Interestingly, I found birth, marriage, and death records for only one Frain family, ours, in Runcorn, Cheshire, England between 1860 and 1910. Moreover, I found only one marriage record for people with similar names during that period in Runcorn (Mary Frayne 1905) and three birth records (John Frane 1872, Thomas Frane 1874, and Mary Frane 1879). So the information below quite certainly pertains to our family.
The first reference to our great-grandfather Thomas Frain appears in connection with his marriage to our great-grandmother Margaret (Maggie) Duffy, which is registered in the England & Wales BMD Index: 1837-1983 (births, marriages, deaths) in the period Apr-May-June 1880. There are many people by the name of Frain/Fraine/De Fraine/Frane/Frayne/Freyne born in Ireland and living/working in Cheshire as well as in nearby Liverpool, Manchester, and other parts of Lancashire in the mid- to late 19th century, but I found no clear prior reference to our great-grandfather, and no reference at all to any of his family members.
Note that in the 1930 US census our great-grandfather names himself or is named by someone else as R. Thomas Frain. The initial may be useful in further research. Names like Robert and Richard occasionally turn up in lists of Irish immigrants in this period, but I don’t think I’ve come across any Irishmen named Russell, Randolph, or Raymond.
In the 1930 US census, Thomas Frain also says that he is 80 years old, and indeed the Calvary Hill Cemetery in Crabtree, PA lists his date of birth as 1849. (He died in 1934.) As indicated below, his age as listed in the 1891 and 1901 UK censuses suggests that he was born a decade later, in 1858. It is quite possible that he misrepresented his age in those years, thinking that Maggie Duffy may not want to marry a man more than ten years her senior, and/or that he would have better luck finding work in England if he presented himself as a considerably younger man. Subsequently, Thomas Frain alters his age in 1913 when he sails to New York, saying that he is 50 rather than 56, or possibly 66. In 1913, I believe he was trying to maximize his chances of being admitted to the US by presenting himself as a vigorous and thus employable man, as he may well have been doing for some time already in Runcorn in order to remain employed as a dock laborer. By the time of the 1920 US census, when he is living in Crabtree, he is retired. It would make sense that in his later years he no longer felt the need to misrepresent his age, whether for love or money.
The 1891 England census cites Thomas Frain, age 33, as head of the household at 9 Mersey Street, near the river by that name, in Runcorn. He was born about 1858 in Ireland and is working as a dockyard laborer. Living with him are his wife Maggie, age 30, and their children Annie 10, Thomas Jr. 8, and “Minnie,” who must be Winifred, 7. As is common in those days, they also have several lodgers, all laborers: John Critchley, Terry Kilgarrif, Roger Regan, John Sharkey, and John Whelan.
The England & Wales BMD Index shows the following Frain children born in Runcorn (note that the dates reflect the year the birth was registered rather than the year it actually took place): Ann 1881, Thomas 1883, Winifred 1884, John 1886, Mary 1888, Catherine 1889, Henry 1890, Margaret 1892, and James 1895.
At least three of the Frain children died in infancy or early childhood. The England & Wales BMD Index shows that John Frain died at age 3, and that Mary and Margaret Frain both died before their first birthday. I found no information in the BMD 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.
In the 1901 England census, the last one available online, Thomas Frain Sr., age 44, is still working as a dock laborer and living with Maggie Frain and his sons on Mersey Street in Runcorn: Thomas Jr., 17, a general laborer, and James 6. They have two Irish boarders, both dock laborers: John Malone 60 and James Scalon 60. At this time Winifred Frain (Frane on the form), age 17, is living and working (as a servant) at the Boathouse Inn, also on Mersey Street in Runcorn. Ann Frain does not appear in the 1901 England census, as far as I can tell; she may have already moved to the US.
Maggie Duffy Frain died in Runcorn in 1907 at age 46. Her youngest child James would have been at most 12 years old. Her widowed husband Thomas Frain, along with his children Winifred and James, left for Pennsylvania in 1913, the year after the Titanic went down. 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 forced to return to England.
Thomas Frain Jr. and Ann Frain left for PA some years earlier. We know that Ann married Michael Haggerty in McAdoo, PA in 1905, but I found no mention of her on a ship’s manifest. Her brother Thomas (Shorty) may have gone back and forth between Runcorn and McAdoo a couple of times. In the 1930 US census he says that he first came to the US in 1905. I found no ship’s manifest to back this up, but I did find one dating from 1910 showing that Thomas traveled that year from Liverpool to NY en route to Audenried, PA (adjacent to McAdoo), his stated destination. In NY he was detained as a likely public charge but was ultimately admitted to the US.
I wonder if the Frain family ever had the money and leisure time to go to Blackpool, a seaside resort near Runcorn catering mainly to laborers from Lancashire? It was the first city in the world to have electric street lighting (1879).