Saturday 31 May 2014

An unexpected discovery: Catherine and Thomas Donovan

When I received Glasnevin Cemetery’s burial record for my great-great-grandmother, Maryanne Donovan (c.1833 – 1873), Helena O’Neill’s grandmother, it yielded an unexpected bonus. Maryanne shared the grave with a Catherine Donovan.1 I just love it when this happens and one piece of evidence yields a clue to the next generation.

This Catherine Donovan died, just one month prior to Maryanne, on 5 April 1873, at 51 Great Britain St. [now Parnell Street] in Dublin’s north city. She was eighty-six years old. Sadly, Catherine had suffered from chronic rheumatism for nine years before her death.2

Maryanne’s husband, John Donovan, of 6 Blessington Street, had organised both Maryanne’s and Catherine’s burials. They were interred in the Curran Square section of Glasnevin Cemetery. Catherine was of the right age to have been John’s mother, which would make her my great-great-great-grandmother. She was presumably a close relative for John to have organised her burial and for her to share a grave with his wife.

Catherine was a carpenter’s wife at the time of her death in April 1873, indicating that her husband was still alive. What a marvelous age for them to have reached together, in those times. The copy of Catherine’s death register revealed that Thomas Donovan, who also lived at 51 Great Britain St., was with her when she died.  Eleven days later, he registered her death. Thomas signed the register by making his mark – ‘x’.
Copy death register, Catherine Donovan, 1873, General Register Office

Thomas only survived Catherine by two years and died on 13 October 1875. He was said to have been eighty-six years old.  He was a widower then, though had quite likely been Catherine's husband.  He was a ‘sawyer’ by trade, an occupation similar to carpenter. Thomas died of debility’ and was buried in the Garden section of Glasnevin Cemetery, but not with Catherine and Maryanne.  Like John Donovan, Thomas died in the North Dublin Union Workhouse. Also like John, he was buried in a pauper’s grave at Glasnevin Cemetery.3

As I write this, it strikes me as strange that Catherine’s and Maryanne’s grave in Glasnevin was used for only two interments, while John and Thomas were buried in paupers' graves. There should have been plenty of room for both of them in the Donovan plot.  I may just check with Glasnevin Trust regarding the ownership of the grave in Curran Square.

1 Burial register, Donovan grave, Glasnevin Cemetery.
2 Copy death register, Catherine Donovan, 1873, General Register Office
3 Copy death register, Thomas Donovan, 1875, General Register Office; Burial register, Thomas Donovan and John Donovan, Glasnevin Cemetery.

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy

Sunday 25 May 2014

DNA Diary: An update ~ and guess who our new cousin is…

According to FT DNA, the company who tested our autosomal DNA, their Family Finder tests are best placed to help ‘break through brick walls’.1  Unfortunately, it is not as easy as it sounds. Our results are out since March, my mother has 475 matches, but we are no closer to identifying a single new ancestor.  These 475 matches are deemed to be related because they share sufficient linked segments of DNA. The more segments two people share and the longer each segment is, the greater the chance that they are related.  The common ancestor with most of these matches lived so long ago that surviving documentation will never ‘prove’ the relationship, but, there are a number of third cousins listed, which at first glance look promising.

It quickly transpired that autosomal DNA tests are really only useful where both matching ‘cousins’ have a fairly complete family tree with only the odd gap to be filled. Autosomal DNA is only useful going back about 4 or 5 generations, as the amount of DNA inherited from individual more distant ancestors is just too small. Yet, even in this recent time-scale, most of our ‘cousins’ have as many, if not more, gaps in their tree than we do, at least on their Irish lines, so it became increasingly obvious that their trees were unlikely to help fill our gaps.

Then, my known third cousin, Phyllis agreed to upload her DNA results to GEDmatch, a site that freely hosts DNA data from various testing companies. We could then compare her DNA to my mother’s and to my maternal uncle’s. GEDmatch confirmed that they shared a ‘Most Recent Common Ancestor’ within the last 3 generations (3.7 and 3.5 to be exact), I guess falling within the parameters of them being second cousins once removed.

