Thomas O’Neil, the grandfather of Harold O’Neill, was a good natured, good-looking, well-built man with a sense of humor.
There is a great deal of uncertainty about the first decade of Thomas O'Neil's life. According to his obituary , published in the Harbor Beach Times in May 1938, Thomas was born in Watson, Ontario and came to the USA at nine years of age, approximately 1866-67. Information for obituaries and death certificates are gathered from family members after a death. This frequently leads to inconsistencies and contradictions. This seems to be the case with the obituary for Thomas.
Thomas is believed to have been born near the hamlet of Watson’s Corner in Lanark County, Ontario, Canada on the 15th of November, 1857. Although there are no verifying records, his parents are thought to be Patrick O’Neil and Bridget Hart, both of whom were born in Ireland.
If Patrick and Bridget are the parents of Thomas then he was left an orphan at age 3 and appears to have been raise by his mother's family, the Harts, and immigrated to Michigan in 1866 from Dalhousie Township, Lanark County, Canada. Census lists year of immigration as 1867.
The first verified record of Thomas is in the 1870 USA census. This census has Thomas living in Marion Township, Sanilac County, Michigan with Bryan Hart and Bryan's mother Catherine Hart. His brother, James O'Neil, is living with Ann Hart Lancaster and Joseph Lancaster, also in Marion Township.
In 1871, at about the age of fourteen, Thomas left his home with the Harts and went to work in the lumber camps further north. The lumberjacks lived in barracks and had stables for the horse and mules where Thomas initially worked. He later worked as a faller and a trimmer.
"He had a temper, but he never got mad at me. His temper was displayed when he got frustrated with equipment and stuff like that. He would tell me stories about Ireland and about the years he worked in the lumber woods. He had started lumber-jacking when he was fourteen and was an artist with an axe. One day we broke a double-tree (a wagon hitch). Grandpa got his double-bit axe and cut down a six inch wide ash tree. He cut a four foot log. He then used his axe to make a board six inches wide and two inches high. He drilled holes on each end and a hole in the middle using a brace and bit and we were ready to go again." (Harold O'Neill, from 'Harold & Betty, Their Stories...')
Thomas married Margaret Jones in 1876 at the age of nineteen. It is probable that he met Margaret through the Harts and Edwards since both families were originally from Lanark County, Ontario. The Edwards family had moved to Lambton County, Ontario before the Harts and most of the large Edwards family moved to Sherman Township, Huron County, Michigan.