Saturday, 25 July 2015

Genealogy Quest: The search for Maryanne…

Following the ancestral trail of Dad’s maternal grandmother, born Mary Agnes Donovan, is one of my favourite genealogy quests.  When she married Charles O’Neill on 19 April 1874 in St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, Mary Agnes named her parents as John and Maryanne Donovan (deceased).[1] Her mother’s maiden name was not recorded in the marriage register (church or civil), hugely complicating the search for that side of her family.

My big question remains who was Maryanne?  All I know for sure is, she died of tuberculosis in 1873, aged about forty years, and was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.[2] But, I have a good theory…

… proving it is my problem.

Mary Agnes was likely born before 1864, when birth registration commenced in Ireland. Her baptism record has never been found. In the 1901 census, she claimed she was born in Dublin city in about 1862, though in 1911, she said it was about 1866.[3]

With her parent’s ill-health and early deaths, she may have married younger than usual, but it is highly improbable she was only twelve years old. This may have been the legal minimum age for marriage in Ireland at the time, but, even then, it was not socially acceptable for such a young child to marry. So, presumably she was born at least a few years before 1862. Chances were she was at least seventeen years old when she married in 1874, and as such born before 1857, if not earlier.

The following couple have been identified as the most likely contenders for the role of Mary Agnes’s parents: On 9 February 1851, in St. Mary Pro-Cathedral, John Donovan married Maryanne COYLE.[4] Their children, baptised in the same parish, were:

  • Thomas Joseph Donovan, 11 March 1854
  • John James Donovan, 18 November 1855
  • Thomas Laurence Donovan, 20 June 1857
  • Francis Donovan, 16 September 1858 
  • Catherine Donovan, 18 March 1860 
  • Teresa Anne Donovan, 18 May 1862

You see the gap of over three years between John and Maryanne’s marriage and the baptism of their first child? This leaves an ample window for the birth of Mary Agnes, though it means she understated her age by about ten years on the 1901 census - not that that was unusual.  But, Mary Agnes claimed she was a minor (less than 21) when she married Charles, meaning she must have been born after 19 April 1853. So, if this was true, and there is little reason to suspect otherwise, our window was short, maybe too short. Thomas Joseph would have been born within a year of her birth.

Poor Maryanne was pregnant for practically this entire ten year period, and the opportunity for the birth of Mary Agnes did not increase much over the years to 1862.

Yet, there are many other ‘coincidences’ drawing me to this family.

Maryanne seemingly stopped having children in 1862, frustratingly, two years before births had to be registered in Ireland. A civil birth register, not only would have confirmed the mother’s maiden name, but would have provided the father’s occupation. Our John Donovan was an upholsterer, a fairly unusual occupation, and if we could prove that this John Donovan was also an upholsterer, it would significantly increase the likelihood they were one and the same person.  

More next week…

[1] Marriage register, St Mary’s Pro Cathedral,
[2] Burial register, Glasnevin Cemetery, Glasnevin Trust.
[3] 1901 and 1911 Census, National Archives of Ireland.
[4] Marriage and baptism registers, St Mary's Pro Cathedral. 

Image Credit: ‘The Pro-Cathedral, Dublin’, George Arents Collection, The New York Public Library, The New York Public Library Digital Collections

© 2015 Black Raven Genealogy


  1. Perhaps Maryanne was difficult birth and was Baptized at home? The Irish records I have searched in the states would not show that and I have seen a few indicated with "conditional" Baptism.

  2. That's probably very likely, Claudia, or maybe the record is illegible, or perhaps she was baptised in another parish. It may be possible to work around it ?

  3. You have some very elusive relatives here; a perfect storm of avoiding records!


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