Newmains – Ancestry of a Village

On a recent visit to Newbiggin-by-the-Sea in Northumberland I spotted this poster in the Maritime Heritage Centre.

It’s an ambitious project that aims to trace the ancestry of every person who has lived in the village. The Maritime Centre is a great wee museum tells the story of the village and how the people made their living from the sea. There are some great photos of the area as it was and of the people who lived there.

Newmains, the village which features most heavily in my family tree, can’t boast of a coastal location but it does have an interesting history. It became home to many immigrants seeking a better life during and after the Great Famine in Ireland. Many of the descendants of these immigrants are still in the village and local area today and many will be unaware of their Irish roots.

The Irish in my family comes mainly from my mother’s side. Go back a couple of generations and her family were all in Ireland. They came from various counties and I now have a big list of towns and villages in Ireland I would very much like to visit.

The men from these immigrant families found work mainly at the Coltness Ironworks. Their homes were mainly provided by their employers and, even by the standards of the day, they were poor.

The parish of St Brigid in Newmains was founded in 1896 and the records from the early years list the baptisms, marriages and deaths of so many family members. If you click on the link to the parish website you can find the details of these records. You can also find more about the history of the parish.

My grandfather was Hugh Brawley. He was born in Newmains in 1899. He was one of 12 children. His father, Daniel was one of 10 as was his mother, Ellen Keenan.

My granny, Catherine Cosgrove was the only child of Patrick Cosgrove but she grew up with step and half siblings.

Through these families I am linked to so many others in Newmains by blood and by marriage. Here are a few that locals might recognise.

  • Mullervy
  • Cooper
  • Keegan
  • Reynolds
  • Mulvey
  • McAdam
  • Darragh
  • O’Donnell
  • Coyle
  • Bradley
  • Monaghan
  • Brown
  • Higgins
  • Collins
  • Hunstone
  • Hagan
  • Hendry
  • Devlin

A Newmains genealogy project would be a massive undertaking but I would like to know if anyone has any photos or stories of their Newmains Irish immigrant families that they would like to share.


James Keenan 1832-1889

James Keenan was the brother of my great, great grandfather, Patrick Keenan. Patrick’s daughter, Ellen Keenan, was my mother’s paternal grandmother.

James was born in County Down, Ireland about 1932. He was one of at least 8 children of Hugh Keenan and Hannah McCarten. I’ve found records for siblings born in Clonallon so it may be that James was born there. He certainly spent time there.

On 1 August 1852 James married Elizabeth Cunningham. Having survived the great famine and remained in Ireland throughout, the couple made what must have been a difficult decision to leave Ireland and seek new opportunities in Scotland. Perhaps it was the birth of their daughter Hannah in 1853 that prompted their decision. I can’t be sure when they came to Scotland, but by 1855 they were living in Lanarkshire. I know this to be the case from Hannah’s death records. She died on 1 December 1855.

A son, Hugh was born in 1856, followed by Catherine in 1857, Thomas in 1859 and Elizabeth in 1862. Son James was born in April 1864 but died of bronchitis in December that same year. Elizabeth would have been pregnant at the time and when their son was born in March 1866 they named him James too. Tragically, just a couple of weeks before his second birthday, James died within the family home at 18 Furnace Row in Newmains. A few months later, in August 1868, Mary was born. Followed by twins Bridget and Margaret in June 1871. In December of 1873 James and Elizabeth lost two more children when scarlet fever took both Mary and Margaret.

In March 1874 another Margaret was born and in 1877 their 12th and last child was born. They named him Daniel.

Life would not have been easy for Irish immigrants and James would have worked long hours in harsh conditions as a furnaceman. There would have been no time off to mourn the loss of his children or support his wife. Feeding his family meant working every day.

There came a point, however, when James could work no longer. In 1887 due to “bronchitis and debility” he was forced to seek poor relief. By that time he had been off work for 18 months and I imagine he must have received support from family in that time.

His initial application was in February 1887 and he was given relief of 3/- per week. The register (which is available to view at the Heritage Centre in Motherwell) states that at that time he was “unable for work and could not be moved without injury to health”. By April he was able for light work and “could be moved to Motherwell Combination Poorhouse”. It is unclear from the record if he was ever admitted to the poorhouse or remained at home.

