John Geary and Ellen Moran
This is a supplementary page of the website devoted to the family of John Sevier Branson and Martha Jane Ousley. That couple’s son Joseph Branson married John Geary and Ellen Moran’s daughter Ella Geary (Ellen Margaret Geary).
While the Geary family is equally related to website creator Dave Smeds, you will not find here the sort of comprehensive treatment of the clan as is the case with the Bransons. Naturally the Gearys are deserving of such treatment, but since the ancestry of John and Ellen is a mystery and since they have no remaining descendants other than those that flow through Ella, this page is all that has been prepared. The main part of the site, devoted to the Branson/Ousley family, can be viewed by clicking on the link here.
Because the life of John and Ellen is so intimately tied to Mariposa County, this page also serves as a “pioneer biography” for the website MariposaResearch.net, a resource highly recommended to anyone wishing to learn more about the history and genealogy of Mariposa County. Click on the name to go straight to its main page.
All accounts -- family recollection, obituaries, and census records -- declare both John and Ellen to have been Irish immigrants to California prior to the Gold Rush. They were said to have been swept up in the massive exodus from their homeland that resulted from An Gorta Mór, or The Great Hunger. This watershed event in Irish history, better known as the greatest of the so-called Potato Famines, is generally considered to have spanned the years from 1845 to 1851. Family accounts say the couple arrived in San Francisco no later than the year 1847, and were already in the state when gold was discovered. The 1860 census supports this story. The document lists California as the birthplace of the couple’s first child, Bridget, who was born in the spring of 1848. Family accounts also claim that the couple owned a parcel in what is now downtown San Francisco, atop which the Phelan Building now stands. This is one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the world today, which has led more than one modern-day descendant to ponder “if only they had kept it” scenarios. However, the story is probably bogus. It no doubt stems from someone confusing John with John White Geary, the first mayor of San Francisco, the person for whom Geary Boulevard was named.
If the tale has any validity, John and Ellen probably disposed of the property before making their way up to the Mother Lode, where they settled in Mariposa County near the place where the town of Mariposa would spring up. John’s obituary, published in 1891 in the Mariposa Gazette, states that he came to Mariposa “in 1849 or 1850” and then resided long-term in the Whitlock District, also known as Whitlock’s for the mining outpost located at its heart. This was within the part of the fragment of the county called “Township #3” in the censuses of 1860, 1870, and 1880. Old accounts seem to imply that Whitlock’s was sometimes considered to be part of the town of Mariposa, or at least under the administration of the town, though it was located about five miles north, where the placer and quartz deposits of Whitlock and Sherlock Creeks yielded astonishing amounts of gold in the mid-1800s. Articles referring to John and Ellen and their children seem to interchangably refer to them as being from Whitlock’s or from Mariposa. There is a Geary Lane in Mariposa even today, which may have been named for John (though again, the name may have been inspired by John White Geary).
Unfortunately John and Ellen do not appear in the 1850 census, which means that record cannot serve as confirmation of their presence in Mariposa in its early days. However, this lack can be attributed to the bad record-keeping of the day. There does not seem to be much reason to doubt that they were there. John must have been the founder of Geary Mine, which is one of the old-time, inactive Whitlock District mines listed in the Mineral Resources Survey of the United States, a volume issued in 1940 by the U.S. Bureau of Mines. To have owned a mine named for him -- one that was no doubt personally operated by him -- surely means he was in the area early and obtained a productive claim. (Though it must be said that John and Ellen do not seem to accumulated much wealth above and beyond the level they needed to get by from year to year.) John also receives credit in his obituary with having been (probably) the first man to open a butcher shop in the town of Mariposa or its vicinity. That said, the first hard evidence of Geary presence dates from a bit later. It comes in the form of the declaration making John a citizen of the United States. That proceeding was recorded at the Mariposa County courthouse 13 October 1856.
