The Tinneny Family History Site

Biographies of Our Forefathers

James Joseph “Jim” Tinneny Sr.H33

James Joseph Tinneny was the seventh child and second son of Patrick “Yankee Pat” Tinneny and Margaret Malloy.  He was born on September 26, 1888 at the family’s home on East Shaw Street in Greenock, Scotland.

Photo: Jim as a boy in Scotland 1901.

As did the rest of the family, James attended Saint Mary’s Church and Primary School.  He and his sister Rose were especially close to their brother Francis who died as a young boy while the family lived at Shaw Street. .

On December 27,1900, when he was 12 years old, Jim sailed to America aboard the Sardinian. He accompanied his mother, his sisters Alice, Margaret, Elizabeth and Rose and young Patrick on the voyage.  They sailed from the port of Glasgow in Scotland and arrived in New York on January 12, 1901. 

Photo:SS Sardinian – the ship that Jim came to America aboard

As was the case with the young boys in Greenock, Jim surly played football (soccer) while growing up in Greenock.  Later, as an adult in America, he was well known in his neighborhood for his skill in this sport.  At the time, soccer was not a well known or a commonly played sport in the United States, except among the European immigrants who learned the game in their home countries.

Photo: Jim about the time he came to America.        

Jim probably completed his primary schooling, which he began at Saint Mary’s in Greenock, at Holy Family Primary School located on Hermitage Street in the Manayunk section of Philadelphia.  According to his son Donald, after primary school Jim went on to attend Saint John’s High School in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia.  The high school was a part of Saint John the Baptist Parish in Manayunk.  He left Saint John’s after completing only 1 or 2 years of the school’s 4-year program.  He went to work with the Bell Telephone Company.  After working for the phone company he worked for Budds Company, Auto Car Division, in Philadelphia as a carpenter and pattern maker.

By April 1910 Jim had moved from the house of his parents on Baldwin Street and was living with his sister Alice and her family.  In the Census taken April 19, 1910 Jim is enumerated in the household of his brother-in-law Cornelius Hart.  At the time Alice and her husband had one child Isabella.

Both Jim’s mother and Manny Wier, who raised Gertrude Spence, were against Jim and Gert marrying.  On the one hand Jim’s mother was against the union because of the strong history of tuberculosis in Gert’s family.  On the other hand, Gert’s guardian, Manny was against the couple marrying because of the history of health problems in the Tinneny family.  Friction over the relationship of Jim and his girlfriend Gert may well explain why Jim was living in the home of his sister at the time of the 1910 Census instead of in the home of his parents.

On June 4, 1910 James married Gertrude Ann “Gert” Spence.  They were married in Philadelphia.  The marriage was recorded with the Clerk of the Orphans Court, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania by Joseph J. Hannigan on July 19, 1910.  The entry is numbered 251792.

Gertrude was born September 26, 1890.  She was the daughter of Matthew Spence and Annie O’Neill.  She was baptized October 19, 1890.   Her paternal grandfather was John Spence who was born in County Cork, Ireland.  His true name was John Spillane as recorded on a Total Abstinence Society Pledge Certificate which was signed by the founder of this Society.  The Very Reverend Theobald Matthew Founded the society April 10, 1838.  John took the pledge August 27, 1853, and was recorded as the 5,700,062 member.  John’s great-grandson, Gertrude’s son James J. Tinneny, said that he believed the reason his great-grandfather John changed his name from Spillane to Spence was to better fit in when he went to England from Ireland to apprentice as a papermaker.   

He must have learned his trade well since the first job that he had after landing in America was in the employ of the Wilcox family who James believed had a paper mill in Glen Riddle Pennsylvania.  The Wilcox family were socially and financially important in the Diocese of Philadelphia and were extremely good to the Irish. 

     Photo: Gert Spence Tinneny’s grandparents, Honora Wilson and husband John Spence.

John moved with his family to Chestnut Hill, just outside Philadelphia.  They lived in a twin gray stone house near the Mother House of the Sisters of Saint Joseph.  John’s son Matthew and his daughter Manny both were day students at Mount Saint Joseph’s Academy and were taught by the Sisters of Saint Joseph.   

John Spence, Gertrude’s grandfather, went to work at the W. C. Hamilton’s Paper Mill, which is located in Miquon, Pennsylvania where it joins Philadelphia at River Road.  The superintendent of the mill at the time was Philip Gaul who sponsored John for his United States citizenship.  His citizenship was awarded September 30, 1868. 

Photo: Honora Wilson Spence. 