Documentary evidence has proven that Mam, Uncle C and Phyllis are all directly descended from John Wynne and Bridget Hynes. So, by comparing their DNA, we could ‘label’ the shared segments, specifically the longer ones, as being probably inherited from John and Bridget. Thus, if we shared the same long segments with someone else, we could deduce, at least initially, that the relationship was probably via John and/or Bridget too and then we might be better able to identify our common ancestor.   

Then I noticed that Phyllis and my mother matched on their X chromosome. Given the specific inheritance path of X, they should not have, but, they shared a number of segments, the largest being 8.2 cMs across 902 SNPs. Everyone inherits an X chromosome from their mother. Females also inherit an X chromosome from their father. Males get a Y chromosome from their father instead (XX = female; XY = male). So, when my mother received her X chromosome from her father, it was a replica of her paternal grandmother’s, i.e. Teresa Carroll’s, and contained no X DNA from her paternal grandfather, Patrick Wynne, hence none from John and Bridget.

It seems unlikely that this match is a mere coincidence, although, their donating ancestor may well have lived a very long time ago. It means that they are double cousins and any labeling of the shared segments on the other chromosomes is less reliable, as a result. We need another known Carroll third cousin to take the DNA test to isolate any shared Carroll DNA. Actually, we need a lot more of Mam's second and third cousins to take the test, full-stop.

Here's the surprise! GEDmatch also suggests that my mother and Aunty C (Uncle C’s wife and Mam's sister-in-law) are related within the last 4.5 generations, so third or maybe fourth cousins. Their longest shared segment is 12.6 cM. FT DNA also records the match, but puts it in the ‘5th cousin to remote’ bracket. Both companies show that Uncle C and Aunty C have very little DNA in common and are not a match, so any match with Mam could be fairly ancient. Given the population size of Ireland, most of us are probably related, if you go back far enough, which is probably not helpful. Anyway, just in case it is true, welcome to the family, again, Aunty C! :) 

1 FamilyTreeDNA, accessed 1 May 2014.

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 24 May 2014

Ending up in the Workhouse!

John Donovan died in the workhouse. My great-great-grandfather was stated as being just forty-nine years old when he passed away, on 20 August 1875, in the North Dublin Union Workhouse.  He died of chronic phthisis, or tuberculosis, having being ill for ‘some time’ and was buried in a pauper’s grave in the Garden section of Glasnevin Cemetery.Isn’t that just really sad? 

The ‘Register of Admission and Discharge’ for this workhouse is held on microfilm in the National Archives of Ireland and on a visit to the archives, I found John’s record. He had spent only his last eleven days there, just going in to die.2  The workhouse register shows the following information:

Pauper number:
Pauper’s name and surname:
Donovan, John
Religious denomination:
Condition of pauper when admitted:       
Clothes, middling
Electoral division and townland in which resident:
Dublin, 5 M. Gard’r St., S City.
Date admitted:
9 Aug’t 1875
Date discharged:
20 Aug’t 1875, Died.

Transcription of the North Dublin Union Workhouse,
Register of admission and discharge, John Donovan, 1875

Workhouses in Ireland were known, and are still remembered, as places of last resort. In Dublin city, conditions were designed to be even worse than those in its infamous tenement houses, as the government wanted to discourage anyone from merely seeking a free-ride. The Irish Poor Inquiry of 1836 had recommended against this English ‘determent’ system, advising that it was not appropriate in Ireland, but it prevailed nevertheless.3 By the 1870s, Dublin had some alternatives to the workhouse, including the Night Asylum on Bow Street. This was preferred by the poor. In 1874, the year before John died, the Night Asylum catered for 62,611 people, compared to only 6,548 admittances in the North Dublin workhouse.4

However, by enabling the admittance of the sick poor, legislation in 1862 had basically led to the conversion of workhouse infirmaries into ‘general hospitals’. Thus, workhouses began catering for people who became too ill to remain in the care of their families.5 Possibly, John Donovan was there seeking medical attention,  not poor relief.

So, why was his death in the workhouse so disconcerting?  Perhaps, I experienced the very dread that my ancestors felt on John’s entry to the workhouse, a feeling so acute it somehow got passed down through the generations and is still remembered today.