There is so much information to be found in the poorhouse records. James’ record shows the details of all dependant children and children no longer living at home. I discovered that Catherine, Thomas and Elizabeth were married and that Catherine had left Scotland for America.

James died aged 57 on 12 May 1889 at the family home at Woodhall, Cambusnethan. The 1891 census shows Elizabeth residing with youngest child, Daniel. Elizabeth died in 1898.

A Family Mystery — Daniel Brawley and Ellen Keenan

Daniel Brawley and Ellen Keenan were my great grandparents. I don’t remember being told many family stories but the one that did stick in my mind is that my mother’s grandparents got married in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  There was no explanation given as to why they were in America and it seemed no one really knew the story. It has taken a while to get to the bottom of this and I really can’t tell you about one without the other so this is the story of my mother’s paternal grandparents.

Daniel Brawley was born on 1 May 1864 in Old Monkland, Lanarkshire.  His parents were James Brawley and Sarah McLauchlan.  Daniel was the third of ten children.  The family eventually settled in Newmains, Lanarkshire.

My great granny was registered as Helen Keenan but was always known as “Ellen”. She was born on 16 December 1869 in Newmains. She was the eighth of ten children. Her parents were Patrick Keenan and Agnes Haughey.

While both Daniel and Ellen were born in Scotland they were of Irish descent. Daniel’s mother and Ellen’s father were born in Ireland and all of the grandparents had been born in Ireland.

Life would not have been easy. Their living conditions were poor and, as can be seen from the photo, hardly adequate for such big families.

I recently discovered that in her early teens Ellen was forced to leave Newmains and her parents to take up employment as a bleachfield worker in Paisley. She would have been away from her family for months at a time.

Daniel found work at the local ironworks as a labourer. Coltness Ironworks was the main employer for the local community and the reason the Brawleys settled in Newmains.

So Daniel and Ellen both grew up in Newmains and the families would most certainly known each other from the time the Brawleys arrived in the village. So my question was – why did they marry in the United States? This was not a time of destination weddings after all.

I started digging and I discovered a second cousin who was also looking for Daniel and Ellen. Her grandfather was Daniel And Ellen’s first child, Daniel. The story in her family was that her grandfather was born in Pennsylvania. He returned to Scotland with an American accent and was bullied by local children as a result. My cousin had managed to track down Daniel and Ellen’s marriage record showing that they were indeed married in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The date of their marriage was 11 December 1888. Neither of us, however, could track down a birth record for Daniel.

I also checked through passenger lists for Daniel and Ellen trying to work out when they left Scotland with no success.

The next record I found was the 1891 census which showed the couple back in Newmains and living at 12 Furnace Row. Daniel is again recorded as a labourer. By this time the couple had had another son. I found the birth record for James who was born in January 1891 at 12 Furnace Row.

I started to suspect that Daniel had not been born in the USA after all but there was no record for a Daniel Brawley in Scotland either. So I had to try a different search and I found him.

Daniel Keenan was born at 15 Furnace Row, Newmains on 30 October 1887. He was given Brawley as a middle name but he is recorded as illegitimate and there is no father listed. So, this was not the great romance I had imagined of a young couple heading off to America to start a great adventure. It would appear that Daniel was keen to leave Newmains but he did so with his brother James and not his young girlfriend. Ellen, it would seem, was just a fling before he headed off for good. Had they intended to stay together surely they would have married before he left if her pregnancy had meant she was unable to travel. So I’m assuming (hoping) that he didn’t know she was pregnant when he boarded his ship. Knowing the baby’s birth date narrowed down the timeframe for Daniel’s departure but I still don’t have a passenger list. I did ask a professional genealogist who advised that many records from that time no longer exist.

Daniel’s ultimate destination was the town of Moosic. I’d love to know what drew the brothers to that particular place. Perhaps they responded to a recruitment advert or maybe they had a family or other connection there. It’s possible there were other Newmains men already there.

