Finding the Right Man

Finding the Right Man

I was looking for a man named John Donovan, born about 1853 in Illinois and married in 1879 in Waukon, Iowa. From the 1880 census, I knew he had a younger brother Cornelius, who lived in John’s household. I also knew a Margaret Donovan was a sponsor for the baptism...

I was looking for a man named John Donovan, born about 1853 in Illinois and married in 1879 in Waukon, Iowa. From the 1880 census, I knew he had a younger brother Cornelius, who lived in John’s household. I also knew a Margaret Donovan was a sponsor for the baptism of John’s son; she may have been a sister. I turned to the 1870 censuses for Iowa and Illinois, and found three Donovan families with children named John and Cornelius:

Family 1: Cedar Township, Johnson County, Iowa, p. 5

 Donovan, Patrick, age 45, farming, value of real estate $5,000, value of personal estate $1,400, born in Ireland
• Donovan, Ellen, age 39, keeping house, born in Ireland
 Donovan, Cornelius, age 9, born in Iowa [born about 1861]
 Donovan, John, age 8, born in Iowa [born about 1862]
 Donovan, Daniel, age 6, born in Iowa
 Donovan, Ellen, age 4, born in Iowa
 Donovan, William, age 3, born in Iowa
 Donovan, Annie, age ¹/12, born in Iowa
A few things troubled me about this family: There’s no child named Margaret, Cornelius is older than John, and the ages aren’t close enough. I knew from the 1900 census that my John Donovan was born in 1853; this John wasn’t born until about 1862. That’s nearly a 10-year age difference. I decided not to research this family.

Family 2: Pekin, Tazewell County, Ill., p. 62

 Donovan, James, age 40, blacksmith, $500/$100, born in Ireland
 Donovan, Anna, age 35, keeps house, born in Ireland

 Donovan, John, age 11, born in Illinois [about 1859]
 Donovan, Mary, age 9, born in Illinois
 Donovan, Cornelius, age 3, born in Illinois [about 1867]
 Donovan, Anna, age 1, born in Illinois
 O’Brien, Daniel, age 52, laborer, born in Ireland

There was no Margaret in this family, either, and the Cornelius was too young. This Cornelius would’ve been about 13 in 1880, and I knew John’s brother Cornelius was 20 in 1880.

Family 3: Rock Island, Rock Island County, Ill., p. 59

 Donovan, Daniel, age 50, laborer, $400/$100, born in Ireland
 Donovan, Fanny, age 37, keeping house, born in Ireland
 Donovan, Cornelius, age 12, born in Illinois [about 1858]
 Donovan, John, age 11, born in Illinois. [about 1859]
 Donovan, Ellen, age 10, born in Illinois
 Donovan, Maggie, age 8, born in Illinois
 Donovan, Jeremiah, age 6, born in Illinois
 Donovan, Willie, age 3, born in Illinois
 Donovan, Daniel, age 1, born in Illinois

This family looked promising, but again, the ages weren’t much help. Still, there was a daughter Maggie (short for Margaret), and the name Daniel was used in my Donovan family (one of John Donovan’s sons had the middle name Daniel, and a grandson went by Danny).

