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


  1. Great find! I've never come across a shared grave here in the US.

  2. It's the norm here, Ellie. You could expect to find 3 or 4 people in a single grave, twice that in a double plot. It was important to be buried with kin. Great for locating ancestors - only problem is few cemeteries kept any records.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!