Was Grace Darling Donna’s sister? (Part 1)

Madonna Mae Montran Issue

Donna Montran Research
By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.During my analysis of the Donna Darling Collection (Part 83), I learned that the actress Grace Darling could be the sister-in-law of my grandmother, Madonna Montran, stage name Donna Darling) married Thomas Valentine Rooney in 1915. Grace Foster, stage name Grace Darling, married Pat Rooney in 1908. Could Thomas and Pat have been brothers, thus making Donna and Grace sisters (in-law)?

My first step in investigating the possibility is to look at the life and relationships of Donna’s second husband, Thomas Rooney.

Donna’s first marriage to Chester Fenyvessey in 1911 was short-lived. By 1914, Donna and Chester separated, and Donna headed to California. Out there, she was with Mack Sennett’s Bathing Beauties and was a dancer in the silent film “Birth of a Nation.” In 1915, Donna relocated to Boston, MA. Then, on 24 November 1915, Donna married Thomas Valentine Rooney in Waltham, Middlesex County, Massachusetts.

Marriage Record os Thomas Valentine Rooney and Donna Mae Montran – 24 Nov 1915 – Click to enlarge.

Thomas Valentine Rooney (1887-1960)

Thomas is a step-grandfather—the second husband of my grandmother: Madonna Mae Montran.

      • Thomas’ father: Neil H. Rooney (1865-1910)

Thomas Valentine Rooney was born on 29 January 1887 in Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts. He was the second of five children of Neil H and Mary E (Fahey) Rooney.

The 1900 Census indicates that Neil and Mary Rooney had five children; John, Thomas, Neil (Jr.), James, and Mary. Neil immigrated in 1883 and married Mary about 1885. That suggests they couldn’t have had any children older than John.

In the 1910 Census, Mary is widowed, and there are no additional children. The Census provides middle initials for the children; none of them have the middle initial of “P,” suggesting that Pat Rooney is unlikely a brother of Thomas.

Thomas was the producer of the “California Bathing Girls,” starring Donna Montran, during 1920 and 1921, so they were together then. However, by the summer of 1921, Donna had moved on to a new show, “Donna Darling & Boys,” that wasn’t produced by Thomas, so I’m pretty sure they separated by then.

After Donna

Thomas married Daisy Elizabeth Ford on 13 April 1928. The couple moved to California about 1930, where Thomas worked as an “Actors Agent” for 40 years with the Michael J. Hamieburg Agency.

Daisy died on 14 December 1959, and Thomas died four months later on 29 April 1960, in Los Angeles.


It does not appear that Thomas Rooney had a brother named Pat, so it is unlikely Grace Foster (stage Grace Darling) was a sister-in-law of Donna’s.

Further Actions / Follow-up

  • Find Grace (Foster) Darling Knieling and Pat Rooney in various records and determine if Pat Rooney and Tom Rooney were otherwise related.

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