1 Copy death register, John Donovan, 1875, General Register Office; Burial register, grave V 72.5 Garden, Glasnevin Trust (subscription).
2 Register of admission and discharge of the North Dublin Union Workhouse, National Archives of Ireland, NAI/BG/78.
3 Third report of the commissioners for inquiring into the condition of the poorer classes in Ireland, H.C. 1836 (43).
4 Georgina Laragy, ‘Poor relief in the south of Ireland, 1850-1921’ in Virginia Crossman and Peter Gray, eds, Poverty and welfare in Ireland 1838-1948 (Dublin, 2011), p. 60. 
5 The Poor Relief (Ireland) Act, 1862, accessed 19 May 2014.

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 17 May 2014

Convicted ~ John Donovan

John Donovan was my great-great-grandfather, Lena O’Neill’s grandfather. He was an upholsterer by trade. It was mildly surprising to find he had served, not one, but two prison sentences in Dublin’s Richmond Bridewell.  

When he was arrested on 22 April 1875, he gave his address as 121 Lower Gloucester Street, the same address given by his daughter, Mary Agnes, on her marriage to my great-grandfather, Charles O’Neill, in 1874

John was committed for trial on 1 May 1875, on a charge of stealing twenty-four yards of muslin and obtaining two chairs by false pretenses.  These were presumably materials for his trade.

He pleaded guilty to the offence and was sentenced to six months hard labour. However, this was not his first offence.  In September 1868, he had been convicted of stealing two yards of silk. He then served three months hard labour.

The prison registers are very informative. They even provided a physical description of John Donovan. In 1875, he was five foot, six and three-quarter inches tall, with grey hair, grey eyes and a sallow complexion. Six years earlier, in 1868, his hair had been dark brown, but he had lost his wife of twenty-two years to tuberculosis in the intervening period.
Richmond Bridewell registry of male prisoners committed for trial, John Donovan, 1875 

More interestingly, the prison registers indicated that John’s place of birth was in Strand Street, between about 1823 and 1826. This places the Donovan family in Dublin city, even before the city's population surged during and after the Great Famine, thus opening up a new and definitive avenue for further research.

John did not serve even half of his 1875 prison sentence, but was released early by order of the Lord Lieutenant, on 17 July 1875. He too died of chronic phthisis, or tuberculosis, only one month later, on 20 August 1875. Hard labour may have consisted of working a treadmill or breaking stones, and John was perhaps just too sick to serve the full term.

Sources: Irish Prison Registers 1790-1924, FamilySearch index and findmypast; Death register, General Register Office. Note: click on images to enlarge.

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 10 May 2014


Mary Agnes Donovan and Charles O’Neill, my Dad’s maternal grandparents, married in St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Dublin on 19 April 1874. The church marriage register revealed that (Mary) Agnes’s parents were John and Maryanne Donovan, but the word ‘Mortui’, meaning ‘deaths’, written in the address field after their name, suggested that they both had died prior to their daughter’s marriage.[1] (Mary) Agnes was living at 121 Gloucester Street, north of Dublin's River Liffey, at the time of her marriage to Charles.
Excerpt from the marriage register of Charles O’Neill & Agnes Donovan, St Mary Pro-Cathedral, 1874

The civil marriage register recorded that Mary Agnes's father, John Donovan, was an upholsterer by trade, a fairly uncommon occupation, giving him a relatively unique identity, in Dublin.[2]

There was only one feasible death registered for a Maryanne Donovan, in Dublin North, prior to 1874 and it proved to be that of my great-great-grandmother. It confirmed that ‘Mary Anne Donovan' of 6 Blessington Street, Dublin, an upholsterer’s wife, had died of consumption on 12 May 1873, having suffered from the disease for six months. She was stated as being only forty years old. John Donovan, of the same address and presumably her husband, was with her when she died and registered her death.

