John Trainor and Alice Mulholland and Annie McKenna

Rhode Island was a popular place for Irish people to settle before the potato famine, but when it hit in 1845, a deluge of migrants left the isles for the US. The federal census in 1850 revealed that 69% of the foreign-born population of the state were from Ireland. The Irish dispora affected several of my ancestral branches, including the Trainors. (There’s a fantastic article on the Irish dispora with references from FindMyPast.)

This YouTube video from the Museum of Newport Irish History gives a lot of context to the Irish migration to Rhode Island.

Play Video
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Updated December 2023 to include information about two more children who died in infancy, the circumstances of Ann’s return home, and details of John Trainor’s employment and estate.

John Trainor was born on June 24, 1821, in County Tyrone, Ireland, the son of Francis Trainor and Ann.

John emigrated to Providence, Rhode Island, around 1845. He married Alice Mulholland on March 4, 1845.

Rhode Island, US. Vital Extracts 1636-1899 (image via

Alice Mulholland was born in Monagan, Ireland, in 1822, the (presumed) daughter of Thomas McNamee and Catherine. (Monaghan is adjacent to Tyrone.) I am not certain why Alice’s last name was Mulholland at the time of her marriage – it’s possible she married before emigrating to Canada, and her husband died, or maybe she was adopted. It’s also possible that it was noted incorrectly in her death record, the only record we have of her maiden name. Only her father’s first name is on the marriage index. Her mother’s first and father’s last name are indicated on her death record.

It appears the couple had at least four children:

  • An unnamed child (stillborn, July 12, 1847)
  • Catherine Trainor (1850-1907) married Michael Eagan (1849-1930)
  • John Trainor (stillborn, August 22, 1951)
  • John Trainor (stillborn February 17, 1856)

The couple’s first child is stillborn on July 12, 1847. The sex of the child is unknown.

Rhode Island, Abstract of Internments 1630-1945 (image via

The couple are found on the 1850 census with daughter Catherine (3 months) in Providence. John’s (34) occupation is listed as a “labourer.” Alice is 32.

1850 US Census (image via

I haven’t located Catherine’s birth or baptismal record, but later records suggest she was born in March of 1850. Her appearance as an infant on the census lines up with this information.

A third child, a son, was stillborn on August 22, 1951. This child, John Trainor, is named after his father.

Rhode Island, Abstract of Internments 1630-1945 (image via

Another son, also named John Trainor after his father, is stillborn on February 17, 1856. Alice, surely traumatized by the loss of several stillborn babies, died eight days later on February 25, 1856, at the age of 37. The death record shows mother and son listed on the same page indicates “hysterics” as the underlying condition for Alice’s untimely demise. Potentially, this means she either had a heart attack or she took her own life. She is buried in Saint Francis Cemetery in Pawtucket. This record also suggests that she had been employed as a housekeeper.

Rhode Island Death Index (image via Rhode Island Preservica)

After two years, John remarried. His new wife, Ann (Annie) McKenna, was born in 1830 in Ireland. She was the daughter of Patrick and Ann McKenna. They married on July 25, 1858.

The couple had at least six children:

  • Jane (Jennie) Trainor (1859-1896) married William B. McCauley (1861-1939)
  • Owen Trainor (1859-1860)
  • Margaret Trainor (1860-1861)
  • Sarah Trainor (1864-1943) married Francis Joseph Sullivan (1864-1936)
  • Agnes Trainor (1866-1919)
  • John Joseph Trainor (1868-1946) married Annie McLaughlin (1876-bef 1940)

Twins Jane and Owen are born in April, 1859, just shy of nine months after the wedding. Owen died just over a year later, on May 26, 1860.

The 1860 census, taken just after Owen’s death, shows the John (36), Ann (23), Catherine (11), and Jane (1) living with John’s mother Ann, who the record suggests is 80. John’s occupation is “laborer.”

1860 US Census (image via

We find out later that John starts working at the Allen Print Works just off Branch Street pretty much as soon as he walks off the boat to Rhode Island. Throughout his career he advances to the level of boss and is apparently well thought of. The image below was taken in 1875, which would have been during the course of his employment. This article suggests that the Allen Print Works, founded in 1831 by Rhode Island Governor and later Senator Phillip Allen, employed over two hundred Irish workers (including a large number from Tyrone, Ireland) with various degrees of skill. The mill was very innovative for the times, using machines for the printing of textiles.

Allen Print Works (image source: Providence Public Digital Library)

Just after the 1860 census, daughter Margaret Trainor was born on June 23. The couple is living in North Providence, and John is still listed as a laborer.

Rhode Island Birth Index (image via Rhode Island Preservica)

The next record was at the time of little Margaret’s unfortunate death on November 22, 1962. The record suggests her death, at 17 months, was an accident, as a result of being scalded after falling into something hot (I can’t read the last word – it might say “hot flame”).

Rhode Island Birth Index (image via Rhode Island Preservica)

A Civil War draft registration record dated June, 1863 shows John at age 47. His occupation is listed as a “Teamster” and his address is 115 Attwells Avenue in Providence. The area has built up since John’s time, and the 115 address doesn’t appear to exist in modern times.

Civil War Draft Registration (image via

The next child, a daughter named Sarah, was born on December 7, 1863.

