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WPA Interview

Origin of Rooney Family

About the year 1845 there was a great famine in Ireland and the tribe or family of Rooney, to escape death by starvation, boarded a sailboat bound for New York City. When they had reached mid-ocean the old wooden vessel sprang a leak and all hands were forced to man the pumps in order to keep it afloat. After a time, when all hope of ever seeing land again was gone, the captain sighted another vessel and hailed it. When the vessel came alongside the captain explained his situation and asked if his passengers could be transferred from the sinking vessel. The captain agreed to do so and the transfer was made. The ill-fated vessel sank in about 15 minutes. After the ship was underway someone inquired as to their destination and the captain answered, "Quebec." The Rooneys had no voice in the matter and we put ashore at Quebec, after nearly 50 days on the water.

The people were in very poor health and many of them died at Quebec. The survivors established a colony in Wakefield Township, Ontario, Canada. Among these Rooneys was an old lady known to the entire settlement as "Mammy Kitty." "Mammy Kitty" went among the settlers with her rosary of large, black, wooden beads and a crooked stick which she used as a cane. She lived to be nearly 104 years of age and has many descendants who are scattered over the United States, Canada and Alaska.

In 1867 the Rooney families came to the United States and settled on four sections of land near Padua, in Raymond Township, Stearns County. This settlement was known as the "Rooney Settlement" for many years. Among this group was "Mammy Kitty" whose proper name probably was Katherine Coughlin (married to Michael Rooney). Their children were: Hugh Rooney, Tom Rooney, Patrick Rooney, John Rooney, Will Rooney, and two girls, Ann (Rooney) Tracy, and Katherine (Rooney) Killeen, who had married a Michael Killeen in Canada.

Patrick Rooney married Ellen Tracy about 1837. Their children were: Mary, Elinore, Patrick, Michael, John, Tom, Katherine, and Eliza.

Mary Rooney, a daughter of Patrick and Ellen Tracy Rooney, married James Egan in 1859. Their children are: Ellen, Edmund (who died at the age of 26 years), John, Julia, Mary, Agnes (deceased), James, and Joseph.

John Egan, a son of James and Mary (Rooney) Egan married Ann Marie Fontaine in Alaska. They make their home in Sauk Centre and have eleven children, namely: Edmund, Beatrice, Ann, Helen, Francis, Dorothy, Katherine, Sarah, John, Hilary, Rita.

Interviewed: John Egan
Date: April 28, 1937
By: Dorothy Hansmann


Click on the links below to view the complete original version of the WPA interview:

    WPA Origin of Rooney Family (pg. 1)
    WPA Origin of Rooney Family (pg. 2)

*Note: Some of the information in the original WPA interview appears to be inconsistent with subsequent research, so the following corrections are suggested:

    1. Pg 1, Para 1, "About the year 1845". The year 1835 may be correct, instead, since the 1842 Canadian census shows that three "Rooney" families have already been in the providence for 5-7 years.
    2. Wakefield Township, is located in Quebec, Canada.
    3. Pg 2, Para 1, "Mammy Kitty" whose proper name probably was Catherine Caulfield. Their children were: Hugh, Tom, Patrick, John, Ann, Katherine, Bridget, Michael, Mary. The child, Will Rooney, is listed incorrectly as son.
    4. Pg 2, Para 2, Joseph is a ninth child.
    5. Pg 2, Para 3, Edmund should be listed as Edward.