Precisely what part of Ireland John and Ellen came from is not recalled, though as Catholics and poor folk they were undoubtedly from the main part of the island rather than from Ulster. John appears to have been born in about 1822, but no record is reliable enough to say so with certainty, not even his gravemarker. Ellen appears to have been born in 1828 -- this is somewhat more certain. It is unknown where the pair met, and when they married, except that it was presumably before the birth of Bridget in 1848. Perhaps they grew up in the same part of Ireland, and had known one another since childhood. Perhaps they met in the Old Country in the early part of their emigration. Curiously, Ellen’s birthplace is given in the 1860 census as Australia. The 1870 and 1880 censuses and her obituary state she was born in Ireland, but the possibility cannot be ruled out that she may have been an Australian of Irish extraction. If this is correct, perhaps John went to Australia as he fled the famine, married Ellen there, and then they decided to sail to California. Perhaps they met after arriving in California as unmarried individuals, whether or not the trip involved a stopover Down Under for either or both of them. The first of those possibilities, that they were raised together in Ireland, seems the most likely scenario.
There is one alternate theory concerning Ellen’s origin. The name Moran, which is used so prominently in the header of this biography, is in fact not guaranteed to be her maiden name. “Moran” was the name her daughters Ella and Mary Jane recalled as being her maiden name when they were asked in the decades after her death, and both Ella and Mary Jane’s own death records include Moran as their mother’s maiden name. However, her origins have not been tracked, meaning her parentage is not directly documented. It remains barely possible that her daughters misremembered, and that her maiden name was actually Foran, not Moran. It is tempting to suspect this because, while there were no individuals of Irish extraction named Moran living in Mariposa County during the Gold Rush -- possible relatives of Ellen -- there was one household under the name Foran. This was the family of James Foran and his wife Catherine. Like Ellen, James was born in Ireland in the 1820s. He moved to Pennsylvania as a young man. The oldest of his children with Catherine were born there. The couple then came permanently to Mariposa County in 1858, where they resided not far from John and Ellen. They were not next-door neighbors, but they were all associated with some of the same people. They all went to the same church. The earthly remains of the two couples share the same graveyard. And to cap it off, James D. Foran, born in the mid-1860s, is shown in the 1910 census living as a gold miner right in Whitlock District. So, while no blood connection is made explicit in obituaries or other records, for the time being it must be considered a possibility that Ellen and James Foran, Sr. were siblings or first cousins.
When John and Ellen arrived in Mariposa County, they were already the parents of Bridget. She was the only child born in the 1840s. The next in the sequence was William, born in the mid-1850s. The hiatus in births strongly suggests John and Ellen’s early life was not as straightforward as later accounts made it out to be, i.e. that they moved to California in 1847, went on to Mariposa, and then “lived happily ever after” there. A gap of half a dozen years between births could simply mean that a number of miscarriages occurred that subsequently were not remarked upon. More likely, John and Ellen were not together. Perhaps John left Ellen in Ireland, or perhaps in Australia, and did not send for her until he was well established in Mariposa County. Perhaps Bridget was a child of an earlier marriage -- either the daughter of John and a first wife, or of Ellen and a first husband -- and if so, then John and Ellen must have married in the early-to-mid-1850s and then had their other five children. Those five were born at a rapid clip from that point through 1863, a frequency one would expect from a young Catholic couple. That brought the family to a grand tally of six children. They consisted of Bridget, William, John (not listed as Junior in any record found thus far -- perhaps his middle name was different), Ellen Margaret, Mary Jane, and Elizabeth Ann.
Just as the 1860 census inexplicably lists the older Ellen as a native of Australia, it lists the younger Ellen (Ella), then only an infant, as having been born in England. Could the family have gone to England in the late 1850s? This seems extraordinarily unlikely. All other sources say Ella’s birth took place either at Whitlock’s or a little farther north in the county in Hunter’s Valley. The latter reference probably means an informant didn’t quite recall the precise birthplace. However, if Ella was indeed born in Hunter’s Valley, it would probably be because her mother went there temporarily in order to be near her chosen midwife.
