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.
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.
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 three children:
- An unnamed child (stillborn, July 12, 1847)
- Catherine Trainor (1850-1907) married Michael Eagan (1849-1930)
- John Trainor (stillborn, August 22, 1951)
The couple’s first child is stillborn on July 12, 1847. The sex of the child is unknown.
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.
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.
Alice died on February 25, 1856, at the age of 37. The death record indicates “hysterics” as the underlying condition for her untimely demise. In the 21st century, medicine has advanced to put “hysteria” in its place – as a mental health condition. In the 19th century, “hysteria” was frequently used to explain sex-related differences in stress response. I’m not certain, and we’ll likely never know what led to hysteria in Alice’s case, but it’s possible that she was still mourning the loss of her two (or more) babies. She is buried in Saint Francis Cemetery in Pawtucket. The record also suggests that she was a housekeeper.
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 five children:
- Jane (Jennie) Trainor (1859-1896) married William B. McCauley (1861-1939)
- Owen Trainor (1859-1860)
- 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 “labourer.”
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.
I haven’t located a child in between, but the next child, a daughter named Sarah, is born on December 7, 1863.
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 Ann is 70.
Daughter Agnes Trainor is born on April 30, 1866.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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. John is buried at St. Francis Cemetery in Pawtucket with his mother and his first wife.
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.
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.
Main image: Dexter Asylum, Providence, Rhode Island. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons