The Tinneny Family History Site


Biographies of Our Forefathers

Donald Francis Tinneny H102

Courtesy of Bridget Tinneny. 

Donald was the sixth son and ninth child of James J. Tinneny and Gertrude Ann Spence.  He was born at Roxborough Memorial Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 31, 1928.  His godparents were his father's first cousin, Francis Sickinger and his father's sister Margaret Tinneny McKenna. 

Although his birth was registered as Donald Francis, when his parents went to have him baptized the priest said that there was no saint named Donald and he baptized him Francis Donald. However, throughout his life he used Donald. 

As a young child, Donald remembered his godmother giving him $5.00 on his birthdays and for the holidays.  This was a significant amount of money at the time.  If they received anything from their godparents, the other children would normally receive a gift of 25 or 50 cents on these occasions.

Donald learned to speak at an uncommonly early age.  This combined with the fashion of the day resulted in some surprised adults.  As young children, Donald and his brothers Jim and Tom spent a good deal of time in the care of his mother’s aunt Margaret “Manny” Spence Weir who lived on Hermitage Street in Manayunk.  Her husband John was a railroad detective. When he was 2 or 3 years old Manny would dress Donald up and take him on walks through the neighborhood in a baby carriage.  In those days boys and girls alike had long hair and wore dresses.  Strangers would walkup to Manny, look at Donald in the baby carriage, and make comments such as “isn't she a pretty little girl.”  Donald, who appeared too young to speak, would pipe up "I'm a boy not a girl" to their great surprise and amusement. 

As a young child Donald's mother for the most part let him select his own cloths.  She would take him down town to one of the big department stores in Center City Philadelphia to shop for clothing.  Since he was so young the salesman would normally approach Donald and his mother and ask her if he could help her select Donald's clothing.  She would respond by saying that he picked out his own clothing. 

Donald & his mother.

During that period Donald "hated" short sleeve shirts.  He thought, "they were for girls."  One time his mother bought him a short sleeve shirt.  He argued with her each time she tried to dress him in it.  One day she was dressing him on the second floor of the house.  He was loudly resisting wearing that shirt and she was loudly insisting that he was going to wear it that day.  Downstairs his father Jim listened to the ruckus as long as he could.  He went upstairs to the bedroom where the debate was going on, told Gert to give him the shirt and when she did he tore it into shreds.  He then said, "I'll never hear anything about this again" and he didn't. The only person who could get Donald to wear just about anything was Manny Weir.  Donald said, although he wouldn't have done it for anyone else, he even wore a beret when Manny would ask him to wear it. 


Donald hamming it up with a toy cigarette in a photo with his parents at a family event. Courtesy of Donald F. Tinneny.

When it came time for him to start school, unlike his older brothers and sisters who all attended Catholic school, Donald was sent to Levering Public School in Roxborough.  In his words, " I hated going to Levering School because it wasn't a Catholic School."  As a result he spent very little time there.  Many days he would walk to the school in the morning then turn around and walk home and tell his mother that the gates to the schoolyard were locked and the school was closed.  When it came time for him to go into the second grade, after a year at Levering School, his parents gave in to his request to go to Catholic school.  When they went to enroll him in Saint John the Baptist School the nuns assessed him and found that he would be best served by repeating the first grade since he had missed so much the year before. 

He subsequently completed twelve years, both his elementary and secondary education, at Saint John's.  Throughout those twelve years he also served as an alter boy at Saint John's Church.


Graduation photo Saint John’s Boys High School 1946. Courtesy of Bridget Tinneny.


When Donald was born the family lived at 307 Hermitage Street in Philadelphia. He is listed there as a I year old on the 1930 census. They subsequently lived in another house on that street then moved to houses on Wendover and Gerhart Streets then to 2129 Pechin Street where Donald lived until he was 18 years old. 

Growing up he wasn't heavily involved in sports, which was a source of contention between him and his father.  He did play some football and baseball in the neighborhood.   