I looked for this third Donovan family in the 1880 census and found them still living in Rock Island County, Ill. Unfortunately, Cornelius was still listed in this household in 1880—and I’d already found my Cornelius residing in his brother John’s household in Iowa in 1880. It’s not unheard of for someone to be enumerated twice in a census—maybe Cornelius had recently moved to Iowa. But in the 1880 Iowa census, my John is older than Cornelius. 
Since Margaret Donovan was a sponsor for John’s first child, baptized in 1880 in Waukon, Iowa, I looked for her in the 1880 Iowa census. Two Margaret Donovans were in Allamakee County. One, “Maggie Donoven,” age 19, lived in Taylor Township with her mother, Margaret, and an older brother, Jerome M., who was born in Massachusetts. That information didn’t match anything I’d uncovered so far about the family. 
The other “Maggie Donovan” was 24 and a servant in the household of circuit judge Charles Granger in Waukon. This Maggie was born in Illinois, which fit with what I knew about the family. If this was my Maggie, she should’ve been about 14 in 1870. 
Returning to the 1870 census record for Daniel Donovan’s household, I noted that Maggie was only 8. I then followed Daniel Donovan’s family into the 1880 census. Daniel’s daughter Maggie was 18 and still living at home, which made me think that this wasn’t the correct family.
Continuing on the assumption that the 24-year-old servant Maggie Donovan in Waukon was John and Cornelius’s sister, I used the approximate ages for the three to look for them in another household in 1870. John should have been around 16, Maggie about 14 and Cornelius around 10.
You may find published census indexes more helpful than searchable online databases. They let you see spelling variations more easily and make it easier to match people of the same surname residing in the same county, township or household. There were no other Donovan families in Illinois in 1870 that looked promising, but I did find a John Donovan, age 16, and a Maggie Donovan, age 15, both enumerated in the same household in Makee Township in the 1870 census. I also noticed a Cornelius, age 10: 
1870 US census, Makee Township, Allamakee County, Iowa
 Holverson, Martin, age 23, farmer, born in Norway, married December 1869
 Holverson, Catharine, age 35, keeping house, value of real estate $1,500, value of personal property $360, born in Ireland, married December 1869
 Donovan, John, age 16, born in Illinois
 Donovan, Maggie, age 15, born in Illinois
 Donovan, Daniel, age 13, born in Illinois
 Donovan, Mary, age 12, born in Iowa
 Donovan, Cornelius, age 10, born in Iowa
 Donovan, Hannah, age 9, born in Iowa
 Donovan, Elizabeth, age 7, born in Iowa
 Donovan, Catharine, age 5, born in Iowa
What made this record even more promising was that Catharine, Daniel and Mary were names I’d already associated with my John Donovan’s descendants. When I found this family in the 1880 census, I discovered that John and Maggie had disappeared from the household, as I’d expected, although Cornelius was still there:
1880 US census, Makee Township, Allamakee County, Iowa
 H???, Martin, age 36, farmer, born in Norway of parents born in Norway
 H???, Catharine, age 44, wife, keeping house, born in Ireland of parents born in Ireland
 Donovan, Cornelius, age 20, stepson, works on farm, born in Iowa of parents born in Ireland
• Donovan, Hannah, age 19, stepdaughter, born in Iowa of parents born in Ireland
• Donovan, Lizzie, age 17, stepdaughter, born in Iowa of parents born in Ireland
• Donovan, Katy, age 15, stepdaughter, born in Iowa of parents born in Ireland

Although Cornelius still lived in this household in 1880, he may be the same Cornelius enumerated with John and his wife in 1880. He might’ve been doing seasonal or temporary work on the railroad and on the family farm, which would explain his double enumeration. 

Moving back to the 1860 census, I searched records from the same Iowa county for variations of the Donovan surname. I found the family in the household of “Daniel Dunivan”:

1860 US census, Makee Township, Allamakee County,  Iowa

 Daniel Dunivan, age 30, farmer, value of real estate $300, value of personal property $175, born in Ireland
 Catharine, age 29, housekeeper, born in Ireland
 John, age 6, born in Illinois
 Margaret, age 5, born in Illinois
 Daniel, age 3, born in Illinois
 Mary A., age 2, born in Iowa
 Cornelius, age ²/12, born in Iowa
Evidently, Daniel died between about 1865 (when the last child, Catharine, was born) and December 1869 (when the mother Catharine remarried). Given that Catharine was left with eight children and a farm to look after, it’s not surprising that she remarried as soon as possible. In an estate settlement for Daniel, I found enough identifying information about his children to confirm that I’d found the right John Donovan.
From the September 2010 Family Tree Magazine 

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