Rhode Island Town Clerk, Vital and Town Records, 1630-1945 (image via

On the 1865 Rhode Island Census, we find John (47, a labourer) living at home with Ann (30), Catherine (15), Jane (6), Sarah (2) and mother Ann. This record suggests that the older Ann is 70.

1865 State Census (Rhode Island) (image via

Daughter Agnes Trainor was born on April 30, 1866.

Rhode Island Birth Index, 1866 (image via Rhode Island Preservica)

A son, John Joseph Trainor, is born on January 14, 1869.

John’s mother, Ann, died of old age at the age of 81 on May 16, 1869. The record notes (as suspected) she is a widow. Her parents are noted as Francis and Ann, but the record does not indicate her maiden name. It is still unknown whether or not her husband accompanied her to the US as she doesn’t appear prior to the 1860 census. She is buried with John’s first wife Alice at St. Francis Cemetery in Pawtucket.

Rhode Island Death Index, 1869 (image via Rhode Island Preservica)

On the 1870 US census, John, now 48, has moved up from a general labourer to an “overseer” at a print maker. On this census, Ann’s condition is noted as “insane,” and she is eventually diagnosed with dementia. Catherine, now 21, is still at home, possibly helping with her younger siblings as her step-mother is incapacitated. Jane, now known as Jennie (11), Sarah (6), Agnes (4) and John (1) are also still at home with two domestic servants (likely also helping because of Ann’s condition).

1870 US Census (image via

On the 1875 state census, the situation is much the same, with John (54) working in a “print works lab,” and Ann’s (40) condition still noted as “insane.” Catherine has married Michael Eagan and left home. Jane (12), Agnes (10) and John (7) are still at home with a servant. Both Jane and Agnes are in school. I haven’t located Sarah on this census, however she is not married yet.

1875 Rhode Island State Census (image via

By the 1880 census, Ann is institutionalized in the state insane asylum at Cranston. I contacted Rhode Island state officials to see if I could obtain further records, however, I understand they’ve all been destroyed.

In 1880, the rest of the family is living on Branch Avenue (number unknown). John, now 56, is listed as working in a coal office. Jennie (21) is keeping house. Sarah (16) is back – and working at a print house. Agnes (14) and John (12) are at school.

1880 US Census (image via

The 1885 census finds Ann still institutionalized. I haven’t been able to specifically locate the rest of the family on this census.

Sarah marries Francis Joseph Sullivan in May 1888.

The majority of the 1890 Census was destroyed in a fire in January of 1921.

John Joseph marries Annie McLaughlin in April 1895.

In 1900, the census finds the remaining family living at 289 Branch Avenue in Providence. This address appears to have disappeared in the last 100 years. Ann (67) appears to be back at home. John (78) is doing day labour. Agnes (34) is still at home, possibly taking care of Ann.

1900 US Census (image via

A February 14, 1902 article in the Providence Journal suggests a woman in Pawtucket named Ann Trainor, age 68, has fallen victim to smallpox. The age is correct, but the address for this Ann differs from the known address on Branch Street, although is only minutes away.

Providence Journal, Februrary 14, 1902

John died on December 14, 1904 of heart failure. At the time of the death return, he is still living at 289 Branch Street. An unnamed daughter (likely Agnes) is the informant. This record names Francis and Ann as his parents.

The obituary for John Sr. suggests he was one of the oldest residents of the North End section of the city. He worked at the Allen Print Works for nearly 50 years and for a large part of his employment was the boss. He had been retired for 12 years (possibly the point where Ann returned home) and had been in ill health for almost a year. The article also suggests that he’d held a number of minor political offices, including school trustee and that he had a large real estate portfolio.

Providence Journal December 16, 1904

 John was buried at St. Francis Cemetery in Pawtucket with his mother and his first wife.

As indicated in his obituary, the estate would have been very complex, and of course Ann would have been in no fit state to handle it. In January 1905, son John J. Trainor accepts the position of executor of his father’s estate.

Providence Journal, January 26, 1905

On April 4, 1905, John Jr. petitions the court to be appointed guardian of his mother’s estate.

Providence Journal April 14, 1905

A newspaper account suggests that in June, property on Silver Springs Road transfers from John Jr. to Agnes, likely as part of the estate.

Providence Journal, June 26, 1905

In July that year, John presents his first account to the court.

Providence Journal, July 28, 1905

Ann (McKenna) Trainor died on October 27, 1908, after another long stay in hospital. Her cause of death is listed as “terminal dementia, arterio-sclerosis.” Many people think of dementia as a memory problem, and it’s not well-known that dementia is a degenerative disease that eventually stops brain function. Sadly, if a person with dementia does not die from an infection or other cause, eventually, their brains begin to misfire, causing seizures, and then no longer signalling their lungs to breathe. It’s a horrible way to die.

Rhode Island Death Index, 1908 (image via Rhode Island Preservica)

Ann is buried in Saint Francis Cemetery in Pawtucket with John and the other members of his family. A large monument marks the family’s burial.

Trainor Monument, St. Francis Cemetery, Providence, Rhode Island

Main image: Dexter Asylum, Providence, Rhode Island. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons


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AG Knapper

I’ve been researching my tree for over twenty years…and I’ve found some easy branches, and some gnarly ones…

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