2011 Overview

Winnie Woodhull
May 2011

Frain-Haggerty Family History


Both of our great-grandfathers, Thomas Frain and James J. Haggerty, were born in Ireland and probably spent a good part of their youth there, as both are said in the 1920 US census to have spoken Irish at home. And while our great-grandmothers, Margaret Duffy Frain and Mary Cassels Haggerty, were born in England and Pennsylvania, respectively, both of Maggie’s parents were Irish, and Mary’s father was Irish, while her mother was, like her, born in Pennsylvania. Both women lived their entire lives in Irish immigrant communities, as did their children. So, all things considered, we have deep roots in Ireland.

Regarding the Duffys and Frains, I am quite sure that both families came from the vicinity of Ballaghadereen in County Roscommon, where the borders of that county meet those of neighboring Counties Sligo and Mayo. This is the region where most Irish families with the Frain surname still reside today.

On a ship’s manifest, while preparing to sail from Liverpool to New York en route to Crabtree, Pennsylvania in 1913, Thomas Frain cited Doon Rock as his Irish birthplace. After much searching (because many places in Ireland are called Doon), it came to light through a native informant, Martin Frain, that Doon Rock is a village in County Sligo, about 5 miles from Martins home town of Ballaghadereen. I was able to find baptismal records for Thomas Frain as well as Maggie Duffy’s older brother James and her cousin Luke Duffy, showing that all three boys were baptized in the Parish of Ballaghadereen in the 1850s. The common Irish homeland of the Frains and Duffys likely served as a kind of cultural bedrock on which Thomas Frain and Maggie Duffy felt they could build their marriage in Runcorn, England, where their families had settled after leaving Ireland in the latter half of the 19th c.

Regarding the family name Frain, my research suggests that it derives from the name of the local aristocratic landowner, Lord de Freyne, whose present-day descendant still holds that title. Lord de Freyne rented his lands to tenant farmers like our ancestors, who probably adopted his name as a surname in the late Middle Ages. The noble de Freyne family in Ireland is of Norman (French) origin: in medieval Normandy, the name was du Fresne. One or more of the du Fresnes probably sailed from Normandy with William the Conquerer in the invasion of England in 1066. Although the du Fresne name does not appear on the list of men accompanying William the Conqueror to England, the name de Togny does appear there, and Norman histories show that the du Fresnes were vassals of the de Tognys in 11th c. Normandy. So the du Fresnes were likely to have helped their lords, the de Tognys, in the conquest of England. This is a plausible explanation for the many du Fresne nobles who held titles to vast estates in Hereford and other parts of England in that period and beyond. A century later, a du Fresne descendant who had settled in England probably participated in the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland, and was rewarded with a large estate called French Park in County Roscommon. (There were Frain nobles who had estates in Kilkenny and other parts of Ireland as well.)

As for the Cassels and Haggerty families, I have unfortunately been unable to find out where they lived in Ireland. However, I did learn that Cassels is a Flemish name, passed down by mercenary soldiers from Flanders who fought with the invaders in the 12th c. Anglo-Norman conquest of Ireland, and then stayed on in Ireland. Mary Kellington indicated that the name was Castle, as did the person who listed Hugh Haggerty’s mother in his obituary. However, census records almost always refer to the family name as Cassels, which seems especially telling in the records regarding Mary Cassels’ brothers in the early 1900s: surely they would have told the census taker how to spell the name.

I also learned that our Haggerty relatives were probably from Derry, the county where that family is name is most common, after Counties Donegal and Cork. I say this because Hugh Haggerty (Uncle Hughie) indicated in the 1930 US census that his father was born in Northern Ireland, which includes Derry but not neighboring Donegal, and certainly not Cork. In fact, historical studies show that many of the Irish who migrated to the anthracite region of Northeastern Pennsylvania during and after the great famine of the 1840s came from County Donegal as well as from various parts of North Central Ireland. This seems to be the case with our Haggerty ancestors.


I found birth, marriage, and death records for our Frain ancestors in Runcorn, Cheshire, England between 1860 and 1910. Our great-grandfather Thomas Frain married Margaret (Maggie) Duffy there in 1880. There are many people by the name of Frain/Fraine/De Fraine/Frane/Frayne/Freyne born in Ireland and living in rural Cheshire and Lancashire as well as in large industrial cities such as Liverpool and Manchester, to speak only of these areas. This is testimony, no doubt, to the long history of Irish migration to England: poor Irish farmers regularly crossed the Irish Sea and walked great distances in search of seasonal agricultural work. During their time in England they often lived in barns and sheds, even when they had young children in tow.