When he was 18 years old the family fell on hard times and had to leave their house on Pechin Street.  His brother Joe arranged for them to move to 315 Pensdale Street, which was just around the corner.  In addition to his parents and himself his brothers Joe and Tom and his sister Clare were living at home at the time.  Eventually Tom, his wife Marie and their young family remained in that house where they raised their family. Don's father James J. Tinneny Sr. passed away there on December 8, 1949. He had been cared for in his final days by Tom and his family.

Donald was too young to serve in the military in the 1930s and 40s like his brothers Jack, Joe, Bruce and Tom did. However, October 31, 1946 he registered for the military draft as he was required to do when he became 18 years of age.










Donald's Draft Registration Card October 31, 1946

As the Korean conflict escalated in the early 1950s he was notified to report to take a pre enlistment physical for military service.  Following the physical he was notified by mail that he had been rejected for service due to a heart murmur.  His brother Bruce also had a heart murmur and his brother Joe had an enlarged heart. 

When Joe, Don and their mother left the house on Pensdale Street they moved to an upstairs apartment at 4132 Pechin Street across from their former home.  Eventually their mother died in 1953 and Joe married and moved to his own home in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania just outside Philadelphia.  After living alone for several years, Don moved in with Joe and his wife Betty where he lived for the next four years. 

Donald had become very close to his brother Joe after Joe returned home from World War II. They liked going to the seashore in New Jersey. Each summer the two bachelor brothers found themselves going to the shore together each weekend and enjoying the sun, beach and very active social lives there. 

Donald, photo courtesy of Bridget Tinneny.

Although his family and friends figured him to be a confirmed bachelor, in the late 1960s Donald met Elizabeth G. "Betty" Bailer who was a friend of his niece Mary Lee Haughey.  After dating for some time the couple was married on September 27, 1969 at Saint Lawrence Catholic Church in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania.  The sponsors for their wedding were Donald's friend, John Budzik and the bride’s twin sister Alice. 

Don and Betty’s wedding photo, courtesy of Bridget Tinneny.

Don began working at the end of the summer of 1947 after graduating that June. He got a job as a stock-boy with Sears and Roebuck Company, which was located on Roosevelt Boulevard in the Northeast section of Philadelphia.  He worked there for three or four months then was laid off.   

His brother Bruce who was working at the Asher Candy Factory in Philadelphia got him a job there.  Bruce's job was quite easy and consisted of rolling trays of candy to the girls who then covered the candy with chocolate.  Donald on the other hand was not so lucky.  Although he was short and slim he was assigned the job of lifting 50-pound sacks of sugar, opening them and dumping them into huge mixers.  That was very tough for him to do since he could barely see over the top of the sacks of sugar.  After a couple of weeks he decided to separate the sugar into to 25-pound portions then load it into the mixers.  The adjustment made the job easier but upset his boss at first.  The boss, who was about 6 feet 4 inches tall, just couldn't seem to understand that Donald would have difficulty handling the sacks of sugar. 

Throughout the two months that he worked for Asher Candy he complained about the job at home.  Finally, one day his mother told him to quit.  He said that he couldn't because he was worried about what his father would say.  His mother said not to worry about his father and insisted that he quit which he did.  After a couple of months he landed a good job with the Ocean City Fishing Reel Company.  Ocean City probably made the best quality salt-water fishing reels in the United States.  He started as a stockman and over the course of the next 10 years he advanced to the position of reel inspector.  

He next worked for the Austin Supply Company again starting out as a stockman.  In the two years he worked there (1955-57) he rose to the position of purchasing agent.

In 1957, Donald was hired as a purchasing agent by the Pennsylvania Railroad, which was later known as the Penn Central then as Conrail.  In his early years with them he experienced many layoffs.  In 1961 he was well established on the job but a nation wide coal or steel strike, which lasted a long time, resulted in him being laid off.  His brother Joe got him a job on a construction crew, which was building the Schuylkill Expressway, Interstate 76, in the area of Philadelphia.  After about a year he was called back to his job with the railroad.  He was very happy and described the job on the road construction crew as the toughest job that he ever had.  Donald worked as a purchasing agent with the railroad for 33 years.  During that time he handled accounts nationwide.  He retired from there in 1992.

