with nearly everything related to Temperance, even the number of her children and the dates of their birth are up for debate. The 1860 census indicates that young Martha Burns was 6 years old during the year of the census. This means she was born about 1854, five years prior to the marriage of her parents. Martha's brother, Robert, also appears in the 1860 census, aged 2. This means he was born in about 1858, a year before the marriage of his parents. Did Samuel and Temperance have two children out of wedlock before marrying in Illinois? This seems unusual. Could the marriage license be incorrect or somehow refer to another couple? This also seems unlikely, especially given the the year is written as 1859 in two separate places on the license. This is just a big question mark.
A Possible Third Child
Many family trees located online claim that Temperance and Samuel had a third child, Joseph Burns. This may be based on an 1880 census record that shows 49-year old Mary E. Burns living in Grand Tower, Illinois, with a 17-year old son, Joseph S. Burns. However in 1880, Temperance had remarried and was living with her second husband, Michael O'Hare, and their two children. The Mary E. Burns shown on the 1880 census is not Mary Temperance Mathis. Temperance and Michael O'Hare can be found in the 1880 census living in Summerfield, Illinois, with their children. Furthermore, the Joseph S. Burns born in 1864 who is often attributed as the child of Samuel Burns and Temperance, has a death certificate from 1935 that claims his mother is Sarah Burns. So, I don't see any evidence that Temperance had a child named Joseph.
Adding to the confusion, Temperance's obituary states that she left five children behind at her death, but then mentions only four by name: Martha Distler (Burns), Robert Burns, Ellen Barrett (O'Hare), and Thomas O'Hare. Her second daughter is also mis-identified here. Her correct name was Helen O'Hare Barrett, not Ellen. Did Temperance have a fifth child? I don't have proof of that at this time. My hunch is that at the time of her death, she left her four biological children and her stepson, Joseph. Her other stepson, John, predeceased her.
Mary's Second Marriage
Temperance's second husband was my third great-grandfather, Michael O'Hare. He was an immigrant from County Down, Ireland. Temperance and Michael were married on October 2, 1870, as proven by their marriage license. This was also Michael's second marriage. He had been married previously and had two sons, John and Joseph O'Hare. Joseph, aged 18, was living with Michael and Temperance at the time of the 1880 census, making his birth date around 1862. Temperance was still married to Samuel Burns in 1862, so Joseph was not her child. I believe some researchers have incorrectly claimed Joseph as the son of Temperance and Samuel, when he was actually Temperance's stepson. Michael's older son, John O'Hare, was 25 at the time of the 1880 census and already married and living on his own. In a unusual twist, John O'Hare married Temperance's daughter from her first marriage, Martha Burns. Although they were step-siblings, they were unrelated by blood.
Mary's Place of Birth and Nicknames
Much has been made of the location of Temperance's birth and whether she was referred to as "Tennessee" or "Tempy." Temperance left a trail of conflicting documentation during her life which does little to settle the debate. Was she born in Tennessee or Illinois? Was she called Tennessee or Temperance? Here's what the records say:
Place of birth:
- Temperance's obituary in the O'Fallon Progress: "The deceased was born near Marion, Williamson Co. ILL."
- Death certificate for Temperance's daughter, Helen "Nellie" O'Hare Barrett in 1942: Knoxville, Tennessee (information supplied by Nellie's son Stephen)
- 1860 Census: Illinois
- 1880 Census: Tennessee
- Marriage License for Marriage to Samuel Burns: Temperance Burns
- Marriage License for Marriage to John O'Hare: Tennessee Burns
- 1860 Census: Temperance Burns
- 1880 Census: Temperance O'Hare
- Martha Burns' Marriage License for Marriage to Frank Distler: M. Mathis (or Mathews)
- Obituary, 1899: Mary O'Hare
- Probate Court Records, 1899: Tempy O'Hara
I can't really make any concrete judgements with so much conflicting evidence. The item that I find most interesting here is the marriage license for Samuel Burns and Temperance Burns. It clearly lists Burns as the bride's maiden name. Perhaps the surname Mathis is not correct at all, and Temperance was actually a Burns to begin with, perhaps even a cousin of her first husband. Mathis is only listed on one document that I've located, the marriage license for Martha Burns and Frank Distler. This document misidentifies Martha's father as John Burns, rather than Samuel. Was her mother's name also listed incorrectly? Clearly, there is so much more to discover here.
Please see my follow-up post on Temperance for more information!