With the 1860 census, it becomes possible to trace the family’s whereabouts with precision. From that point fewer mysteries linger, and the timing of significant events is easier to pinpoint. One of the biggest of the significant events to come along within the next few years was the marriage of Bridget at age sixteen to Robert McGreer, son of John McGreer and Susan Roberts. The ceremony took place 27 March 1864 at St. Joseph’s Church in Mariposa. It was one of the earliest weddings held at the church, which had been built during the fall and early winter of 1862 and had been dedicated 18 January 1863. The Geary family were surely among the founding parishioners and probably contributed to the church’s construction, either monetarily or with labor, or both.
Another, even more dramatic 1864 incident was reported in the July 12th edition of the Stockton Register. Three incidents were reported upon in the newspaper under the headline “Accidents in Mariposa.” The final paragraph reads in full:
“Mr. John Geary, of Whitlock’s, went out yesterday morning and returned to his house about 7 o’clock with his right hand shot completely off. It was done accidentally and is a serious loss.”
More tragedy struck later in 1864. Bridget passed away of typhoid fever 13 November 1864. The timing of her demise -- only seven and a half months after the wedding -- is almost certain to mean an unborn child perished with her. Seven years later, Robert McGreer married Elmira Woods and went on to have a number of children with her. Robert and Elmira and offspring settled as a farming family near the town of Napa, and survived into the 20th Century. Meanwhile, Bridget became the first of the original Geary family to be buried at St. Joseph’s Cemetery, and one of the very first individuals of any family to be interred there.
The two sons of the family, William and John Geary the younger, also died just as they were starting to make their own mark upon the world. John was first, dying 25 November 1877 at home at Whitlock’s. Like Bridget, he was laid to rest at St. Joseph’s. The headstone of his grave lies just to the left of those of his parents. (See photo immediately below.) The age-at-death shown on that marker of twenty years, four months, and twenty-five days yields a birthdate of 1 July 1857 or the tail end of June of that year. He is listed as an occupant of his parents’ home as a child in the censuses of 1860 and 1870, and probably spent his entire life as a resident of Whitlock’s outpost. His niece Grace Mildred Branson Warner stated that he was married to a woman named Jade Nile. Unfortunately any further information about Jade Nile has not surfaced. It is unknown if John and Jade had offspring.
The five Geary graves at St. Joseph’s Church cemetery in Mariposa. Photo taken 4 January 2008 by Dave Smeds. The graves are marked with the tall, curved-top white headstones that stand in a row in the foreground of this image. The church is in the background. From left to right are the markers for Elizabeth Ann “Lizzie” Geary Arthur, Bridget Geary McGreer, John Geary (the younger), John Geary (the elder), and Ellen Moran Geary.
William Geary died the same winter as his brother, passing away 11 February 1878 of the same cause -- “quick consumption” being the way the obituary describes it. This is an old-fashioned way of referring to a case of tuberculosis that aggressively attacks the lungs and brings death much faster than the gradual and dismal wasting away of standard TB. It could be that William -- and John before him -- actually just had pneumonia. William was twenty-three when he died. Though he had not yet married, he had started to establish himself. In the mid-1870s, right after turning twenty-one, he acquired acquired 160 acres of land in Mariposa County. This does not mean he bought the land, only that he signed a mortgage and hoped to someday pay it off. He appears to have had difficulty dealing with that debt -- his name appears on a delinquent tax list published 10 February 1877 in the Mariposa Gazette. In order to increase his financial means, he went to Nevada. Whether he found a livelihood there is an undetermined question because he died before he had much chance to do so. He perished in Dayton, Lyon County, NV, not far from the Comstock Lode mine complex of Virginia City, a site that had just completed the most productive year of its entire history. Given that William died in the winter on the far side of the Sierra Nevada, his body was apparently not transported back to Mariposa for burial, so William’s grave is not among the others at St. Joseph’s.
Having by the late 1870s endured the heartache of those three early deaths, having grown poor again due to John’s advancing age and the lack of a right hand, John and Ellen might well have come to wonder if God had blighted them and their line. No grandchildren had been born. The Geary name was already doomed to die out given that both sons had perished without issue. A lonely phase developed. At the end of 1879, their daughter Ella was out of the house for good, marrying Joseph Branson and settling with him on a ranch near the mining outpost of Quartzburg near Hornitos. Mary Jane left to become a domestic servant out in the Great Central Valley in the town of Merced at approximately the same time. The 1880 census confirms that by the summer of that year, the only child still with the middle-aged couple was Lizzie (Elizabeth Ann).
