Sometime during the summer of 1864, Thomas Finan, born 21 years earlier to James and Letitia Finan boarded ship headed for the United States. I was able to get very little information concerning Thomas’ journey other than the year it took place. It is likely that Thomas was accompanied by at least his older sister Eliza, and that they entered the United States at the Port of Boston, Massachusetts. New York, Providence, RI, and Portland, Me, were also common ports of entry for Irish Emigrants, but the fact that Eliza appears to have settled in Boston and that the Boston & Maine railroads ran from Boston to Keene, N.H. (where Thomas would settle), seem to indicate that Boston is the most likely port of entry. Passenger ship logs for each of these ports, while available at the National Archives, are all hand written and not indexed. I made an effort to read through these logs line by line looking for Thomas and Eliza, but I had no luck (and got quite the headache !).
Keene, NH- The Early Years
A New Beginning
After having arrived this new land, Thomas settled in the Township of Keene in Cheshire county, New Hampshire. Keene’s burgeoning railroad industry had drawn a very large Irish population looking for work, and Thomas no doubt hoped he would be able to adjust to this new country amongst his own people.
Not long after arriving in Keene, Thomas met the young Ellen Sweeney, two years his junior. Ellen had also recently emigrated from Ireland along with her mother Honora (Fitzpatrick), and her three brothers Timothy, Daniel, and William. It is unclear as to whether Ellen’s father Andrew came with them to America or remained in Ireland. Just how Thomas and Ellen met is not known, however it is likely that they met an Irish social club somewhere in Keene. The Irish in America were regarded at that time as one of the lower forms of life and they would often congregate at local clubs to socialize and reminisce about ‘back home’
On March 5,1867, Thomas and Ellen were married in St. Bernard’s Church by the local Pastor, William Herbert. The newlyweds settled down in a house at 30 Marlborough St., a stones through from the church in which they were married. This house, the original homestead for the Finans in this country, was torn down in 1971 to make way for the U.S. Post Office. Ellen’s brother Timothy moved in with the Finans and worked out of the house as a laborer. Thomas put his experience as a carpenter to use, setting up shop out of the house.
On May 26, 1869, Thomas and Ellen were blessed with the birth of their first child, Mary Ellen Finan, the first Finan to be born on American soil. Mary would one day grow up and marry John McGrath and settle in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, where many of the McGrath family remain to this day. With Thomas and Timothy (Sweeney) working to bring money into the home, Ellen stayed at home taking care of the house and raising their new daughter. Over the next two years, Ellen would give birth to two more daughters; Letitia Veronica on September 22, 1870, named for Thomas’s mother who he left behind in Ireland, and Hannah Fabian, born on February 29, 1872. Interestingly, although Hannah’s birth records list her given name as Hannah, the 1880 U.S. Census lists her name as Honora Finan, which was Ellen’s mother’s name. It is likely that Hannah is simply an Americanization of Honora, and Hannah was indeed named after her maternal grandmother.
With three young children, as well as Ellen’s brother boarding, the home on Marlborough St. had become too small for the growing Finan clan. On July 24, 1873, Thomas bought “ninety-four and a half square rods” (approx. 26,000 sq. ft.) of land on the easterly side of Island St. for $450, and built a new home for his family. This victorian style house, at 130 Island Street on the west side of Keene, would remain in the Finan family for nearly ninety years, and still stands today.
Over the next two years, two sons were born to Thomas and Ellen. James Edward, born on May 22, 1873 was named for Thomas’s father back in Ireland , and Andrew Joseph born on November 11, 1875 was named for Ellen’s father. James would one day marry Ellen Toomey of Concord, Massachusetts and begin a large patriarchy of Finans, many of whom remain in the Concord area today. Andrew would also marry a Concord girl, Carrie Bryden, but would eventually settle in Providence, Rhode Island.
Sometime around the birth of Andrew, Ellen’s two other brothers, Daniel and William, also moved in with the Finans on Island St. They remained until approximately 1877, when all three Sweeney brothers got jobs at the Cheshire Rail Road and moved into a house on nearby West St. It was also at approximately this time that Thomas gave up working for himself as a carpenter, and went to work as a laborer for a local tannery .
Thomas and Ellen would soon add two more children to their family. Anges Finan was born on August 11, 1879 and two year later, on July 4, 1881, Thomas William Herbert Finan was born, presumably named for the Pastor William Herbert who had married Thomas and Ellen some fourteen years earlier. Tragedy struck, however, on the 8th of April, 1889 when their youngest daughter, Agnes, died at the age of ten. Her death certificate listed the cause of death as heart disease.
The Children Grow Up
Mary Ellen would be the first of the Finan children to marry and leave home. In November of 1889, Mary married John Francis McGrath, a well to do tailor who had emigrated from County Galway, Ireland. Mary and John left Keene that year, eventually settling in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.