John Spence’s wife, Gertrude’s grandmother, was Honora Wilson.  Her father was Thomas Wilson who was born in Edinburgh, Scotland.  He was a Presbyterian who converted to the Catholic faith.  John and Honora’s great-grandson, James J. Tinneny Jr. didn’t know for sure if the couple had married in Ireland, England or in America. 

John and Honora’s son, Gertrude’s father, Matthew was a blacksmith.  For a time he catered to the carriage trade on Philadelphia’s Main Line.  Unfortunately, according to Gertrude’s son James, his clients were poor at paying their bills and left him in financial difficulties. 

Matthew married Ann O’Neill of Philadelphia.  Ann’s father was Richard O’Neill.  He was probably born in Tipperary, Ireland and came to America between 1840 and 1845.  Richard had at least three children two of whom, John and James served in the Spanish American War.  Richard entertained, along with Bill Ambrose, a local plumber, at various functions at Holy Family Church as well as at the parish’s annual July 4th picnic.   

Both of Gertrude’s parents, Matthew and Ann, died when Gertrude was only 7 years old.  They died in Manayunk.  Her mother was buried in the Cemetery of Saint John the Baptist Church in Manayunk.  When the city put through Tower Street and Hill Road near the church, it went through the cemetery and all of the bodies in that section were reburied.  Her present resting place is unknown. 

After the death of her parents Gertrude was raised by her father’s sister Margaret “Manny” and her husband John Weir on Hermitage Street in Manayunk.  John was a railroad detective.  As a young girl Gert was apprenticed as a dress maker to McKernan’s Dress Makers on Hermitage Street in Philadelphia.  After her marriage to James she made many of the clothes for her young family.  Years later Gert advised her daughter Trudy, who liked to sew, not to learn to sew because everyone will want you to do their sewing.

Photo: James at about age 22.

On March 1, 1915, when he was 26 years old, James initiated a Declaration of Intent (#24816) to the United States Department of Labor, Naturalization Service.  This was the first step required to become a citizen of the United States of America.  In the petition he is described as a pattern maker, white with a fair complexion and with brown hair.  He was 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 132 pounds.  He had a small scar under each eye.

The Declaration shows that he emigrated to the United States from Greenock, Scotland aboard the vessel Sardinia and arrived in New York on January 12, 1901.  In the document James declared his “bona fide intention to renounce forever all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign potentate, state or sovereignty, and particularly to George V, King of Great Britain and Ireland of whom I am now a subject.”  The Declaration of Intention was filed in the District Court of the United States, Eastern District of Pennsylvania. 


On November 27, 1917, he completed a Petition for Naturalization to obtain United States citizenship.  That petition was numbered 858112, and is in petition volume 104, number 25927.  At the time, the petition shows that he, Gert and their Five children James 6, Mary 5, John 3 and Joseph 8 months were living at 4724 Fowler Street in Philadelphia.

Edwin J. Sobey of 467 Markle Street, Philadelphia and Walter M. Cusworth of 577 E. Martin Street, Philadelphia sponsored James for citizenship.  They both certified that they knew him as a resident of Pennsylvania since November 1, 1912.  They further attested to the fact that they had personal knowledge of his good moral character and that he believed in the principles of the Constitution of the United States.

On May 3, 1918, Jim took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States and was awarded United States citizenship.  He was issued Certificate of Naturalization No. 858112. 

While the first of their children were young, Jim and Gert lived in the immediate neighborhood around Holy Family Church.  They rented several houses on Fowler Street including 4747 and 4724.  They also lived in a house on lower Gates Street, which was on the west side of the church.  Although the Gates Street house had a bathtub in the bathroom there was no plumbing to the room and it was never hooked-up.  Some of the children used to go to their Uncle John and Aunt Manny Weir’s home on Hermitage Street to take their baths while others, including Clare, went to their father’s sister Maggie’s and her husband Ed McKenna’s home on Ripka Street in Manayunk.  

Painting: The Tinneny home on Gates Street was the white one immediately next to the church – the first house on the block.

Jim was well known throughout the neighborhood for his skill with making things out of wood. 

 These included a complete set of circus wagons correct to the smallest detail; Maggie and Jiggs figures (they were local cartoon characters); a miniature doll house for his daughter Gertrude which he secretly made in the attic; a set of bowling pins made to look like brightly painted marching band figures for his son Jim Jr. who would roll a ball at them to knock them down and a wide variety of other toys.  The only known surviving pieces of his handiwork is a toy military tank that he made for his son Don who prized the toy.  Also surviving is a shelf that he made for his son John to hold 2 riding trophies that John had won while riding in Marine Corps horse races in China in the 1930s.  He usually painted the wooden toys that he made with very bright eye-catching colors. 

