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The Secret Life of Mary Ann Donnely

Just for background, you should know that there are four men named Emilio Ernesto Cavaleri in our family tree:
  1. Emilio Ernesto Cavaleri - the immigrant - born 1823 in Milan
  2. Rev. Emilio Ernesto Cavaleri, Sr. - the only son of the immigrant - some call him Emilio, Jr. but in fact, he went by Emilio, Sr. 
  3. Emilio Ernesto Cavaleri, Jr. - my grandfather's brother, called Dick Cavaleri
  4. Emilio Ernesto Cavaleri III - Dick's son and my dad's first cousin, known as Jack Cavaleri
Years ago, before the internet, I tried to find out more about the wife of the first Emilio.  I already knew her name (Maria Donnely) and her date of death (Sept 1873) but was unable to add to that.

A few months ago I got an email from my dad's first cousin, Jack (Emilio #4).  Talk about changing the course of history!  He had made a connection with another researcher, Linda.  Turns out that both Linda AND Jack are great-grandchildren of Mary Ann Donnely.  How is that possible?  The immigrant Emilio, as evidenced by his writings, was quite the teller of tales.  It now seems that he spun a tale for his own son, who was told that his mother died when he was eight months old.  Turns out she did NOT die but left town, went on to have three daughters, and lived to be nearly 75 years old!

Putting it all together, this is what we have:
  • On January 1, 1873, in St. Louis, Missouri, Emilio Cavaleri (b. 17 Oct 1823 in Milan) married Mary Ann Donnely (b. 1 Apr 1851 in New York City).  
  • Her parents were Elizabeth Keefe Donnely b.1835 and John Donnely b.1825, born in Ireland. The name is written as Donnely and Donelly in various records.
  • Emilio called his wife Maria. 
  • On January 23, 1876, they had a son, also named Emilio. 
  • At some point, she left the marriage and her son. 
  • Emilio the immigrant referred to himself as a widower.
  • Immigrant Emilio and young son moved to Atlanta in 1880
  • Immigrant Emilio published ads* in the Atlanta newspaper in the spring of 1882.  His son was six years old. 
  • Mary Ann appeared in Leadville, Colorado, in 1882, where she gave birth to a daughter, named Mary Alice (Dollie) Cavaleri, on May 28, 1883.  At that time, in Atlanta, her son Emilio was seven years old.
  • Although Mary Ann gave her daughter the Cavaleri name, it is unknown who the biological father of the baby was. At the time of her birth, immigrant Emilio had been in Atlanta since at least March 1882 (newspaper ad) and possibly as early as 1880.
  • Mary Alice (Dollie) had thick, coarse black hair, heavy eyebrows and dark eyes. From his picture and description in his medical records, immigrant Emilio had blue eyes and a fair complexion. 
  • None of this is reflected in Rev. Emilio and his "Story of my Life"; it is obvious that his father never told him the truth about his mother, Mary Ann.
  • Mary Ann married John C. Fisher in Leadville (date unknown). Either she was a bigamist or this was a common-law marriage.  No record of this marriage has been found.  
  • John. C Fisher was an immigrant from Alsace Lorraine, France. He was a saloon keeper in Leadville.  His birthdate is unknown but he is listed in the 1885 State Census for Leadville, Colorado where he is listed as a single miner. In 1884 case 1382 in the Colorado Supreme Court was John Fisher vs. Shields Mining Co. in Lake County.
  • Mary Ann Donnely had two more daughters with John C. Fisher : Isabel Josephine on May 24, 1887 and Elizabeth Frances on June 19, 1888. 
  • In 1898 gold was found in the Yukon and John Fisher left to go there.  Mary Ann put the three girls in a convent in Oregon and followed him to Alaska. She came back to the states without him.  
  • John C. Fisher married a second time and had other children. He lived in Los Angeles; his date of death is unknown. 
  • Mary Alice (Dollie) and Isabel Josephine became nuns.  
  • Elizabeth Frances ran away from the convent and joined a vaudeville troupe.  At age 14 or 15 she had an act called "Little Bessie Fisher" where she dressed like a child and sang.  She became an actress, married Herbert Maxwell Lindley, and they moved to Hollywood and worked in movies in the 20s and 30s.  Her mother, Mary Ann, eventually moved in with them.  Her granddaughter, Linda, is the source mentioned at the top of this post.
  • Mary Ann was living with her daughter, Elizabeth, when she died March 14, 1926.  She is buried in Calvary Cemetery on Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles. The headstone reads Mary A. Fisher. 
  • In 1945 when Mary Alice (Dollie) applied for Social Security she gave the names of her parents as Emelio Cavaliera (her spelling) and Mary Ann Donelly, so she believed the story. 
  • Isabelle Fisher (Sister Mary Isidorita) was at the Convent of the Holy Names in Oregon when she died in 1957 and at St. Mary's Academy in Oregon in the 1930 census. 
Linda adds:
I don't know if this was my grandmother (Elizabeth Frances') lies or if she was told this by her mother. Even before I found out about your family's story, I took this with a grain of salt because Mary Ann showed herself to be unstable and pretty much a stalker in her later relationship with John Fisher.
Maybe Mary Ann changed the timeline to give her daughter legitimacy; her son would have been 6 years old in 1882 and would have remembered his mother. The timeline just doesn't work for Mary Ann Donnely's version of the story: Mary Ann was married to an older man named Cavalieri. He was from Italy and was related to the Italian Ambassador. They met in Kentucky, where her father had a horse farm. They moved to St. Louis. She had a son. Mr. Cavalieri beat her continually. She had several miscarriages because of this. She tried to run away taking her son. She was caught over and over. When she got pregnant with Mary Alice in 1882 she decided to leave without her son to save the new baby's life.   Mr. Cavalieri loved his son and wouldn't have hurt him. She went to Leadville, Colorado and never saw her son again. 

*The text of the two ads:
ATLANTA CONSTITUTION - March 05, 1882 A SILK RAISER OF 25 YEARS EXPERIENCE in Italy would like to use his experience and labor with some planters that have wealth and trees to raise silk. No wages wanted, but an interest in the crop. Address or call at 106 Peachtree street. Emilio Cavaleri. 
ATLANTA CONSTITUTION - May 21, 1882 Wanted - Ladies and Gents to know that I have removed to No. 82 Peachtree Street, and this store being very large, I have leased it for five years. I am now manufacturing Mockingbird and breeding cages, the best cages made, and I sell them at very low prices; also window-guards for churches, public and private buildings, and arch arbor trainer, or any kind of crimped wirework to order at Atlanta Wire Works, 82 Peachtree Street. Yours most respectfully, Emilio Cavaleri.