Ellen was not prepared to remain a single parent. As soon as she was able she and Baby Daniel sailed on the Steamship Manitoba heading for Moosic, Pennsylvania. The name was transcribed as “Keauan” which made it difficult to find. Also on the ship was Daniel’s younger brother Hugh. I can imagine the Brawley and Keenan families getting together to discuss how to deal with the situation. If Daniel couldn’t or wouldn’t come back, Hugh would accompany Ellen to track him down. The Manitoba arrived in Philadelphia on 9 December 1888 and Daniel and Ellen were married just two days later. You can see from the marriage record that Ellen lied about her age.

Why did Daniel and Ellen return to Newmains? I suspect (and young Daniel’s family believe) that it was Ellen who wanted to come back. She couldn’t settle and missed her family. It wouldn’t have been easy for her with no friends or family support. She would have been left on her own while her new husband and his brothers worked long hours in the mines. I don’t know exactly how long they were there but it is unlikely that Daniel would’ve had an American accent. The couple went on to have twelve (!) children in total. They remained in Newmains until their deaths; Daniel died in 1935 and Ellen in 1941.

They are buried in Cambusnethan Cemetery. I have visited their grave and was saddened to see there is no headstone. The small marker in the picture had been moved from another plot.

The photograph below was taken in 1912 and shows My great grandfather with his eldest son. I do not have a photograph of Ellen.

Elizabeth Keenan 1866-1950

My great aunt Elizabeth Keenan was born on 22 March 1866 at 15 Furnace Row, Newmains, Lanarkshire. She was the 6th child of Patrick Keenan and Agnes Haughey and the elder sister of my mother’s maternal grandmother, Ellen Keenan. I have previously posted about her sisters Margaret and Mary.

The records show that Elizabeth married John Armit in 4 February 1887 and together they had 10 children. It wasn’t until I was researching Margaret at the Lanarkshire Heritage Centre that I discovered another chapter of Elizabeth’s story. Margaret was recorded as a pauper on her death record prompting me to check the Poor Relief Application Register. On looking through the index I was surprised to find Elizabeth as well as Margaret.

On 20 September 1886 Elizabeth, who at that time was living with her parents at 14 Furnace Row, made an application for poor relief. A home visit was made by the inspector on 22 September. Elizabeth is recorded as single, Roman Catholic and her occupation is given as “bleachfield worker”.

I had assumed that Elizabeth spent her whole life in Newmains however this information from the application shows otherwise.

“She states that she went to Foxbar Bleachfields when 13 years of age and came home to Newmains for 3 weeks, a month, sometimes 2 months every year.”

It is hard to imagine a 13 year old child being sent away from home to work in the horrible conditions of the bleachfields. Bleachfields were originally an open area of land used for spreading cloth and fabrics on the ground to be bleached by the sun and water. Bleachfields became redundant shortly after the discovery of chlorine in the late 18th century however, many of the factories bleaching with chlorine continued to be called bleachfields. Paisley had a thriving textile industry and Foxbar bleachfields employed many young females from across the country.

On a visit home to Newmains, Elizabeth fell pregnant. The reason given for her application was “confinement “. Having just given birth Elizabeth was forced to seek financial support for herself and her baby. Under a section for other info on the register the following is recorded:

“putative father John Armit, furnace filler residing in Main Street, Newmains”

Elizabeth was offered admittance to the Poorhouse but there is no corresponding admittance number so I assume she refused and stayed at home. It was not uncommon for the authorities to offer admittance to the house instead of financial assistance as a way of discouraging applications.

Happily she went on to marry John Armit and the two were together until his death in 1944. Elizabeth died aged 84 in 1950.

Margaret Keenan 1868-1886

My 2nd great aunt, Margaret Keenan was just 18 years old when she died on 18 September 1886. She was the 7th child of Irish immigrants, Patrick Keenan and Agnes Haughey and the closest in age to my great grandmother, Ellen Keenan. Ellen was my mother’s paternal grandmother. She was also the sister of Mary Keenan about whom I posted recently.

Margaret was born in the Parish of Cambusnethan on 16 March 1868. She appears on both the 1871 and 1881 census records living with her family in Newmains. The next record I found for her was her death record which shows she died within her family home at 14 Furnace Row, Newmains. Her mother, Agnes was present at the time of death and it was she who registered the death using an X as her mark in lieu of a signature.