Under ordinary circumstances even Lizzie might have departed. She was seventeen in 1880 -- old enough by the standards of the time to be married, as her sister Bridget had been. In fact, she had little choice but to stay. She was disabled. Her condition is described as “consumption” in the census in the column reserved for notations of permanent disablement. Given how many decades she lived with the condition, it was probably not tuberculosis, as one would ordinarily assume consumption was meant to refer to. However, the use of that word is a strong hint that her problem manifested in the lungs. Whatever she was dealing with, it was chronic and severe. She was too weak to leave the house on any regular basis, saving what energy she mustered for flower-gardening and attending church. She seldom partook of the social life of the community. She would depend on her parents as long as they lived.
Those lives fell a bit short of the Biblical “three score and ten” years, but by the standards of their era, and given the rigors they had endured, John and Ellen enjoyed a fair run. They made it through the 1880s. They were able to savor being an integral and well-known part of the community of Whitlock’s outpost. They regularly attended church in Mariposa. Money was not plentiful but chances are good that John managed to find ways to profitably pursue one or both of his trades, butcher or miner, on at least a part-time basis.
The early 1890s saw both husband and wife pass away in rapid turn. First came the death of John 23 March 1891. Ellen was young enough that she probably could have rallied and lived many more years, but she seems to have given in to grief. She fell ill toward the end of the year and declined over a period of several weeks, and then after one last good day, perished 23 January 1892, precisely ten months after her husband. Both deaths occurred at home at Whitlock’s.
This is another view of John and Ellen’s graves. This photograph was taken (probably by Alfred Smeds) in about 1973. The elderly woman is Grace Mildred Branson Warner, daughter of Ella Geary Branson. The younger woman is Grace’s daughter Josephine Warner Smeds. The man is Harold Peterson, husband of Alice Thistle, who was a daughter of Grace’s sister Marguerite Branson Thistle.
With their deaths, Lizzie needed to find a new haven, because she was too much an invalid to get by on her own. She undoubtedly moved in with her sister Mary Jane, who was then residing in Hornitos. Mary Jane’s husband Michael Bauer was the owner and operator of the Hornitos livery stable. Though the relocation was born of necessity, it proved to be an opportunity for Lizzie. She caught the attention of a neighbor, Charles Roscoe Arthur. He was one of the many children of Robert Arthur and Belle (Isabella) Steele, who had come to Mariposa County from Indiana in the 1850s. Charles had been born in 1866 in Coulterville, not far north of Whitlock’s, and had by the early 1890s come to Hornitos to ply his trade as a blacksmith. He no doubt provided Michael Bauer’s stable with horseshoes and other hardware. Between home, business, and church, Charles had ample opportunities to interact with Lizzie in spite of her limited ability to get around, and must have become enamored of her deep introspection, her religious devotion, and a nature so mild and contemplative that birds would land on her open palms to eat the seed she offered them. Charles and Lizzie became man and wife on Christmas Eve, 1893.
The wedding of Lizzie and Charles probably took place at St. Catherine’s, the local church. (This structure -- shown below right -- still stands. It was built in 1851 and is now a historical landmark. It is still used for the candlelight vigil on All Saints’ Day. Charles would ultimately be buried in the cemetery that is part of the grounds of St. Catherine’s, near the graves of his parents.) The couple resided in Hornitos during their twenty-seven-year marriage. In addition to earning money as a blacksmith, Charles was one of those local miners who refused to give up on the hunt for gold even after most others had conceded the remaining ore was not worth the trouble to dig up. Charles worked old claims in partnership with Hugh McErlane Branson, grandson of pioneer John Sevier Branson and nephew of Joseph. Hugh’s mother Frances Bauer was Michael Bauer’s sister. Among the last claims Charles worked was the one at Phillips Flat that had been the foundation of John Branson’s lifelong wealth. It was not as productive during Charles’s tenure, but was still regarded as having potential when the government seized it and a vast swath of adjacent territory in order to build Exchequer Dam and indundate the acreage, creating Lake McClure. In 1927, Charles’s heirs were able to obtain a $7500 judgment for the value of the claim thanks to the testimony of Joseph Branson, who pointed out that it had contained plenty of gold during the years his father had supported his whole family from the diggings (the 1860s) and its value when the waters covered it was surely not so low as the government had argued.
