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Rooney-McCanna Connection

McCanna Family

The following is a summary of the ROONEY - McCANNA connection - submitted by Robert John Willis, III, of Connecticut.

Sometime between 1847 and 1849 Myles McCanna and his wife, Bridget McDevit, emigrated from Ireland (possibly Waterford) to Canada. Myles, born in 1810 or 1812, Bridget born in 1819, brought four children: Elizabeth (12/29/1837), James S. (1842), Mary Ann Lavina (8/1/1844), and Michael Bernard (1849). They settled in the "Queen's Bush" area of Ontario, between Georgian Bay and Lake Ontario, in Grey County. They homesteaded Lot 42, Consession 8 in Normandy Township. Nearby neighbors, the Hanrahans, had Concession B. Three more chldren were born to them there: Bridgette (1854), Catherine (1856), and Margaret Jane (3/1858). Although they were to live there till 1868, it does not appear that Myles either became a Canadian citizen nor acquired final rights to the land.

As the children got to marrying age, life changed. Elizabeth married Patrick Hanrahan in Orchardville, Ontario on 2/1/1860; James married Sarah Anne Duffy in Mt. Forest, Ontario on 4/11/1866. Between that date and 10/25/1867 the Hanrahan family emigrated to the United States, probably to take advantage of the Homestead Act which opened up the "Northwest Territories" in the 1860's. Mary Ann Lavina went with them as she married John Hanrahan in Faribault, Minnesota (south of St. Paul) on that October date. Her brother, Michael, joined the trek southward in Pope County, Minnesota, in an area about three miles from Grove Lake and about ten miles from the Rooneys' Settlement. Myles and Bridget were there by 4/4/1868.

Myles homesteaded a 160 acre farm near Lake Alice, on preset day Pope County Highway #28. As he was in his late fifties, and since Michael Bernard was unmarried and nineteen, Michael probably worked this farm with his Dad while Bridget took care of the house and the three young girls. James and Sarah Ann had another 160 acre farm nearby, as did John Hanrahan and wife, Mary Ann Lavina.

The stage is now set for the Rooney family to appear. Indeed, Michael Rooney, born in Galway in 1783, and his wife Catherine Caulfield, also born there a year later, had emigrated to Canada around 1845. In their 60's they came with their nine grown children. They settled in the Gatineau River region of Quebec north of Ottawa, near the town of Farellton (present day La Peche). The three oldest boys -- Patrick (1808), Michael (1809), John (1820) -- all had ther own farms. They also probably did some contract lumbering as this region was rich in lumber and this was the heyday of lumber being shipped by boat to Great Britain.

Patrick Rooney was married to Ellen Tracy (born in 1815). They had eight children after their marriage in Ireland c. 1837. Mary (5/28/37), "Little Pat" (1839), Eleanor (12/21/1842), and Michael (1845) were probably born in Galway; John (1847), Tom (1849), Katherine Ann (4/5/2), and Eliza (1854) were born in Wakefield Township, probably at the farm outside of Farrellton.

After "Daddy Mick" died in 1857 and was buried in the Catholic cemetary in Farrellton, "Mama Kitty" emigrated to the U.S.A. with eight of her nine grown children and their families. Patrick and Ellen with their eight children were among the ones who headed for Minnesota in the late 1860's. This large group settled in Stearns County, Raymond Township, in a place at first called "Rooneys' Settlement," later called Padua.

By 1872 Katherine Ann Rooney was twenty years old. She had been well schooled for a young girl living in rural Canada. Indeed, she became the first teacher in Raymond Township and taught in a small one-room schoolhouse about three miles east of present-day Padua.

Two years later, on April 9, 1874, Michael McCanna married Katherine Ann Rooney at Rooneys' Settlement. The best man was her brother Michael; the bridesmaid was his sister Margaret Jane. Fr. Wolfgang Northman, a Benedictine from St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, officiated. In all likelihood the new couple moved in with the Myles McCanna family. Elizabeth Elinor, their first child, was born at this farm in Grove Lake on 5/13/1875.

All was not well with these settlers in the early 1870's. A locust plague devasted Minnesota from 1872-1875, hitting Pope and Stearns Counties especially hard in 1874.

Myles McCanna became a naturalized citizen of the United States on 10/14/1873; James followed suit the next day. On November 15th Myles laid claim to his farm at the federal land office in Alexandria, Minnesota. Again James imitated his Dad. Myles owned his land by March 10, 1874 and James his by September 10, 1875. But eleven days later (9/21) Myles and Bridget sold their farm for $1,000 and James and Sarah Ann theirs immediately thereafter (9/23) for the same amount. The locusts had done them in.

Either that Fall or early in 1876, the McCanna family moved on out for newer lands in the West. John Hanrahan and wife Mary Ann did not leave. Indeed, a sick Myles also stayed, probably with them. He died of jaundice in 1879 and is buried in the Hanrahan plot at the Lake Alice Cemetary, on land that probably was once part of his farm. John and Mary Ann raised four children on their Pope County farm: James A., Elizabeth E., William Henry, and John T.