It was while working for the railroad that Donald happened upon the phone number of a Tinneny who lived in New York.  He made a practice of looking up the family name in the various phonebooks that he handled as he worked his accounts across the country.  One day at work he had the occasion to use the telephone directory for one of the New York boroughs and to his great surprise found a listing for a Tinneny.  Although when he recounted what happened he wasn't sure but he thought the Tinneny’s first name was Robert.  He called the number listed and reached this newfound Tinneny on the phone.  He found him to be very suspicious and not very talkative.  Donald assured him that he didn't want anything from him but just wanted to give him a call since the name was so uncommon and he had never been able to find a Tinneny in the directories that weren't related.  That was the extent of the conversation and there was no attempt by either of them to explore a family connection.   

That night Donald told his brother Joe about the incident and Joe attempted to contact the New York Tinneny the next day.  To his surprise the phone had been disconnected and there was no further contact.  In all probability Donald had reached one of the descendants of Philip Tinneny who had settled in New York after immigrating from County Leitrem, Ireland in 1927.  Philip’s line of the family had moved from Belturbet in county Cavan to county Leitrem in the 1800s. Prior to Belturbert they were from Goladuff.  It’s a shame that Joe and Donald didn't have the opportunity to explore the relationship with this cousin and open the door to establish a connection with the New York branch of the family. Years later, connections were made by Rich Tinneny with the Lietrem branch of the family in county Meath, Ireland, New York, England and Nova Scotia.  

About 1977 Donald and Betty bought a home at 326 Kingsley Street in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia where they raised their children Elizabeth, Charity, Bridget and Donald. 

Following his retirement from the railroad in 1992 Don worked for 10 years as a security guard at Penn Charter School in Philadelphia from which he retired in May or June of 2005. The day following his retirement he had respiratory problems. He was taken to the University of Pennsylvania hospital with what was preliminarily thought to be pneumonia.  However, that was not the case and after testing he was found to have advance stage 4 lung cancer.  It had metastasized to the point of being untreatable. Over the course of the next several months he was in and out of the hospital.

Near the end he remained at home and his daughter Charity and her husband Eric, a physician, came to Philadelphia to monitor and assist him. As the end approached, Eric gathered the family. The night before he passed away, in a conversation with Charity, he said “I won’t be here this time tomorrow.” The next evening, July 23, 2005, at 6:15 p.m. he passed away with his entire family around him. Donald was the last of his generation, the children of James J. Tinneny and Gertrude Ann Spence.


DONALD F. TINNENY, July 23, 2005 of Rox., age 76; devoted husband of Betty (nee Bailer), beloved father of Elizabeth Griffith (Richard), Charity Peck, (Eric), Bridget Tinneny and Donald Tinneny (April), grandfather of Billy, Izabella, Olivia, Bailer, Sadie, Egan, Cade and Emma. Also survived by extended family Kevin, Kara, Brian, Michael Flynn, George, Mara and Dawnie. Relatives and friends are invited to Viewing Thursday eve 7-9 P.M. and Friday 9 A.M at THE KOLLER FUNERAL HOME, 6835 Ridge Ave. (cor. of Livezey) Funeral Mass Friday 10 A.M. St. John the Baptist Church. Int. Whitemarsh Mem. Park. Donations in his memory to St. John the Baptist Church, 119 Rector St., Philadelphia, PA 19127.  Published on from July 25 to July 27, 2005.





Donald’s grave marker at Whitemarsh Memorial Park, Ambler, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Photo by Lisa Phillips, Find A Grave.






Donald was the son of James and Gertrude Spence of Philadelphia and the grandson of Patrick “Yankee Pat” Tinneny of Goladuff, Newtownbutler, county Fermanagh, Northern Ireland; Greenock, Scotland and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and his wife Margaret Malloy.


Update January 17, 2021
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