Lizzie lived a surprising number of years for a person as frail as she was, but she never did enjoy a truly healthy period and was even hospitalized a number of times. Due to her condition, she and Charles never had children. Finally she declined more severely and, no doubt as a side effect of being bedridden, developed a fatal case of penumonia and passed away 12 March 1920 in Hornitos. As mentioned, she was buried beside her parents and brothers. By that point Charles had at last given up on mining and had obtained a job with Shell Oil in Santa Monica, CA. He had established a home in that city and was preparing it for Lizzie’s arrival when she succumbed. Charles only survived her by a few years, despite having much better health through the majority of his life than his wife had enjoyed. She died at age fifty-six, he at fifty-eight. Born 19 March 1866, he passed away 17 September 1924 in Santa Monica. It seems a little strange that his grave is located at St. Catherine’s rather than at St. Joseph’s with Lizzie, but clearly whoever arranged for Charles’s burial felt his body should be placed in the same ground as his blood kin.
Given the modest lifespan of Lizzie and the sharply truncated ones of Bridget, William, and Young John, the remaining two members of the family had good reason to imagine their own lives would be cut short. The truth was just the opposite. Ella would go on to become genuinely elderly. Mary Jane would survive more than a century.
Mary Jane Geary, born 5 March 1862, was out of the family home by age eighteen, going to work in Merced as a nanny and housekeeper for Phoebe Ann Branson McDonald and her husband William McDonald. Phoebe was a sister of Joseph Branson, so the job must have been obtained for Mary by her sister Ella. Phoebe, whose health was becoming tenuous, had recently given birth to her fourth child and needed assistance around the house. It is unclear just how long Mary worked there, but it was not more than four years. She began to be courted by Michael Bauer. He was known to her through the connection shared by the Branson and Bauer families. These two families had mined side by side in the 1860s along the Merced River at Phillips Flat. In 1872, Joseph and Phoebe’s brother Thomas Branson had married Michael’s sister Frances and settled in Hornitos. The wedding of Mary and Michael closed the circle of Branson/Geary/Bauer brother/sister unions. The event occurred 30 November 1883 in Hornitos, where the couple immediately settled.
Mary and Michael produced children at a steady clip from the mid-1880s to the mid-1890s. The total came to five: Elizabeth Frances Bauer (8 Dec 1884 - 23 Feb 1939), Amelia R. Bauer (8 Jan 1887 - 7 Jun 1965), Eunice E. Bauer (26 Oct 1889 - 6 Jan 1976), Ethel May Bauer (31 Jul 1893 - 22 Mar 1902), and Harold John Bauer (9 Oct 1895 - 3 Jul 1959). The span from the mid-1880s to the late 1910s represented a time of great stability for the couple. Early in that period the Bauers took advantage of an opportunity that left them well-situated when McHenry Morrison, a Mariposa County pioneer, decided to off-load some of his property in Hornitos in order to fund a relocation to Orange County. Morrison had bought the A.T. Turner livery stable in 1884, and then had bought the A.N. Phelps residence in 1886. In 1887, he sold both stable and house to Michael Bauer. These two pieces of real estate were essential components of the village. Mary and Michael became ensconced within the community in every way -- family, business concerns, church, social life. It is a misfortune of their existence that Hornitos lost its vitality as the gold industry collapsed, or they surely would have remained there, and it is likely their descendants would be among the prominent citizens of the village today. Instead, over the 20th Century Hornitos withered away. Unlike some communities of the Gold Rush, it did not become a ghost town, but its glory days have not resumed.
