Saturday, 19 November 2016

A new cousin for Granny Lena and a surname puzzle

It has been over a year since I first found Teresa (Donovan) Corless and last tried to find out where she ended up. Teresa was my grandmother Lena’s maternal aunt, not that we'd ever heard of her. She married William Corless in Dublin in June 1900 and showed up in Manchester, England, in time for the 1901 census. William worked in Manchester as a ‘journeyman tailor’. After this, their trail went cold. There was no sign of them in the 1911 census, either in England or in Ireland.

But, new records are being released online all the time. This month, the General Register Office provided a new index to the historic birth and death registers for England and Wales. I wondered if they would shed any light on what happened to my great-grandaunt post-1901.

Teresa Anne Donovan was born on 18 May 1862. She was thirty-eight years old when she married William - not twenty-five like she told the census enumerators just six months later. Her child-bearing years were limited. She turned fifty in 1912. But, with the mother’s maiden name now included on births registered in the relevant period, if Teresa and William did have children, they should be easily identified.

The new index revealed only one potential child. Mary Teresa Corless was born in 1902, in Manchester. Her mother’s maiden name was Donovan. With both these unusual surnames - Corless and Donovan - showing on this one document, it certainly looked like a match. Was Mary Teresa my granny’s cousin? 

There was only one way to find out for sure – order her birth certificate. And, here it is:–

Birth of Mary Teresa Corless, 20 March 1902, Manchester
Copy Birth Register, Mary Teresa Corless, 1902, Manchester

So, Lena had a first cousin, Mary Teresa, born on 20 March 1902, at 25 Monsall Street, Manchester.

With that, I found the family in the 1911 census, in Manchester… I think. They were all listed under Teresa’s maiden name Donovan – not Corless. But, it has to have been them.

William Donovan was the head of the household, a tailor, born in Co. Galway. His wife, Teresa, was born in Dublin city, supposedly in about 1874 - she was never ‘good’ at estimating her age. William and Teresa were ten years married, with one child. Their daughter, Mary Teresa Donovan, aged nine, lived with them. And a fifty-six-year-old widow named Elizabeth Corless, maybe William’s older sister, was visiting with them on census night.

It was no mix-up. William signed the census schedule ‘William Donovan.’

Signature of William Corless, a.k.a. William Donovan, 1911 Census, Manchester
Signature of William Donovan, a.k.a. William Corless, 1911, Manchester

What do you make of that? Why would they have changed their name?

© Black Raven Genealogy


  1. Do you suppose debt problems or legal problems? Or just that his family didn't approve of his or perhaps his choice of wife?

  2. Maybe... I don't have an inkling, Jo. I don't even know yet if the change was temporary or permanent.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!