In 1873, there was no known cure for consumption, or tuberculosis, as it is better known today. They had not even discovered then that it was a contagious disease. Mortality from tuberculosis was still lower in Ireland than in the rest of the Britain then, but it was on the rise. Unlike in many European countries, where improving standards of living reduced its mortality rate, the increasing population in Dublin city and the resulting over-crowding caused the disease to spread.[4]

'Marianne Donovan' was buried at Glasnevin Cemetery, in a purchased plot, in the section known as Curran Square, on 14 May 1873.  Her grave is now unmarked, though there may well have once been a wooden cross or some other markers.[5]
Glasnevin Cemetery, burial register Maryanne Donovan, 1873

It turns out that John Donovan was not in fact deceased at the time of his daughter’s marriage, although he did die the following year. More on him next week. 

[1] Church marriage register, Irish Genealogy.
[2] Copy marriage register, General Register Office.
[3] Copy death register, General Register Office.
[4] Greta Jones, ‘Captain of all these men of death’ the history of tuberculosis in nineteenth and twentieth century Ireland (New York, 2001), pp 2-4. 
[5] Burial register, Glasnevin Cemetery Museum

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy

Saturday 3 May 2014

Charles Francis O’Neill (c. 1849 – 1895)

Very little is known about my great-grandfather, Charles Francis O’Neill, who died on 23 April 1895, when his youngest daughter, my paternal grandmother, was only three months old. He had just celebrated twenty-one years of marriage with his wife, Mary Agnes Donovan, the previous week. Charles and Mary Agnes had at least nine children, including my grandmother, Helena. His large family were seemingly left destitute on his sudden passing and the younger children were separated from their mother and placed in foster-care and industrial schools, across Ireland.

Their known children were Charles Joseph O’Neill, born in 1875, Catherine Mary O’Neill born in 1876, Robert Joseph O’Neill born in 1878 and John Michael O’Neill born in 1879. Mary Agnes, Arthur and Teresa O’Neill were born in the 1880s and Johanna (known as Joan) was born in 1892.

The register of their marriage, in St Mary's Pro-Cathedral, Marlborough St., Dublin, on 19 April 1874, revealed that Charles F. was the son of John and Margaret O'Neill of Dominick Street, Dublin. John and Margaret were seemingly still living at this time, if the word after Agnes’s parents reads ‘mortui’ meaning deaths, however, no further record of them has been located.
Marriage Charles O’Neill and Agnes Donovan, 1874, St Mary Pro-Cathedral

The civil registration of their marriage showed that Charles was a law clerk and his father, John, was also a clerk.

According to his death certificate, Charles O’Neill, with an address at 90 Lower Gardiner Street, Dublin, died of cerebral hemorrhage in Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital, Dublin at the age of only forty-six years.

Three days later, undertaker, William Thompson of 30 Lombard Street, organised his burial in the Garden section of Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin. The cemetery's records reflect his cause of death as ‘hemorrhage from lungs’, not cerebral hemorrhage, but regardless of the precise cause, his death truly was a tragedy for his young family.

Glasnevin Trust owns the unmarked grave that Charles shares with twelve unrelated people.
Burial register, 1895, Charles O’Neill - Glasnevin Cemetery Museum 

The registers of Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital were identified as a possible source of further information - maybe his date of birth was recorded, or, at least, they might confirm his cause of death. The hospital’s records are now held at the Royal College of Physicians (RCPI) in Kildare Street. Charles’s date of death was more than 100 years ago, suggesting no special permission would be required to view them.

However, while the archivist at the RCPI confirmed that the records of Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital are held there, it seems only admission registers are available for this period. The archivist very kindly offered to check my great-grandfather’s details in these admission records, but unfortunately, a gap in patient records for the period of my great-grandfather’s death, 1890 to 1896, was then discovered. These registers were never transferred to the RCPI and probably do not survive.

It is unclear where the search for Charles O’Neill’s origins can be taken next. However, the Poor Law records of the North Dublin Union, which are held in the National Archives, might throw further light on the plight of the O’Neill children in the aftermath of their father’s death. A firm called J & C Nichols have operated as undertakers from 30 Lombard Street since 1881 and may once have employed William Thompson. Their early records are also held in the National Archives and may possibly contain some relevant information.

Sources: General Register Office, copy birth and marriage registers; Church records, Irish Genealogy; Burial register, Glasnevin Cemetery Museum; Harriet Wheelock, ‘Sir Patrick Duns Hospital’, August 2010, p. 4.

Update: Following other potential clues, here:

© 2014 Black Raven Genealogy