Thomas Frain, an agricultural laborer who eventually found work at the docks by the River Mersey, lived with his wife Margaret and their children at 9 Mersey Street in Runcorn. Thomas and Margaret also had several lodgers living with them. Records indicate that 9 Frain children were born in Runcorn: Ann 1881, Thomas 1883, Winifred 1884, John 1886, Mary 1888, Catherine 1889, Henry 1890, Margaret 1892, and James 1895. Many of these children died at birth or in early childhood. John Frain died at age 3, while Mary and Margaret died before their first birthday. I found no information on Catherine or Henry, but the fact that they do not appear in the 1891 census, just a year or two after their birth, strongly suggests that they too died in infancy–unless they were spirited away by the fairies. (It is almost certain that our 19th c. Irish relatives believed in fairies.)

Maggie Duffy Frain died in Runcorn in 1907 at age 46. Her husband Thomas Frain, along with his adult children, Winifred and James, left for Pennsylvania in 1913, the year after the Belfast-built Titanic went down in the Atlantic. With a number of other steerage passengers, they were detained at Ellis Island for a few days as LPCs–likely public charges, meaning that someone in their party was sick or that, as a group, they seemed to be too poor to merit entry, even though they were joining relatives in Pennsylvania. Fortunately, they were released rather than being obliged to return to England.

Whether together or separately, Thomas Frain Jr. and Ann Frain had left for PA some years earlier, probably following in the wake of their mother’s younger brothers and sisters, the Duffys, who turn up in the 1900 census in Kline Township (McAdoo), PA–the very place where our Haggerty and Cassels relatives lived and worked. The convergence of these families in McAdoo resulted in several marriages: Ann Frain married Michael Haggerty in 1905, and in 1914, Ann’s sister Winifred married Michael’s brother John. In the previous generation, c. 1863, our great-grandfather James Haggerty married Mary Cassels in the same area. It is surely no coincidence that in 1860, shortly before James and Mary married, James’ brother, Cornelius (Connel) Haggerty, lived next-door to Mary Cassels and her family in nearby Tamaqua. It is very likely that Connel worked with Mary’s father, Michael Cassels, and that James and Mary met through Connel.

The 1861 England census lists Thomas Duffy, an agricultural laborer, living with his wife Winifred and their children: John 4, James 2, and Margaret 5 months (our great-grandmother Maggie, b. 1860). Their house at 24 Back Mersey Street in Runcorn was no more than a stone’s throw from the one at 9 Mersey Street, where Maggie would live for almost 30 years with her husband, Thomas Frain, and their children. At the time of the 1861 census, all the Duffy family members were born in Ireland except baby Maggie, who was born in England.

Sharing the same dwelling at 24 Back Mersey Street are Patrick Duffy (likely Thomas’ brother), a general laborer, his wife Margaret, and their children, Luke 2 and Winifred 2 months. All the members of this family were born in Ireland except Winifred, who was born in England. Baby Winifred died in Runcorn before her first birthday.

The places and dates of the Duffy children’s births, as reported in the 1861 census, clearly indicate that our great-grandmother’s family moved to Runcorn from Ireland in late 1859 or early 1860.

Thomas Duffy, our great-great-grandfather, was born in Ireland about 1836 and died in Runcorn in 1886, while his brother (?), Patrick Duffy, was born in Ireland about 1831 and died in Runcorn in 1906. Thomas Duffy’s wife, Winifred, was born in Ireland about 1837; I have no information about her death.

After the birth of John (b. 1857 Ireland), James (b. 1859 Ireland), and Margaret (b. 1860 England), Thomas and Winifred Duffy had several other children in Runcorn: Thomas 1863, Bernard 1865, Patrick 1868, and Mary 1876. (Recorded birth dates of the latter three children vary considerably across time, but the names and birth order remain constant in the historical records.) In 1887 Thomas Duffy Jr. goes to Kline Township in PA, and is joined in 1893 by his siblings Bernard, Patrick, Mary, and a girl named Annie, listed in the 1900 US census as Annie Duffy, a sister, b. 1884. However, there seems to be no record of Annie Duffy’s birth in England. So it is possible that “Annie” is in fact Ann Frain, Maggie’s oldest daughter, b. 1881. Ann Frain may well have accompanied or followed the Duffys to Northeastern PA. In order to simplify things when the census taker arrived, the Duffys may have included Annie as one of their own, rather than taking the trouble to explain how it was that the youngest member of the household was the others’ aunt.

Our Irish great-grandfather James J. Haggerty, b. 1835, appears to have immigrated to the US some time before 1863. So far I’ve found no way of discovering where James may have lived and worked (Scotland? New York?) before arriving in PA, but it is clear that by 1863, he had settled in PA and married PA-born Mary Cassels. I’m supposing that about a year after marrying, they had the first of many children: Elizabeth 1864, Mary A. 1866, James P. 1868, Ellen 1870, Margaret 1873, Kathryn 1875, Michael 1877, Hugh 1879, and John 1884. Margaret apparently died at a young age in the 1880s or 90s. In addition, two other children, whose names are not given, apparently died at birth or in infancy; Mary states in the 1900 census that she bore 11 children, 8 of whom are still living.