James daughter Mary “Moan” remembered Jim beginning to work on Easter toys as early as Christmas.  As late as the 1950s Jim’s contemporaries, including Mr. Pete Grey who owned a neighborhood grocery store at Gates and Silverwood Streets, related descriptions to Jim’s grandchildren of the many wonderful wooden toys that Jim had made when his children were young.  

Photo: Bottom to top – Jim & Gert’s sons Jack, Donald, Bruce, Tom and Joe at the beach in Wildwood New Jersey. 

In addition to the toys, he made beautiful cabinets and other furniture.  It is said that all he had to do was to look at a piece of furniture and he could make an exact pattern and duplicate the piece.  Jim strongly believed in supporting the church financially.  Although he didn’t make much of a salary on his job as a pattern maker, considering the size of his family he always supported the church financially.  His daughter Moan recalled that when there was a special need or collection in the parish her father always did his part then some. 

For example, in advance of the annual parish block collection, which involved the parish priest visiting each home in the parish and expecting a substantive donation, Jim would take a carpentry job in the neighborhood to earn the money beyond his regular income so he could give a healthy donation to the priest.  He would also take these extra jobs to meet any special needs for money that came up in the family. 

Although they didn’t have a lot of money or materiel things, Jim and Gert were very proud and wouldn’t accept what could be perceived as a handout.  Their daughter Trudy recalled how her grandmother, her father’s mother Margaret, used to make up baskets around the holidays and take them to the poor families in the neighborhood.  On one of the holidays she left one such basket on the front doorstep of Jim and Gert’s house.  Jim and Gert were offended by the well-intended gift and sent it back to Jim’s mother.

Photo: Gert & youngest child Don.

At Christmas, Jim always took his children to visit the homes of his brothers and sisters and their grandmother Tinneny.  They would sit around and talk, have refreshments and play games with their cousins.

Since Jim was an avid reader the Tinneny household was never lacking for books.  For many years he subscribed to the National Geographic Magazine, which he and the rest of the family would read from cover to cover.  The magazines were then saved and eventually grew into a major collection.

 Photo: Jim, Gert and son Donald pretending he is smoking.

With a house full of kids to keep in line, Jim and Gert had a cat-a-nine tails in the house, according to their daughter Trudy, but it was never used.  When the kids began to act up all Jim had to do was to put his hand on his belt and the kids would snap into line.  

Even though they had a bunch of their own children, from time to time, Jim and Gert had other children in their home that they helped to raise as well as a constant stream of friends of their children, nieces and nephews.  

Jim’s sister Mary Jane Tinneny McColgan died in 1915 when she was only 33 years old and she left 4 young children.  Their father tried to raise them for a time but he couldn’t and placed them in an orphanage.  When Jim learned of this he went to the orphanage and took the children out.  He brought them back to Manayunk.  He then went around to various family members and convinced them to take the children in.  He said if they refused to take the children he wouldn’t visit them again. 

As a result of his efforts Catharine “Kitty” was taken in and raised by Mary and Barney Malloy, Johnny was raised by Jim’s sister Maggie and her husband Ed McKenna, Isabella “Pat” was raised by Jim’s brother John and Jim and Gert took in young Ed and raised him until he went into the navy.  Although Isabella took the Tinneny name when she was living with John Tinneny and his family, Jim wouldn’t allow Ed to change from McColgan to Tinneny because he said that “all men should have their own name.”

Photo: L to R back row: Jim’s son Joe, daughters Trudy, Mary, Clare, Jim. Boys standing behind each other youngest sons Don, Bruce, Tom.  Boy to left unknown.

Although he was an athlete, an outdoorsman, and very patriotic he did not allow his sons to be in the Boy Scouts while they were growing up because he said that their weekend camping trips would prevent them from going to Sunday Mass.

A frequent visitor to the Tinneny house on Pechin Street was Robert Sickinger, the grandson of Jim’s sister Kate.  Bob remembers how as a child he thought that his Uncle Jim and his family were rich because they always had so much good food as compared with what he had growing up.  To the present he, as did many of the people who knew Gert Tinneny when she kept house, raves about her cooking in general and about her vegetable soup in particular.  She was known for making the best vegetable soup in the neighborhood. 

Photo: Top Row left to right: Jim’s Daughter Mary, son Joe, wife Gert, daughter Trudy. Seated left to right: son Tom, Daughter Clare and probably son Bruce.






Photo: Jim second from left with son John far right fishing on the New Jersey coast early 1940s.