It is the word “pauper” on the record written where her occupation should be recorded that caught my eye. Being recorded as a pauper meant that she had to have applied for poor relief at some point.

The poor relief applications for Cambusnethan Parish are held at the Lanarkshire Heritage Centre in Motherwell. On request, the very helpful staff will bring you the original registers which often contain information not available elsewhere.

In the case of Margaret, I discovered that she applied for poor relief at 230pm on 7 April 1885. I would imagine that for a 17 year old girl bring interviewed by the poor house inspector would have been a very daunting prospect.

On the register Margaret is recorded as single with no dependants. Her occupation is given as bleachfield worker and her religion as Roman Catholic.

Per the normal procedure, a home visit was carried out by the inspector who visited 14 Furnace Row at 1115am on 8 April.

Furnace Row, Newmains

I don’t know if having a poorhouse inspector visiting your home would have been a cause for shame. Had the family tried to provide for Margaret until they could no longer manage?

The register also lists previous addresses. Margaret had been at Furnace Row for two years. Prior to that, in her early teens, she had lived away from home at a bleachfield works in Paisley. The fact that she had been home for two years away from the bleachfields would suggest that she had been dependant on her parents for some time.

The inspector assessed Margaret as wholly disabled due to strumous disease. I had no idea what that might be but an online search showed it to be scrofula; a disease with glandular swelling, probably a form of tuberculosis. You can check online. It’s a nasty disease.

The decision from the inspector was to provide Margaret with 2/6. Payments of 1/6 were to continue but at some point she was admitted to Motherwell Poorhouse. I’m relieved at least that she did not die there but was at home with her family.

Mary Keenan 1857-1885

My 2nd great aunt, Mary Keenan was born on 23 August 1857 at Old Monkland, Lanarkshire. Her sister, Ellen was my mother’s paternal grandmother.

Mary was the first of ten children of Patrick Keenan and Agnes Haughey. The next two siblings were born in Shotts but by 1862 the family had settled in Newmains.

Mary found work as a brickfield worker, a physically demanding and low paid job. She met coal miner, Peter McGarrell and on 21 October 1879 their son, John McGarrell was born. The child was illegitimate and while Peter acknowledged paternity on the birth register the couple never married and Mary and her new baby remained at home with her parents and siblings. Without the support of a husband Mary would have had to greatly rely on her mother and sisters for support.

She did go on to find love and on 24 April 1883 she married John O’Donnell. Mary discovered that she was pregnant and now that she was a respectable married woman this must have been a cause for celebration.

Tragically complications in the pregnancy led to peuperal fever and septicaemia and on 26 November 1885 Mary died. She was 28 years old. There is no record of a birth.

Her son John returned to live with his grandparents. I do not know if he had any further contact with his father or stepfather.

Agnes Brawley 9 October 1892-29 November 1892

This is the story of my great aunt, Agnes Brawley. She was my maternal grandfather’s sister but they never met as she died 7 years before he was born. Until very recently I wasn’t even aware of her existence. I only found her while searching for another family member. My mother hadn’t heard of her either. She did have an Aunt Agnes but she was my grandfather’s younger sister and wasn’t born until 1906. 

Agnes was born on 9 October 1892 in the family home at 12 Furnace Row, Newmain, Lanarkshire. Her father, Daniel, was a furnace filler. Coltness Iron Works was one of the main employers in the area and the reason my family came to the village a generation before. Her mother, Helen Keenan who was known as Ellen had been a bleachfield worker prior to her marriage. Agnes was their third child and was named after her maternal grandmother, Agnes Haughey. Her elder brother, Daniel, was born in 1887 followed by James in 1891. 

The record of her death shows that Agnes  died of accidental suffocation on 29 November 1892. Even at a time when infant death was not uncommon, her passing must surely have rocked the family. The circumstances are truly tragic as can be seen from the record.  

 She and her parents and one of her brothers were asleep in the one bed when she was accidentally overlain. The one bed would have been through necessity, the houses in Furnace Row not offering much in the way of space or comfort. 

