Thomas Rowley & Mary Agnes Ruane
Thomas Rowley Undated portrait of Thomas Rowley. His baptismal record is visible here. was born in March 1870 in the vicinity of Killasser, a small Irish village a few miles north of the town Swinford in County Mayo. He was baptized at the Catholic church there on March 19, 1870 in the presence of his father, also named Thomas Rowley, and his mother, Honora Cuniffe (also spelled “McNiffe,” “McKenniff,” and “Niff”). He was probably the fourth of about six children, and both of his parents were illiterate.
Mary Agnes Ruane (or “Ruan”) was born in about 1873 in Ireland. Her death certificate lists a “Michael Ruan” as her father, but there are no more details. The most likely birth record I can find is of a Mary Ruane who was born near Killasser on September 3, 1873 and was baptized there on September 15. According to these records, her parents were Michal Ruane and Sarah FitzMorrice (or “FitzMaurice”). I cannot be sure if this is the same person.
Thomas and Mary grew up in Ireland during an intense period of agitation known as the Land War. Throughout the 1870s and 80s, the Irish National Land League and its successors tried to prevent the evictions of Irish tenant farmers, who were often forced by English landlords to pay unreasonably high rent. Some of these evicted farmers barricaded their homes or formed mobs to prevent police from removing them; others simply refused to pay. Perhaps these events contributed to Thomas and Mary’s decision to leave the country.
The first record of Thomas Rowley in the United States is on the manifest of the RMS Lucania, which arrived in New York on April 28, 1894. The Lucania—together with its sister ship Campania—was the world’s largest ocean liner at the time and would win the Blue Riband two weeks later in May 1894. Thomas had boarded it in Queenstown (now Cobh, County Cork) with one piece of luggage and listed his final destination as “Wilkesbury.”
Similarly, a 21-year-old “Mary Ruane” Undated photo probably of Mary Ruane. arrived in Philadelphia from Queenstown on April 21, 1895 aboard the SS Southwark. According to the passenger manifest, she carried $30 and her last place of residence was “Swineford” (probably Swinford, County Mayo). She might have been going to an “Aunt Mrs. McGuire” on Tasker Street in South Philadelphia, but the record is difficult to read. The document also describes her as illiterate, but she would learn to read and write before 1900.
It’s hard to say exactly where Thomas and Mary met. If the Mary Ruane listed on the Southwark manifest is the right one, then they probably met in Ireland near their place of birth—but the manifest does not mention Thomas as a relative or Wilkes-Barre as a destination, so it’s possible they met in the United States. Either way, they married in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on November 5, 1896. Thomas was 26, and Mary was about 23.
They had two surviving children: According to the 1910 census, Mary had seven other children that did not survive infancy. The only evidence of this I can find, however, is the birth record of a “Mary Rowley” who was born on February 6, 1902.
- Nora Agnes Rowley was born on January 6, 1898. She went to a nursing school in Philadelphia after her parents’ death and married jeweler John Edward Bense in 1923. She had three children: John Edward, Thomas Robert, and Joan Marie. She died in 1964.
- Veronica Catherine Rowley, who went by “Vera,” was born on April 27, 1900. A 1918 directory says she worked for the Penn Tobacco Company. She later lived with her sister and brother-in-law in Philadelphia, where she worked for a magazine publisher for several decades. She never married or had children and died in 1985.
Joseph Thomas Rowley, who was born on December 1, 1910, also became a presence in the household sometime between 1914 and 1917. Joseph is not mentioned in Mary’s 1914 obituary, which leads me to believe that the family had not yet adopted him. I am unsure if he was officially adopted, but he would go on to use the name “Rowley” for the rest of his life. According to a 1941 draft card, he was born in Brooklyn, New York, although he might have been born in Pennsylvania. He joined the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and served in the US Army during World War II, possibly in the Pacific. Censuses list him in Philadelphia with Nora’s family where he took various odd jobs. He did not marry or have children before his death in 1984.
From 1897 onward, city directories list Thomas at multiple addresses just southwest of Wilkes-Barre in a neighborhood called Newtown. In 1897, the family was living at 62 Frederick Street, and before 1899 they moved to 35 Frederick Street (next door to Thomas’s brother Michael and his family). Sometime between 1900 and 1903, they moved again to 60 Nicholson Street, right around the corner. Between 1907 and 1910 they moved one last time to 58 Frederick Street, an address that appears to be permanent; the 1910 census describes Thomas as the home’s owner, not a tenant.