But up through the 1910s, things went well for the Bauers, aside from the tragic loss of youngest daughter Ethel to pneumonia in 1902 at age eight. Mary and Michael were part of an extended net of family and in-laws. Some of these people have already been mentioned -- Lizzie and Charles Arthur, Thomas and Frances Branson, Joseph and Ella Branson. Perhaps the closest associates were members of the Reeb family. The patriarch of that family was George Reeb, a butcher and the proprietor of Hornitos Market, a famous meat market of the region. George Reeb may have received some of his training from John Geary, and/or been a partner with John in the 1850s. Two sons of George married into the Geary-Branson-Bauer clan. They were 1) Frederick William Reeb (born 1880), who married Alma Branson. Alma was a daughter of Thomas Branson and Frances Bauer, and so was Michael’s niece as well as being the niece of Mary Jane’s brother-in-law Joseph. And 2) George Manuel Reeb (13 November 1868 - 16 August 1961), who married Michael and Mary’s oldest daughter, Elizabeth Frances Bauer. The Reeb connection also tied in with the Morrisons. Though McHenry Morrison had departed for the southern part of the state, his son John Beauregard Morrison remained rooted in Hornitos. His wife was Kate Reeb. (One of Kate and John’s granddaughters, Jeanette Morrison, would grow up to become actress Janet Leigh. Her daughter, of course, is actress Jamie Lee Curtis.) This bond between the Bransons, Bauers, Gearys, and Reebs would be maintained after the exodus from the Mother Lode by a nucleus centered around Mary Jane and Michael.
That exodus took Mary Jane and Michael to Richmond, Contra Costa County, CA. As World War I heated up, industries boomed around San Francisco Bay, including Southern Pacific and Western Pacific railroad companies, the shipbuilding operation at Oakland and Alameda, and most relevant, the Standard Oil refineries at Richmond. By no later than 1917 the job opportunities had caused Mary Jane and Michael’s youngest child Harold to seek his fortune there. Mary Jane and Michael themselves moved about this time as well.
With the couple came a steady stream of kin. Among them was Michael’s first cousin Paul Adrian Bauer. Others included Alma Branson and her second husband Herbert Kibby Youd (Frederick Reeb had died in 1907 of typhoid fever) and Alma and Fred’s daughter Lila Reeb. Alma’s sister Inez Branson soon followed. Lila and Inez both taught school in Richmond. The occupation of school teacher among the younger adult females of the clan was almost universal. Also common was a lack of procreation and even more prevalent was the tendency for children to stay at home well into adulthood. This was true not only of Mary Jane and Michael’s brood, but that of Thomas Branson and Frances Bauer as well, of whom Alma and Inez were a part. True, Alma had given birth to Lila, but subsequently she had no offspring with Herbert Youd. The others had no babies except Elizabeth. When she was thirty-five years old, after years as a teacher and over a decade as George’s wife, she gave birth to a daughter, Marian Elizabeth Reeb. Marian was to be the only grandchild of Mary Jane and Michael. George had been over forty years old when he married Elizabeth, and so he was over fifty when Marian was born.
In the long run, Richmond became the “new Hornitos,” i.e. the family rooted in deeply and with an almost stubborn permanence. In point of fact, Michael and Mary Jane kept the very same house throughout their tenure, the one that they had moved into in the late 1910s at 1208 Barrett Avenue. Mary Jane would ultimately spend more years in that abode than she had in the Hornitos home. Michael would live out his remaining days there, perishing 23 February 1936.
With Michael’s death came a gradual die-off of the remaining family members. Elizabeth Bauer Reeb expired precisely three years later. She was fifty-four years old. Her obituary indicates she had been ill for quite a while, suggesting perhaps a death by cancer, but the fact that she died on precisely the same day of the year as her father makes one wonder if she didn’t aim for it -- as in a suicide. Arguing against that is that she was buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery in San Pablo, a Catholic graveyard. Widower George Reeb survived more than two further decades.