Agnes lived for just a few weeks but I’m sure the birth of their first daughter must have brought joy to my great grandparents. And it may be that her death changed them forever.  Was she ever spoken about? Did my grandfather ever hear the story of his sister or was it something that was never discussed?  Did my grandparents feel guilty or blame each other?  I have no way of knowing and I feel so sad when I think of her life cut short like that. I really just wanted to write this to record in some way that she was once here. 

Agnes Haughey 1836-1901

Agnes Haughey was my maternal grandfather’s maternal grandmother.  She was my great, great granny in other words.  From census, marriage and death records I know that she was born in 1836 in Glasgow and that in 1856 she married my great grandfather, Patrick Keenan.  The first document I found for her was her death record which states that her parents names were Hugh Haughey and Roseanne McGhie.  So, I added their names to the tree along with the names of her many children.  I did also find her marriage record  but it was from Catholic Parish records and didn’t have details of her parents.  I did have a look for her birth records using her parents details but with no success.  Then I’m afraid to say that I kind of left Agnes at that to go and look at other stories.  You will see from previous posts that I have concentrated more on my grandfather’s paternal side.

This week Scotland’s People are offering free access to the Catholic Parish Registers so I decided to have another look for information on the Haughey’s and Keenan’s and basically have just searched for everyone with those names.  And there for 1836 I found the birth of an Agnes Haughey in Glasgow but with the parents given as Patrick Haughey and Rose McGhie.  Is this the same person?  Looking at her death certificate I see that she was registered by her son in law.  I think it’s fair to say that he may not have known his wife’s grandfather and wouldn’t have known his first name and perhaps got confused with the paternal grandfather who is called Hugh.

Then I realised that having been married in 1856 a full record should exist of the marriage.  So, I found the marriage of Patt Keenan and Agnes Haughy who were married in Hamilton on 6 May 1856. Her parents are given as Peter Haughy and ? McGhie.  The copy on Scotland’s People isn’t too clear.  What do you think?

I would expect the marriage certificate to be more accurate as the information was given by Agnes herself who would surely know her own parents names.  The witnesses to the marriage are both called Keenan.  I had hoped for a Haughey sibling but no such luck.

Back on the Catholic records, I did find a Patrick Haughey and Rose McGhie having  children in the early 1850s but that’s a fair gap and I suppose the names aren’t particularly uncommon.

I cannot find any record of a Haughey/McGhie marriage, nor can I find any records of their births or deaths or even census records.

Another thing that confuses me about Agnes and her family is that she seems to have ignored the naming conventions that my family otherwise seem to stick to – first son named after paternal grandfather, first daughter after maternal grandmother and so on.  While there may have been some variations the grandparents names always appear somewhere in the family yet, despite having 8 daughters, there is no Rose.  It is possible that I haven’t found her but the 10 children I have found are as follows –

  • Mary (Born 1857)
  • Hugh (Born 1859)
  • Hannah (Born 1860)
  • Anne (Born 1862)
  • James (Born 1863)
  • Elizabeth (Born 1866)
  • Margaret (Born 1868)
  • Helen (Born 1869) – My great grandmother
  • Catherine (Born 1871)
  • Agnes (Born 1873)

No Patrick or Peter in there either.  Maybe Agnes didn’t grow up with her parents.  Possibly she was orphaned and brought up by someone else (James and Mary maybe?)  Could it be that she didn’t have a good relationship with her parents and chose not to use their names.  My grandmother did this to my great grandmother and even in the 1920s this was a bit of a big deal.

Agnes wouldn’t have had an easy life.  I know that from Glasgow she moved out to Lanarkshire and by 1862 she was living in Newmains.  Patrick was a coal miner and money would have been scarce.  For a period of over 16 years Agnes was either pregnant or looking after newborns.  She outlived both her sons.  James died when he was just 2 years old and Hugh at 29.  Daughter Mary also died at just 28.

To add to the confustion about names when husband Patrick died in 1898 the certificate states that he was married to Agnes McGhee.  The death was registered by Agnes herself so I can’t explain the use of her mother’s maiden name.  Perhaps she was confused by the question when asked about her maiden name.  The register is signed with an X.

Agnes died on 28 April 1901.  The cause of death is given as a fractured rib and pneumonia.  She is buried in Cambusnethan Cemetery.