DeBriae story and further analysis:
item excerpt from The Journal of Beaver Island History, Vol I, pp 37-38.
(Beaver Island is part of Michigan, Northwest of Michigan’s lower peninsula.)
The following paragraph is in the chapter titled The Irish Migration to Beaver Island by Helen Collar which offers sketches of the life and origin of many of the Beaver Island families.
(Helen Collar visited Beaver Island every summer starting 1915 and commenced actively researching island history in the 1940s and over the next 50 years, Her notes are held by Central Michigan University and are available online: https://www.cmich.edu/library/clarke/ResearchResources/Michigan_Material_Local/Beaver_Island_Helen_Collar_Papers/Pages/default.aspx)
'One family to come to Beaver Island from New York had an unusual history. Neither husband nor wife, Edward and Rosalie DeBriae, were Irish; they were French Canadians. By 1837, when the first of their seven children were born, they were living in New York City. It must have been there that that they made friends among the Irish and thus heard of Beaver Island. By the time the 1860 census was taken we find them living on Green’s Bay at McFadden’s Point. Either while living in the Irish Quarter ion New York, or soon after they reached Beaver Island, the family name was changed to O’Brien. The story told on the Island is that the Irish found DeBriae much too foreign a name for an Irish tongue to pronounce with ease. Someone remarked, “Oh hell, DeBriae is just French for O’Brien!,” and O’Brien the family became. They are recorded as O’Brien in all census records, beginning in 1860, and as O’Brien or O’Brine in all land records. The first Mrs. O’Brien, however, must have felt some nostalgia for their French heritage, for on her gravestone in the Beaver Island cemetery, she is, “Rosalie, wife of Edward DeBriae.”'
I presume that the only census records this author found pertaining to Edward and wife were the 1860, 1870 and 1880 records placing them at Beaver Island.
I presume the author assumed they came to Michigan from NYC or was informed by someone else making that assumption. There is no evidence they were ever in NYC and the census and birth timeline makes it highly unlikely.
The O’Brien’s are first found in Black Rock, Erie, NY in the 1850 US Census and again in 1855 NYS census by which time Black Rock had been absorbed into Buffalo. Here they are recorded as O’Brian, too. Of their children, several are identified as born in Erie County, NY and the elder 3 or 4 in Canada. (The 1850 and 1855 records vary on which child was first to be born in Erie County.) Their life in NYS was not in the Irish Quarter, but in a mixed cultural milieu. The “Irish Quarter” of Buffalo was on the south side of the city.
That the family came from French Canada is fairly clear. It is unlikely they were ever in New York City, based on timing and location of births of their children.
Rosalie is variously identified as Jane or Roselle, in successive census records. Her Michigan and death record names her as Jane O’Brine. No DeBriae appears in death records of this period and the death date of Jane O’Brine matches the headstone and precise age indicated on the marker of Rosalie DeBriae.
Records pertaining to the children give her maiden name as Shasette or Cart.
Given the additional census data and through a review of surname use of the several children over their lives two things are clear - firstly, in all records found thus far husband and wife Edward and Jane/Rosalie are documented as O’Brien and variants including O’Brine, O’Brian. Only the headstone of Rosalie indicates DeBriae. Secondly - the children were varied in their usage of a family surname, in their individual lives and among the children collectively. All were recorded as O’Brien in census records in NY and MI, and many were recorded as O’Brien in other documents. Several clearly made a choice to shift to DeBriae but some did not.
The author assumes a direction of shift - a shift back to a familial name, and also assumes (or takes reports at face value) that their origin in French controlled Canada indicates they must have been of French heritage and could not be Irish.
The two maiden names associated with Jane/Rosalie are likely French, possibly with different spellings than the children would have thought.
There were Irish in Lower Canada (assuming this is where they were from) in the early period when Edward was born and it is plausible that the couple is of mixed Irish and French heritage. It is also plausible that the native linguistic instincts that morphed the family name were those of Jane/Rosalie shifting O’Brien to DeBriae, rather than the Irish of Beaver Island, MI or Black Rock, NY shifting the name from DeBriae to O’Brien.
Searches for births or marriages for the DeBriae name in Canada and France have not turned up any results or close variants thus far.