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Editor: Harley Hammerman
St. Louis, Missouri

Volume 0


O’Neill Family Genealogy
Frank A. Kunckel’s Letter

Mary K. Mallett

Frank 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 O’Neill family.

I 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.)

Arthur Gelb and I spoke several times over the years before the release of Monte Cristo.  Due in part to these conversations my own interest in genealogy grew.  In 2000, just before Monte Cristo was released, I began investigating my own genealogical interests via the Internet.  It did not take long to make contact with other O’Neill researchers and Irish cousins.  In late 2000 I finally contacted one of Eugene O’Neill’s grandchildren through my Internet queries.  It is through that cousin that I, at long last, received a photocopy of a crudely typed (by my father?) copy of  Uncle Frank Kunckel’s O’Neill family history.

Before 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.

The 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.”

Eugene 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.

In 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.

After 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.

James 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.)

My 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.  

When 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.”

Despite 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 this:

Edmund O’Neill (ca. 1805 - ca. 1856) married (ca. 1835) Mary O’Neil (ca. 1815 - ca. 1860).  Issue 9 children who lived past infancy:

I. Richard/Dick (ca. 1836 - ca. 1851?)

II. Josephine (ca. 1837 - December 19, 1933) m. 5 times, last surname Sears

III. Anna (ca. 1838 - ???) m. John C. Jones

IV. Edward (ca. 1840 - 1865?)

V. Mary (August 15, 1842 - October 19, 1923) m. Patrick Brown

VI. Adelia (ca. 1843 - ca. 1883) m. John Powers

VII. James (1846 - August 10, 1920) m. Ella Quinlan

VIII. Anastasia (May 4, 1849 - November 12, 1937) m. Henry B. Kunckel

IX. Margaret (December 31, 1851 - October 9, 1922) m. Paul Platz

Henry 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 great grandchildren.

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, 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”!



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