Eunice was the longest-lived of the five Bauer/Geary offspring. She was the only one who did not treat Richmond as her base of operations. She perhaps had been drawn by the Morrisons’ presence down to Orange County, or perhaps she went there due to a teaching position. She became established there about 1912. She did not marry until the mid-1920s, when she was in her mid-thirties. Her husband was Charles Christopher Fipps (born 17 Dec 1888 in Bedford, IN - died 9 June 1957 in Orange County, CA), a plastering contractor. Charles had a number of nieces and nephews who were local. Between them and the school pupils, Eunice apparently had all the caring-for-youngsters fulfillment she needed, and never became a mother herself. She and Charles spent many years in Santa Ana and then in Newport Beach. Eventually in her widowhood Eunice ended up in Costa Mesa.
Amelia Bauer likewise dedicated herself to teaching. She did not marry at all. However, unlike her younger brother Harold, she did leave the bevy of her parents’ home for a spell, living on her own in Oakland and undoubtedly in other locales. She came back in the late 1930s after her father’s death, and shared the 1208 Barrett home with Mary Jane and Harold for several years, though she did so on an off-and-on basis. After her mother went into nursing care, Amelia remained in Richmond until the old lady had passed on, then went south to join her one surviving sibling, Eunice, in Orange County. By then, she was in her mid-seventies. She and Eunice had lived apart for well over fifty years and were probably deeply soothed to be able to spend time together again. That stretch of time lasted no more than two years before Amelia passed away.
Harold Bauer worked at an assortment of jobs -- refinery worker, shipbuilder, ceramic tile enameller, painter. He stayed single lifelong and never moved out of his parents’ house. It was probably with his death at the end of the 1950s that Mary Jane finally had to give up living in the home at 1208 Barrett Avenue. She spent her last three years at a rest home in San Pablo, Solano County, CA, where she passed away 28 January 1963 at the age of one hundred. Her obituary states that her health had remained good through age ninety-seven.
By the mid-1960s, the era of the extended family’s presence in Richmond and the East Bay had severely wound down. Mary was dead, Amelia had departed for Orange County. Alma Branson Reeb Youd had died in 1958 and then Inez Branson succumbed in late 1964. The survivors consisted only of Herbert Youd and his step-daughter Lila Reeb, who both would perish in the mid-1970s -- and one other. The last of all was Marian Reeb, daughter of Elizabeth and George. Born 28 October 1919, Marian was, as mentioned, the only granddaughter of Mary Jane Geary, and from the death of her aunt Eunice in 1976 onward she would be the only remaining descendant of that entire line. In the early 1940s, Marian had wed pharmacist Lawrence Raymond Regello (24 October 1908 - 25 February 1987), a Californian of Portuguese extraction, but as far as can be determined, the couple never had offspring. As one would expect, Marian was a teacher. With her death 18 February 2007, the line of Mary Jane Geary went extinct.
One line still flows from John Geary and Ellen Moran, and that is the one descended through Ellen Margaret Geary Branson. As if to balance the lack of fecundity elsewhere, that group is thriving, with well over a hundred descendants alive today. Details about her children and grandchildren can be found in other parts of this website, inasmuch as they are Branson Family descendants. For that matter, some facts about Ella are revealed in or inferred within the biography of her husband, Joseph Branson. If you have not already done so, please refer to his page. Click here to go straight there. Meanwhile, here is a bit more about the woman herself:
Ella, born 2 February 1859, was shaped by her pioneer childhood. She was undaunted by rustic surroundings and hardships. Her schooling took place in a modest one-room facility, but she was always aware of its value, because her parents and her parents-in-law had not enjoyed even that much. Even in extreme old age, Ella’s penmanship was so perfect and her command of the English language so precise her letters could have been used as models for schoolchildren to copy. It was not surprising that both of her daughters and many of her nieces and husband’s nieces became teachers. It is possible she herself was a teacher for a year or two or three in Bear Valley, near Whitlock’s, at a school where her daughter Grace would one day teach.
