Saturday, 24 March 2018

John James Donovan, upholsterer

Recently, I recommenced the search for Dad’s granduncle, John James Donovan, the second son of John Donovan and Maryanne Coyle, from Dublin city. John was probably the only boy in his family to reach adulthood. His siblings, excluding the youngest Teresa Anne, and my great-grandmother, Mary Agnes, all died in infancy and were interred in the family plot at Glasnevin Cemetery

John James Donovan was born on 18 November 1855 in Great Britain Street, now Parnell Street, in Dublin city. He was christened five days later at St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, on Marlboro Street. It’s quite possible his Godparents, Thomas Donovan and Bridget Coyle, were also his grandparents - they shared their names, at least. His baptism register is the only document so far found directly linking John with my family.[1] 

John's father, my great-great-grandfather, was an upholsterer, and although there is no corroborating evidence, when he was young, John probably worked with him and trained as an upholsterer too. The surname Donovan is predominantly a Co. Cork name, so his birth in Dublin city, together with this relatively uncommon occupation, might render him somewhat recognisable in future records, should any ever arise.

Which is why I was particularly drawn to the following census extract, enumerated in 1881, in Birkenhead, near Liverpool, in England:

John J. Donovan, 1881 Census, Birkenhead, Cheshire, England, FamilySearch

It shows John J. Donovan, a single man, aged twenty-five years, lodging in a house at 25 White Street. John J. was born in Dublin about 1855-56 and worked as a ‘practical upholsterer’. He fits exactly the expected description of my great-granduncle. His move to England would also explain why no further trace of him was found in Dublin.

Except, this is the only mention of John J. Donovan found in England, too.

The U.S. City Directories make reference to several upholsterers called John J. Donovan, as you might expect. These men lived in places like New York, Massachusetts, and San Francisco - all places Irish immigrants might make their home – but none of them have panned out so far.

I hoped our DNA results might contain the answer and introduce us to a living descendant of John himself. It’s practically a given such a close cousin would share DNA with us, especially with Dad, but nothing has turned up on that front, either. There are Donovan matches all right, but they seemingly stem from much earlier ancestors, far earlier than our Donovan brick wall. 

My Donovan brick wall

So, if you think you may be related to John J. Donovan, born in Dublin, in 1855, please send me an email or leave a comment. I’d love to know what happened to him.

[1] Baptism register, St. Mary's, Dublin city (20 Jun. 1853 to 2 Jan. 1858), line 4400, NLI.

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