Wishful Wednesday: Frances (Gaffney) Cherry

Frances (Gaffney) Cherry  (1868 – 1953)

I wish I knew more about my great-grand aunt Frances (Gaffney) Cherry.

When I look at this picture of her, taken from a larger portrait with her five sisters, I see a dreamy young woman with faraway eyes and perfectly coiffed hair.  I can’t tell whether she is happy or sad.  She looks as though she is wishing she were somewhere else, yet something else about her expression – maybe her lightly pursed lips – says she will keep that yearning – to herself.

Whether or this is what she was really thinking, the fact is that she was a small town girl who remained in Conneaut, Ohio all her life.


Frances A. (Gaffney) Cherry
Frances was born in that northeastern railroad town during the “dog days” of summer, when the heat and humidity were at their worst. Her mother, Bridget Quinn, must have had a difficult childbirth, because the family was so worried about her health that no one thought to record Frances’ date of birth until some time much later.  For that reason, the family’s best guess was that this middle child (the sixth of ten children) entered the world on September 15, 1868.
Most of the censuses show that Frances “kept house.”  I think I remember my mother telling me that she was a good seamstress like her sisters.  The 1900 United States Census  indicates that she married James W. Cherry, a railroad engineer on the Nickel Plate line originally from Cumberland, West Virginia.  This would have been in about 1893, when she was 25 years old.  
While we don’t know how Frances and Jim met, we could venture a guess that it might have been courtesy of her parents’ boarding house.  John and Bridget (Quinn) Gaffney had built the Gaffney House, at 301 Mill Street in Conneaut, some years earlier.  Their principal boarders were the young men who worked the railroad and needed a place to stay.  Frances’ older sister, Mary Jane, had met her husband, Thomas McGinnis, when he came to rent a room a few years earlier, so it would not seem surprising if Frances and Jim met this way, too.
Kathleen (left) and
James Cherry, Junior,
approx. ages 2 and 7.
Portrait by Lou Naef
Studios, Conneaut.


The year after their marriage, Frances and Jim Cherry welcomed their first child, James, just before Thanksgiving.  Three more children followed:  Kathleen in 1897, John Terrence in 1907, and Thomas Charles in 1913.

James Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a railroad flagman.  He married Helen Crannell and moved to Florida. Kathleen married Herbert Nelson and moved to New Mexico.   John Cherry stayed fairly close to home, eventually moving to Cleveland to teach art at Case Western Reserve University.  Thomas, born with a form of tuberculosis that affected his lymph nodes, died in 1922 when he was only nine years old.


Not only did Frances live in the same town her entire life, but it appears that she may never moved from the street where she was born at all.  She started out at the family home on 301 Mill Street and seems to have moved to 397 Mill Street after her marriage to Jim.  Several of the census records from 1870 through 1940 show number changes on most of the Mill Street addresses, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact location of the two family homes. 
Home believed to be that of James and Frances Cherry,
Conneaut, Ohio.  From the scrapbook of their niece,
Benita (McGinnis) McCormick.
As far as I know, the only place she traveled outside of Conneaut wast was to visit some of her sisters (Maggie, Delia, Agnes, and Lyle), who shared a home in Cleveland, or to Big Blue Lake, Michigan, where my maternal grandparents, Alice (McGinnis) and Ralph Schiavon, had a beachside cottage.
Widowed in 1939, Frances lived for another 14 years, outliving all of her brothers and sisters.  It seems that it was only when she became too old and ill to care for herself that she finally left her beloved Mill Street home.  She didn’t go far – only four blocks away – to the Hakola Rest Home on Main Street.  She died there at age 84 of congestive heart failure on April 13, 1953 and was buried in the Conneaut City Cemetery, a block further way, alongside her husband and family.
Other than her important roles as a wife and mother, Frances seems to have kept a low profile.  I have searched for the slightest mention of her in countless newspapers and records, without success.
The Gaffney family had nicknames for most of its members, and Frances was no exception.  Her nickname, “Frank,” does not quite mesh with her genteel picture or my grand aunt Benita (McGinnis) McCormick’s scrapbook description of her as “ladylike Frances.”  Could she have been a tomboy when she was young?  Her dreamily mysterious face will never tell.  


Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully


2 Thoughts to “Wishful Wednesday: Frances (Gaffney) Cherry

  1. Perhaps "frank" was more a commentary on her outlook and manner of expressions than her activities.

    Lovely, though wistful, look she had on her face for that portrait. That momentary expression has been forever captured for us to ponder. What do people think when they are held captive–and motionless–by those old fashioned cameras?!

  2. Funny, that seems like such an obvious explanation, Jacqi, but it never crossed my mind, probably because I've been used to thinking of Frank's nickname the same way all my life. You may be right.

    You bring up a good point about photographs and the stories behind them. I wonder about that, too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.