By 1895 James and his younger brother Andrew left Keene and moved to Concord, Massachusetts, presumably to look for work. Both brothers would find their wives in Concord, and settle down. Young Thomas would grow up and join his father in his carpentry business, while sisters Letitia and Hannah became Tailoresses, doing work for hire out of their home.
In 1902, Andrew and his new wife Carrie returned to Keene from Concord. Andrew would start his own business as a harness maker, a trade he learned working for the Boston Harness Company while living in Concord. He opened his Harness Shop at 31 Roxbury St., just off the village square. The building still stands today, and is the site of an Aubachon Hardware. For reasons unknown, the family, particularly sisters Letitia and Hannah, did not get along well with Andrew’s wife Carrie, and by 1904 Andrew would leave Keene once again. This time, Andrew and Carrie moved to Providence, Rhode Island.
Young Thomas, considered by some to be the most handsome of the Finan boys, never did marry. At an early age, Thomas did fall in love with a young Irish redhead by the name of Driscoll, who lived just down the street from the Finans. Unfortunately, neither the Driscoll family, nor the Finans approved of the relationship, so it went no further.
Back in Keene
During the ensuing years, time pretty much marched along for the Finans in Keene. During the first World War, Thomas was anxious to assist his new country, and he went to Portsmouth, where he was employed in the ship yards.
Thomas Sr. continued with his carpentry work, while Letitia and Hannah, neither of whom ever married, continued to work out of the house as tailoresses. By 1908 Thomas Jr. got steady work as a carpenter for the Boston & Main Rail Road and would soon move out of the family home and rent an apartment at 64 Main St. By 1911, however, Thomas Jr. would move back into the Island St. home, but only for a short while. Around 1913 Thomas Jr. moved out again, this time to Concord NH.
The Patriarch Dies
On January 15, 1920, the patriarch of the Finans in America fell ill. Thomas Finan was admitted to the Elliot City Hospital, and three days later, on January 18, 1920, died at the age of 74. His death certificate listed the cause of death as “Bronchia pneumonia or Intestinal Strangulation”. In his handwritten will, dictated from his deathbed, Thomas left all his worldly possessions to his “dear wife Ellen”. The will also stipulated that upon Ellen’s demise, the remainder of the estate would be split, in equal shares, between Thomas, Letitia, and Hannah. The will states “I make the foregoing bequests and devises not being unmindful of my other dear children, James E. Finan of Concord, Mass., Andrew J. Finan of Providence, R.I. and Mary E. McGrath of Fitchburg, Mass., but believe that the two forever are sufficiently well supplied, and I particularly charge that said Thomas W.H. Finan, Letitia V. Finan, and Hannah F. Finan to see to it that my daughter Mary E. McGrath does not want for any necessities of life or ordinary comforts…”
Probate papers filed along with Thomas’s will, estimated his worth to be as follows: The family home at 130 Island St. Keene, worth $2000, a house in Providence R.I. worth $5000, and $813.24 in cash. Fortunately, the mortgage on the Island St. house had been paid off recently, so this was one burden the newly widowed Ellen would have to bear. Money would no doubt be tight for the three Finan women, so Letitia and Hannah both found steady work as tailoresses working at 45 Central Sq. No doubt, life was difficult for Ellen without Thomas, and on November 3, 1924 Ellen Maria Finan died in the house where she had lived for more than a half of a century. The cause of death was listed as “Chronic Myocarditis and Bronchial Asthma”. Her death left Hannah and Letitia all alone in the Finan home. Thomas would once again return to Keene in 1928, but would leave again two years later to join his brother Andrew in Providence.
The Sisters Carry On
Alone, the Finan sisters would grow old together in the Island St. home. At some point, the sisters cousin Jimmy Doyle would move into the Island St. home with them, although I was not able to determine when this occurred. Jimmy Doyle would live with the sisters for many years.
In 1941, Hannah would died, leaving Letitia to carry on the Finan name in Keene. Letitia was growing old, however, and in 1954 she voluntarily allowed Attorney James S. Davis to be appointed by the court as her legal conservator. In 1958 Letitia had to leave the Island St. home and enter a nursing home at 81 Blake St. On August 19, 1961 Letitia Veronica Finan, the last surviving member of the original Finan family, died. In her will, she left the lions share of her estate to he sister Mary’s grandchildren. Mary’s granddaughter Mary Loen received the Finan home on Island St. along with its contents. Letitia also bequeathed $5000 to St. Bernard’s Church with the instructions for “the erection of an appropriate memorial in honor of my father and mother, Thomas Finan and Ellen Finan, and my sister and two brothers, Hannah F. Finan, Thomas M. Finan, and Andrew J. Finan” This memorial stands today in the St. Bernard’s Cemetery in Keene.