By the time of the Second World War, Jim and his family were living at 4129 Pechin Street, Philadelphia.  According to the text of a script for the war years radio broadcast, Valor Knows No Creed, on which his son William “Bruce” was featured, Jim attempted to enlist in the service to support the war effort.  The story has it that on two occasions he tried unsuccessfully to enlist.  The first time he was denied because of his age, he was in his early 50s.  The script goes on to say that he was denied the second time because of his vision.  Such actions wouldn’t have been out of character for Jim, since he was known for his extreme patriotism.  These stories, of his attempts to enlist, are uncorroborated and may have been the result of literary license taken by the script writers who developed the broadcast.



Photo: Gertrude seated left with her daughter Trudy and her husband standing behind her.  Men in right of photo are Gert and Jim's son Joseph, son in law Ed Haughey, sons Jack and Bruce. The woman left side back is Jim & Gert's daughter Clare.


Photographs:  Jim’s wife Gertrude Ann Spence. Rare Photographs since she didn’t like to have her picture taken

Although Jim did not make World War II, three of his sons did.  Thomas, William  “Bruce” and Joseph served, saw combat and were decorated.  His son John served in the United States Marine Corps in China and the Philippines before the United States entered World War II.

Photo: L to R Jim’s brother in law Ed McKenna husband of his sister Margaret, Jim’s older brother John and Jim.

As earlier mentioned, Jim was an ardent soccer player.  He also enjoyed fishing, playing baseball and reading books.  He was active in local Republican party politics at the ward level.  He strongly supported the Hamiltons in Philadelphia’s 21st Ward.  They, along with Hugh Scott, who later went on to become a Senior United States Senator, were frequent visitors to the Tinneny house.  Jim debated politics frequently in his home.  He frequently said that, “politics could be clean.”  In addition to his work, sports and politics he was very active in Saint John the Baptist Church.  For many years he was the Head Usher at Saint John’s. 

Photo: Jim at the wedding of his brother John in the 1940s.

In 1948, Jim was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  The cancer had invaded his colon, as it had done with his mother.  He spent the last year of his life in and out of Lankenau Hospital.  His nephew Frank Sickinger, the daughter of his sister Kate, was a frequent visitor of Jim’s during this time.  Frank frequently took Jim to Lankanau for his treatments.  The year before he died he had about six operations for the cancer.  

As a result of a colostomy, he was required to wear a bag on his side that needed to be changed twice a day.  His condition was such that Gert was unable to care for him so he lived for a time with his daughter Moan and her family in their home on Houghton Street.

After four months with Moan and her family, Jim moved to the home of his son Thomas and his wife Marie on Pensdale Street.  He was bed ridden and in terrible pain for a long time.  The disease ravaged his once athletic body down to a weight of 80 pounds.  On December 8, 1949, with a crucifix clutched to his breast, James passed away.

Photo: L-R daughter in law Helen Diamond Tinneny, daughter Clare, Jim, daughter Trudy, daughter in law Marie.  Granddaughter Mary Ann Tinneny and grandson Richard Tinneny (presently of South Carolina).

The wake and viewing were held at Eddie Smith’s Funeral Home at Merrick and Pensdale Streets in Roxborough.  It was a rainy night and people stood in long lines outside the funeral home, to pass before the coffin and to give their condolences to the family.  In the lines were many politicians, friends and neighbors. Following a mass of burial at Saint John the Baptist Church, James was buried at Saint Mary of the Assumption Church Cemetery in Roxborough on December 12, 1949.  He was laid to rest in his wife’s family, (the Spence) plot, number VI 68.

During Jim’s final illness, Gertrude lived in an apartment on Pechin Street with her sons Joseph and Don who were unmarried at the time.  Gert’s condition became such that it was necessary for her to be cared for full time in the Landis Nursing home in Roxborough.  Near the nursing home was the Jefferies Movie Theater which some of her grandchildren including myself frequently attended.  After a Saturday or Sunday afternoon movie at the Jefferies, I (her grandson Richard) would usually go by the nursing home and see Grandmother Tinneny.  During one of these visits she asked if I would get her some chocolate candy.  She said not to tell the nurses because they wouldn’t let her have the chocolate.  After that I regularly smuggled chocolate to her, which she definitely wasn’t suppose to have. On more than one occasion the nurses from the home called my parents about these smuggling activities but I continued to bring the goodies to grandmother Tinneny at the nursing home.  