The 1870 census lists 75-year-old Agnes Haggerty as the next-door neighbor of James J. and his family. Agnes is probably James’ mother (our great-great-grandmother, b. 1795) or another close relation. Born in Ireland at a time when laboring-class children could not afford to go to school, Agnes can neither read nor write.

James J. Haggerty’s older brother Cornelius (Connel), b. 1827, seems to have arrived in PA by 1853, judging from the 1854 birth date of his first child. Connel first turns up in the US census in 1860, as a laborer living in Tamaqua, PA. He and his Irish-born wife, Margaret, eventually have 8 children: Mary 1854, James 1856, Michael 1858, Connel 1862, Agnes 1866, Ellen 1867, Margaret 1869, and Elizabeth 1872. Like Agnes Haggerty, Connel and Margaret are illiterate. James Haggerty, by contrast, can read and write, perhaps because he benefitted from the new national schools in Ireland and from the wages earned by Connel and other older siblings.

By 1870 James and Connel Haggerty live in a patch town called Honeybrook (built for the purpose of housing coalminers next to the new mines being opened) in an area later incorporated as Kelayres and McAdoo. Connel stays there for 10 years before moving out west as a pioneer. James stays there until he dies in the 1890s, and the rest of his family stays until about 1907, when his wife Mary dies. All the PA-born Haggerty boys work in the mines from the age 11 or 12 on, whereas the girls work mainly as domestic servants, also starting at about age 12.

James and Mary Haggerty are buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery, McAdoo, as are their children Hugh and Katie. With them are Katy’s husband and infant son, both named Thomas McCann, and Hugh’s wives, Bridget and Cecilia.

Curiously, the 1880 census for Honeybrook does not list Connel Haggerty, yet it does list his wife Margaret and their 8 children. To my surprise, I discovered that Connel had moved to Nebraska and indicated on the 1880 census in that state that his entire family was with him.

Identifying himself as a farmer in Center Precinct, Holt County, Nebraska, Connel evidently expects his family to join him quite soon. I don’t know whether Connel’s wife and children did in fact move out west to the plot of land he planned to farm, because the only other record I have found is an 1884 Nebraska tax document in Connel’s name, plus a map of plots owned by Connel and by Mary Haggerty, probably his oldest daughter.

A likely explanation for the Nebraska venture is that, in the years after the Civil War, Irish General John O’Neill successfully recruited enough Irish miners from the Scranton, PA area to establish an Irish settlement in a new town named for the general himself: O’Neill, Nebraska. Hearing about O’Neill’s project, after suffering the hardships of a severe economic depression in the 1870s, Connel probably saw an opportunity to escape the coalmines and start a new, healthier life as a farmer.

Connel Haggerty and his family drop off the radar after 1884, with one possible exception: a PA-born Cornelius Haggerty, the same age as Connel’s son and, like him, a child of Irish-born parents, appears in the US census in the first three decades of the 20th c. Living in Portland, OR with his wife and son and working for the gas company, this Cornelius Haggerty may have followed the example of many other Irish in the late 19th c. American West: they often went from O’Neill Nebraska to Butte, Montana, where silver and copper mining was booming; to Wyoming; or to Oregon (especially Eugene).

Labor activists all, the Haggerty men who move from McAdoo to Crabtree (Westmoreland County) PA are heavily involved with the United Mineworkers of America. James P. Haggerty–along with Patrick Duffy–defend the miners’ legal rights in court and on the ground during the widespread 1910-1911 strikes in Western PA. John (Jack) Haggerty is treasurer of the UMWA local, and his brother Mike holds grassroots political discussions with other miners and radical priests at his house on Sunday nights.

Back in McAdoo, Hugh is as politically engaged as his brothers: in 1910 he joins fellow mineworkers in testifying in court against their employer’s unfair labor practices, such as imposing consecutive 23 hour shifts.

After the death of her husband and son, Katie leaves McAdoo for Crabtree, where she moves in with her brother Mike, his wife Ann Frain, and their children James (aka Father Donald), Peggy, Mary, and Tommy. Also living in Michael’s house is her eldest sister, Elizabeth Haggerty. (Sisters Mary and Ellen Haggerty are untraceable at this point.) Finally, Uncle Mike’s household includes Ann Frain’s brother, James (Uncle Jimmy), as well as Ann’s uncle, Patrick Duffy. Another family tragedy strikes when Ann Frain and her baby, Michael, die in 1917, apparently in childbirth.