Ella married at age twenty, the wedding taking place 28 November 1879 in Mariposa County. It had been fifteen years since a child of John and Ellen Geary had wed (not counting the rumored union of John Geary to Jade Nile). Bridget’s marriage had ended before it scarcely began as a result of her untimely death, and no issue had resulted. Ella enjoyed sharply contrasting fortune. The first child arrived less than ten months after the wedding, and within another five years she was a mother of four. After a gap of six more years, the brood was completed with the birth of twins. The six children were John Joseph, Marguerite Ellen, Alvin Arthur, Grace Mildred, Eldridge Geary, and Ernest Elton Branson. (The eldest two sons are pictured at right in a photograph taken at Gregory Studio in Sacramento in about 1890. John is on the left, seated. Alvin on the right, standing.) Ella was known to be somewhat strict and modest -- somewhat in contrast to her non-Catholic, peppery-tongued, and gregarious husband -- but was a nurturant and doting mother at the same time.
Ella had probably met Joseph in Bear Valley, where he ranched cattle and dug for gold in the 1870s, remaining a bachelor through his twenties. By the time he proposed to Ella, he had apparently managed to accumulate a nest egg. Selling the Bear Valley land, he and Ella purchased a 1300-acre parcel just across the road from his father and mother’s “Grasshopper Ranch,” which in turn was adjacent to the holdings of the Quartzburg mining outpost. Ella would never have to make a home elsewhere. The ranch was sufficient to run enough cattle to support the household, and it also proved to contain two outstanding veins of gold-bearing quartz. Over the 1880s and 1890s the property was the site of not just the family residence, but a miners’ barracks, a blacksmith shop, a huge barn and stable, and a foreman’s house. Joseph’s parents and several siblings lived either across the road or only a short horse ride away in Hornitos, where Ella’s sisters Mary and Lizzie also dwelled. In terms of life and family, it was an idyllic time.
With the coming of the 20th Century, life was somewhat less tranquil and good fortune less plentiful. The first fly in the ointment was a natural development -- the children grew up and began to move away. Among the earliest was Alvin, said to be the apple of Ella’s eye. He perhaps felt a little too “mothered” and wanted to establish himself as an independent being. He began mining in northern Mexico and extreme southern Arizona in 1905, only to be killed when he fell down an elevator shaft at work on Christmas Eve that year. Ella was devastated by the tragedy. A few years later, after the yield from the mines grew so marginal that Joseph had shut down operations, Ella refused to let John or her other boys talk of reopening the tunnels, saying she was not about to let another son of hers die in a mine.
In 1920 Ernest Branson, who had remained on the ranch helping his parents with their cattle herd, chose to move to Fresno County and get married, and so the nest was empty. But Ella’s tenure as a mother figure was not yet over. Marguerite and her husband Guy Thistle found it a challenge to get by in the uncertain economic times, and Marguerite’s health was not always ideal -- she would die in 1933 at only fifty-one years of age -- so Ella regularly took charge of Marguerite and Guy’s three girls. This arrangement was frequent enough the eldest granddaughter, Alice, maintained a sentimental attachment to the property throughout her life, even after the land had ceased to be a home for anything but cattle and rattlesnakes.
By the 1930s, Hornitos was deep into its sharp decline. Quartzburg outpost would soon vanish altogether. Mariposa County had ceased to be the haven of the Branson and Geary families. Joseph and Ella were the lone holdouts. When Joseph died in the summer of 1934, logic might have dictated that Ella would abandon the ranch, perhaps to join her sister Mary and other relatives in Richmond. She did not. She might have been white-haired and growing a bit wobble-kneed, but she prided herself on self-sufficiency and was not about to give up her home. Her son John stepped in to keep her company, even though this meant devoting less attention to his wife and daughter. From time to time Ella may have spent long visits as John’s guest at his home along the Central Coast, but the ranch continued to be her main residence. This set of circumstances went on for a dozen years. All things considered, Ella probably imagined she would breathe her last gasp in her own home. In actual fact, she passed away at Mercy Hospital in Merced, the very facility where Joseph had perished. Her date of death was 29 June 1946.
Here is an image from the late 1920s or early 1930s of the three surviving Branson brothers and their wives. This scan was made from a photocopy that was in the papers of Ivan Thorpe Branson; alas, the print from which the photocopy was made was missing from that material. From left to right, Alvin Thorpe Branson and his wife Mary Eliza Simmons Branson, Ellen Margaret Geary Branson and her husband Joseph Branson, and John Sevier Branson, Jr. and his wife Lillian Jane Guest Branson.)
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