According to an atlas of the city from 1904, the Lehigh Valley Coal Company and the Lehigh & Wilkes-Barre Coal Company both owned large tracts of land to the northeast of the Rowleys’ neighborhood. It’s likely that Thomas worked for one of these companies; he is described in directories and censuses most often as a “laborer,” and in the 1910 census he lists his occupational industry as “mines.”
According to Thomas and Mary’s obituaries, the Rowleys attended church at St. Leo’s, a Catholic church in Ashley, Pennsylvania that had been founded about 10 years before they moved to the region.
Thomas’s obituary also mentions his membership in Division 18 of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, an Irish Catholic fraternal organization that became popular in Pennsylvania’s coal mining regions in the late nineteenth century and was a major focus of Irish-American political activity at the time. Some historians believe that certain AOH chapters were fronts for the Molly Maguires, an Irish secret society, although that organization had largely ceased to exist by the time Thomas and Mary moved to Pennsylvania.
Mary died on September 13, 1914 at Mercy Hospital in Wilkes-Barre after undergoing surgery for a hernia; she was 40 years old. Thomas died at home three years later on April 14, 1917 after suffering from a heart condition; he was 47. They are buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Wilkes-Barre.
Thomas Rowley’s and Mary Agnes Ruane’s entries on my Ancestry.com tree (requires a subscription). A few additional sources (mostly Wilkes-Barre city directories) are visible here.
Thomas Rowley’s and Mary Agnes Ruane’s pages on FamilySearch (requires a free account).
Ancestry.com. Ireland, Catholic Parish Registers, 1655–1915 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016. National Library of Ireland; Dublin, Ireland; Microfilm Number: Microfilm 04223 / 06. Link (requires subscription)
“Ireland, Civil Registration Indexes 1845–1958,” Index. FamilySearch, Salt Lake City, Utah. General Register Office, Republic of Ireland. “Quarterly Returns of Births in Ireland with Index to Births.” Link (requires subscription)
Ancestry.com. Ireland, Select Births and Baptisms, 1620–1911 [database on-line]. Provo, UT: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Link (requires subscription)
Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820–1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820–1897. Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls. NAI: 6256867. Records of the U.S. Customs Service, Record Group 36. National Archives at Washington, D.C. Link (requires subscription)
The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Series Title: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787–2004; Record Group Number: 85; Series: T840 Link (requires subscription)
Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, Marriages, 1852–1968 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016. Link (requires subscription)
“United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M3QH-DHX : accessed 23 September 2020), Thomas Rowley, District 1 Wilkesbarre city Ward 14, Luzerne, Pennsylvania, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 179, sheet 17B, family 314, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972.); FHL microfilm 1,241,436.
“United States Census, 1910,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MG8K-X9N : accessed 23 September 2020), Thomas Rowley, Wilkes Barre Ward 14, Luzerne, Pennsylvania, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 160, sheet 6A, family 104, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982), roll 1371; FHL microfilm 1,375,384.
“Pennsylvania Births and Christenings, 1709–1950”, database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:HFJP-61MM : 27 January 2020), Mary Rowley, 1902.
Death Certificate of Thomas Rowley, Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1967; Certificate Number Range: 043191–046470. Link (requires subscription)
Death Certificate of Mary Rowley, Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1967; Certificate Number Range: 090791–094080. Link (requires subscription)
“Find A Grave Index,” database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q2B1-1DV3 : 8 August 2020), Thomas Rowley; Burial, Hanover Township, Luzerne, Pennsylvania, United States of America, Saint Mary's Cemetery; citing record ID 173416385, Find a Grave, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/173416385.
Ancestry.com. Historic Land Ownership and Reference Atlases, 1507–2000 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007. Link (requires subscription)
Obituary of Mrs. Mary Rowley; A PDF of a clipping is viewable here. The Evening News (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania), September 14, 1914; Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, USA.
Obituary of Thomas Rowley; A PDF of a clipping is viewable here. The Evening News (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania), April 14, 1917; Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, USA.
Obituary of Thomas Rowley; A PDF of a clipping is viewable here. The Wilkes-Barre Record April 18, 1917; Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, USA.