In this same period, there is a large group living with John Haggerty and his wife, Winifred Frain: their children Mary 1915, John Jr. 1917, and Winifred 1920; Thomas Frain Sr. (who dies at age 80 in 1934); and Thomas Frain Jr. (Shorty). Thomas and James Frain fight in World War One in the Philippines, returning to find the US in the throes of another major economic depression and high unemployment.

James P. Haggerty and his wife Julia are also living in Crabtree with their children: Michael, Mamie, James, Ellen, and William. When Julia’s husband dies in the 1910s, she shares a duplex with her children and grandchildren. Her son, James Haggerty, is killed in World War Two.

By the early 1940s when the Crabtree mines are being closed, John and Winifred Haggerty move with their three adult children to Washington, DC, then to Silver Spring, MD. Shorty moves there, too. In the 1950s, John and Winifred Haggerty are buried in Calvary Hill Cemetery in Crabtree, together with Winifred’s brothers, Thomas and James Frain, as well as many other family members and close friends. Elizabeth Haggerty, Michael Haggerty, and Mike’s’s children–Father Donald, Peggy, and Mary–are all buried in Calvary Hill. Finally, I have found obituaries for two family members with whom we were never acquainted. One of these, dated 2011, suggests that there are still a number of cousins in the area.

The story of my generation, the suburban baby boomers, is for someone else to tell. So I’ll close with some melancholy reflections on the lives of our grandparents and great-grandparents.

Somewhat paradoxically, our Irish great-grandfather, James J. Haggerty, like his American-born sons and daughters, enjoyed a certain privilege in the PA mining industry by virtue of being an English speaker. By comparison with the second-wave immigrants who arrived in PA between 1880 and 1914–mainly Eastern and Southern Europeans–the Irish often held positions of some responsibility and earned slightly higher wages because of their ability to communicate effectively in the US lingua franca. For example, Michael and Hugh Haggerty were railroad engineers working for mining companies, having started out, no doubt, as “fire men”–men charged with fueling the fires that drove steam-powered engines.

Yet as far as I can see from the census data, over a period of 80 years (roughly 1860-1940), most Haggerty, Frain, and Duffy men worked in lower-paid, unskilled mining jobs. And no one in our family was able to rise in the ranks to become a foreman or a “miner” per se–that is, a person with the training, knowledge, and skill to open a mine and organize the extraction process. Such positions required formal schooling and were filled mainly by Englishmen, Welshmen, and their US-born descendants, most of them Protestants.

As for the women, if they were not bearing a child nearly every year, they seem to have worked almost exclusively as domestic servants from 1870 to 1910 (although Ellen Haggerty and Mary Duffy were dressmakers, apparently). For decades, the women, too, seem to have been unable to move into less exhausting, better-paid work or to stay in school beyond the age of 12. It’s sad testimony to the rigors of the industrial age and to most working people’s limited prospects for upward mobility.

Generally speaking, Irish laborers were a key force not only in mining, but in building the national network of canals and, later, the railroads. Despised and publicly ridiculed for their poverty and their Catholicism, they were barred from many forms of employment and were either segregated in urban ghettos or sent into the hinterland, where they were lodged in boarding houses, rough bunkhouses, or overcrowded company-town frame houses with no insulation, no hot water, no bathroom, and no indoor toilet. Either way, they did some the most difficult and dangerous work imaginable in exchange for small rewards.

Surely, though, our ancestors were able to enjoy life when they had a breather on Sundays. Rail lines linked the mining areas around McAdoo to Hazleton (only 3 miles away) and thus to Hazle Park, which opened in 1892. In the summer there were outdoor festivities including wiener roasts, celebrations of “Irish Day,” “German Day,” etc., and free band concerts in a lovely setting. The park’s attractive grounds were decorated with flowerbeds, shrubbery, shade trees, and benches. Later, a grandstand and a ballpark were built, and in 1909 there were two performances a day at the new vaudeville-and-movie theater. In the winter there were sleigh rides and ice-skating. And by the 1920s (10 years after most of our family had moved to Crabtree), the park had a dance pavilion, bowling alleys, boating, swimming, tennis and handball courts, and a roller coaster. Interestingly, the roller coaster was an adaptation of the early gravity railroad used in mining operations—a classic case of entrepreneurs profitably using the latest technologies both in heavy industry and in the new culture industry’s cheap amusements.

McAdoo and Crabtree are sad places now. Their populations are aging and dwindling, and the towns have long been economically depressed–so much so that the land surrounding McAdoo is still scarred by the dilapidated breakers, enormous slag heaps, and black pits that the coal barons left in their wake since the mining industry began there in the 1830s.

Yet our ancestors were key players in the industrialization of the US, and literally transformed every aspect of existence in their lifetime, all the while fighting for decent pay and working conditions. They didn’t have much, but they left us a marvelous inheritance: a more democratic society, and a keen awareness that struggles for justice and equality have to be waged again and again.


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