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Below is a family biography included in Portrait and Biographical Record of Berrien and Cass Counties, Michigan published by Biographical Publishing Company in 1893.  These biographies are valuable for genealogy research in discovering missing ancestors or filling in the details of a family tree. Family biographies often include far more information than can be found in a census record or obituary.  Details will vary with each biography but will often include the date and place of birth, parent names including mothers' maiden name, name of wife including maiden name, her parents' names, name of children (including spouses if married), former places of residence, occupation details, military service, church and social organization affiliations, and more.  There are often ancestry details included that cannot be found in any other type of genealogical record.

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THOMAS O’HARA was born March 9, 1856, in Le Roy, Genesee County, N. Y., and is the eldest child of John and Catherine (McKenna) O’Hara. His parents are of Irish birth, and are Roman Catholics. The mother was born in 1837, and came to this country in 1846. John O’Hara was born in 1831, removed to New York in 1848, and was married to Miss McKenna in Batavia, N. Y., in 1854. Nine children were born to them, eight of whom are now living. John O’Hara removed to Wisconsin in 1862. During the next eight years he resided successively in Sheboygan, Waubeka, Boltonville and Newburg. In 1870 he was elected Principal of the Third Ward School in Manitowoc, and has resided in that city ever since.

Thomas lived with his parents until the spring of 1871. In May of that year he shipped as a cabin-boy on the propeller “Gen. H. E. Paine.” He sailed on passenger steamers on the Lower and Upper Lakes until 1882, serving as cabin-boy, porter, steward and clerk. He was married to Miss Mary Barratt May 3, 1877, and established his residence in St. Joseph. Miss Barratt was born in Leicester, England, March 23, 1856. They have three children: Miss Isabel, aged fifteen years, and Masters Barratt and Frank Herbert, aged eleven and five, respectively.

After his marriage, Mr. O’Hara read law three winters in the office of Hon. N. A. Hamilton, and was admitted to the Bar in March, 1880. During that year he was one of the Democratic candidates for Circuit Court Commissioner, but was defeated by one hundred and forty-two majority. The Republican candidates for Presidential electors carried the county by nine hundred and ninety-nine plurality and four hundred and thirty-nine majority. In November, 1880, he formed a law partnership with Clarence A. Webster, under the firm name of O’Hara & Webster, and opened an office in St. Joseph. The firm dissolved in April, 1881. In 1882 he defeated Walter L Himes, the Republican candidate for County Clerk, by five hundred and seventy-five majority, and was re-elected in 1884 by a majority of eight hundred and eighty-nine over the Republican nominee, Henry L. Hess, running each time about eight hundred and fifty ahead of his ticket. In 1886 he was defeated by the “boy from Weesaw,” Herbert L. Potter, whose majority was four hundred and seventy-six. Mr. Potter was indorsed by the Knights of Labor, and the feeling against a third term was decidedly strong in the county, but Mr. O’Hara received twenty-six more votes than the Democratic candidate for Governor. In April, 1887, he was elected Circuit Judge of the Second Judicial Circuit, defeating Hon. George S. Clapp by eleven hundred and forty-one votes in Berrien County, and over eight hundred in the district.

In February, 1888, an election was held in Berrien County under the “local option” act of 1887. Judge O’Hara published a letter urging the Democrats of the county to vote in favor of local option. At the spring election in 1887, the county had given a majority of but sixty in favor of the constitutional amendment relative to the prohibition of the liquor traffic. Prior to the publication of Judge O’Hara’s letter several counties in the State had voted to accept local option, but in each case by a much smaller majority than had been given for the amendment in 1887, and a corresponding decrease in Berrien County would, have defeated local option by a large majority. The result of the election was the adoption of local option by a majority of seven hundred and twenty-three. He called a grand jury in 1888, and another in 1890, to inquire into violations of the liquor laws, a measure that had not been resorted to for twenty years in the county.

Judge O’Hara was re-nominated in 1893, but was defeated by Hon. O. W. Coolidge. The campaign was the most acrimonious one in the history of Berrien County. The local Democracy was split into factions in Niles and different parts of the county, the Republicans gaining thereby in many of the townships and electing their candidate for Mayor in Niles by over two hundred majority, although the city usually went Democratic by one hundred and fifty. Judge O’Hara was bitterly opposed by many of his former supporters, and the Catholic issue was raised against him by his enemies and by the American Protective Association and its sympathizers. He was defeated by six hundred and fifteen in Berrien County, running one hundred and eleven behind the Democratic candidate for School Commissioner. Mr. Coolidge’s majority in the district was over nine hundred.

Although the Judge had never tried a case in the Circuit Court before his election to the Bench, it was evident from his first term of court that he was better qualified than even his most ardent admirers had ever claimed. His perceptions were keen, his mind was discriminating, and he presided with dignity, firmness, impartiality and courtesy. He had a remarkable faculty for dispatching business, and there was no limit to his industry. During his term he disposed of more than thirteen hundred cases, six hundred of which were contested cases. With a warm heart and generous impulses, an expressive face and popular manners, no man in the county has ever had more friends or a larger personal following. He removed to Berrien Springs in December, 1882, where he still resides.

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This family biography is one of numerous biographies included in the Portrait and Biographical Record of Berrien and Cass Counties, Michigan published in 1893. 

View additional Berrien County, Michigan family biographies here: Berrien County, Michigan Biographies

View a map of 1911 Berrien County, Michigan here: Berrien County Michigan Map

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