 Photo: Gert in late 1940s

During February 1953 Gert’s health took a turn for the worse and she was taken to Roxborough Memorial Hospital.  She had been treated for chronic hypertension (high blood pressure) for 10 years.  Dr. Thomas O’Toole of Roxborough was her physician and he cared for her through her final illness. He had been with her on February 4th, 12th, 15th and 21st.  On February 21st Gert passed away as a result of suffering a cerebral vascular hemorrhage. While she was in the hospital her children took turns visiting and being with her.  Her son John was with her when she died.  He said that she turned very red, breathed heavily and slipped away.  Realizing that this was the end, he recited the Act of Contrition and a Hail Mary into her ear.  Gert was 62 years old.  Her death certificate #3879 was filed on February 24, 1953.  It was signed by Dr. O’Toole.

February 25, 1953, a burial mass was held at Saint John’s Church and she was taken from the church to Saint Mary’s Cemetery where she was buried with James in the Spence plot. 

Also in the plot are her grandparents, John and Honora Spence, and other members of the Spence and Weir families.  The arm of James and Gertrude’s son in law John Kelly is also buried there. John was married to their daughter Clare Tinneny.  The arm was lost in a mill accident.  

James and Gertrude were the last of the family buried in the unmarked plot. In later years a head stone was placed on the grave with their names and dates on it. 

Years after their deaths, Jim and Gert’s daughter Gertrude “Trudy” wrote the following poems in their memory:



There are all kinds of father’s

that we know is true

and ours was the right

kind through and through


He wasn’t a buddy

nor was he a friend

but he was an excellent father

right to the end


His family he loved

tried to visit them often

and raised his sister’s son

when he became an orphan


He welcomed Ed with open arms

and treated him as a son

the love for my parents that Ed had

was shown by calling them mother and dad


He was a handsome man

always very well dressed

to that fact, all who knew

him can attest


He walked fast and talked fast

to accomplish all he had to do

for when he started something

he made sure he saw it through


He worked long and hard

to raise all of us

and more than essentials

he provided for us


For recreation on our yard

he built a swing

and with some neighborly help

built a pond from a natural spring


A father first, many hats he wore

artist, church worker, and

salesman just to name a few

just how much good he did

we never really knew


Daddy’s brother, Uncle Johnny

was funny as a crutch

and although daddy enjoyed life

he was more reserved

and didn’t laugh much


Carpenter and pattern

maker by trade

he could have been Santa

for all the toys he made


Wooden tanks and circus trains

with painted animals

for the boys

today you’d pay plenty

for those kinds of toys


Along with other things

he made a beautiful

house for me

the likes of which I never

have or ever expect to see

all of this done without electricity


In the cool of winter or the heat

of summer he spent many a night

making all those for us

using only gaslight

Like butter he spread

himself around

time to do things he always found


Toys weren’t the extent

of my father the ace

he tore down walls and

made rooms and closets

to make space


How he did it is beyond me

an exceptional man he had to be

and with that none would disagree


Though he had to have it hard

you couldn’t tell from his demeanor

never put on a poor mouth

even when times got leaner


When the depression put many under the sod

he just worked harder and put his trust in God


In sixty one years he lived the lifetime of two

because his talents he used, I hope St. Peter

passed him right through

                            Trudy Tinneny Gallagher  June, 1993  



Mothers are saints I’ve often heard it said

the closest to a halo I ever saw

was a vinegar rag around my mother’s head

she wore it I knew to keep the fever down

caused by the headaches that so often got her down


I did feel sorry, I suppose

but being young thought that’s the way it goes

Because I knew some other mothers

who did the self same thing

didn’t connect it with being a saint

just thought it a part of mothering


I often think now, I really should have known

my mother was a saint with all she’d undergone

she didn’t complain although her life had to be hard

gas jets for light and outhouse in the yard


A coal stove for cooking and heating water on

our bath tub was a wash tub

as plumbing for us was yet to come


Wash and wear was unheard of

and to mother would have been heaven

washing and ironing everyday was anything

but easy for a household of *eleven

That’s a small part of the hardships she endured

as for those headaches, I doubt she was ever cured

If that vinegar rag could talk, I think it would say

it was a substitute for the halo my mother

would wear one day


I never heard it said of fathers

though I think the same is true

because as far as I’m concerned

my father’s a saint too.


Trudy Tinneny Gallagher 1993


















Note: Donald wasn’t born yet so there were eight siblings and Ed McColgan, our cousin who was raised with us from the time he was seven.  Counting my mother and dad it made eleven.  Ed and my brother Jim were the same age.

Note  Descendants include  his and his wife Gertrude Ann Spence’s children James, Mary, Clare, John, Gertrude, Joseph, Thomas, Bruce and Donald of Philadelphia and their many descendents.. 


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Updated January 7, 2024
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