Bridget left with her two married sons, James and Michael, and her three unmarried daughters, Bridgette and Catherine and Margaret Jane. They made it as far as Bismark in 1876. It is likely that Katherine Ann's and Michael's second child, James, was born there on December 16th. Bridget and her girls stayed in North Dakota, while James and Sarah Ann, Michael and Katherine Ann continued on to Miles City with their children. Bridgette married Charles Johnson in 1878 and had two children, Charles and Helen; she remarried in 1890. She and her new husband, Patrick Fox, then took the family to Alaska. Catherine married Thomas W. Gallagher; they had a daughter, Ann. Finally, Margaret Jane married Robert C. Mathews in Bismark on 6/6/1880. It seems likely that they lived in Williston, North Dakota and that Bridget lived with them. The Mom died there on 6/18/1890; her youngest died there on 2/26/1940, fifty years later. Because of a payment default, the McCanna farm had reverted back to Bridget. When she died, she left it to her daughter Margaret Jane and husband, Robert Mathews. They in turn sold the land to Mary Ann Lavina and husband, John Hanrahan, for $1,900. In this way the original McCanna homestead stayed in the family.

Miles City was a mixed blessing for the two families. James and Sarah Ann had their youngest there: Mary Cordelia was born on May 21, 1881 and was baptized at the Jesuits' Sacred Heart Parish on October 1st. She joined Margaret J. and Frances E. -- they were confirmed there on September 28, 1883. And there was one other child, Scott J. But tragedy also came in 1883 as their Dad, James, froze to death on February 8th. A Montana Advertising Directory for Custer County in 1883 lists only Michael McCanna, teamster, and Sarah A. McCanna.

Michael and Katherine Ann had two more children in Miles City: Emmett Joseph on 6/8/1879 and Philip Francis on 5/17/1884.

In 1886 the U.S. Government started an active campaign to draw homesteaders to Alaska. Michael and Katherine Ann responded. Some time that year they settled with their family in Douglas, Alaska. Their last two children were born there: Robert J. on 5/2/1889 and Hillary M. on 6/11/1892.

The gold rush proved too much for Michael Bernard! In 1899 he followed the hoards of goldseekers into the Yukon Territory. He took with him the two eldest boys, James and Emmett. Katherine Ann stayed home with the two young boys; she had the help of her eldest, however, Elizabeth, who was now twenty-four It seems that soon both of them were serving as postmistresses in Douglas.

Disaster stuck not long after. Michael Bernard came down with Bright's Disease, a kidney ailment (nephritis), and died in the District of Atlin in British Columbia on 6/13/1899. He is buried at Lake Bennett, British Columbia.

Katherine Ann's children all married: Elizabeth to Robert John Willis on 11/7/1903; Philip to Alma Gribble in 1904; Emmett to Lillian Penglase on 7/15/1909; James to Frances Morisette on 4/12/1911; Robert to Theo, and Hillary to Vivian McDonald. Eventually only Robert and Theo stayed on in Alaska, living in Fairbanks.

Elizabeth and Robert John Willis moved to Goldendale, Washington where he owned a farm implements business. He also was Goldendale's head of the school board and mayor. They had three children: Robert John, Katherine Margaret, and James.

In 1909 Philip's wife, Alma died, leaving three small children. Katherine Ann took care of the two boys, Hugh Hillary (b. 12/1905) and Philip (b. 6/1908); Elizabeth and Robert John Willis took one-year-old Frances in as their own. Katherine Ann and the two boys lived for many years with her son, Hillary, at nearby Eagle River.

Between 1917 and 1923 Katherine Ann moved with Hugh and Philip to Goldendale where son-in-law Robert had built them a home. The boys were thus reunited with their sister, Frances. Then in June, 1925 her son Philip remarried; this time to Kathleen Doyle in Yakima, Washington. Katherine Ann and Philip's three children now moved to join them in Yakima, about 75 miles from Goldendale.

Disaster stuck the Robert Willis family in 1930. His wife, Elizabeth, had a stroke some time in the Spring and was bedridden, unable to speak. Then their son, James Emmett (b. 12/13/1912), drowned while boating on the Columbia River in July. Elizabeth died on August 10th; she was never told about her son's accidental death, though she probably knew.

Katherine Ann returned to Goldendale with Frances to take care of her son-in-law Robert. The oldest son, Robert John II, had recently graduated from the University of Washington's Law School and was practicing law in Yakima. Daughter Katherine Margaret was attending the same University's School of Journalism in Seattle.

When Robert John Willis I died in February, 1935, Katherine Ann moved to Seattle to live with her granddaughter Katherine Margaret. They lived together from 1935 to 1937. On 1/2/1936, Frances (Philip's youngest daughter) married Bill Ruff in Los Angeles. As Katherine Margaret had finished her university work and was moving, Katherine Ann looked southward. She headed to Los Angeles to live with the Frances she had raised and her new husband, Bill. And in their home she eventually died on 5/1/1939. Quite satisfactorily, she left them and us only at the end of her life. She is buried in the family plot in Goldendale, Washington with her eldest daughter, Elizabeth, her son-in-law Robert John, and her grandson James Emmett. She lived 87 quite full years.

Robert John Willis, III
135 Garvin Road
Hamden, Connecticut 06518
July 4, 1993