The Foley Puzzle

One of the joys of family history for me is the ‘thrill of the chase.’ There are however some genealogical puzzles that just don’t seem to have a good solution – mysteries that remain mysteries. I come back time and again to these in the hope that I might see something new, some detail, no matter how obscure, that I seemed to have previously overlooked. One such puzzle concerns John Foley.

I have previously shared information and stories about my great grandfather John Foley who died in 1927 while on a business trip to Los Angeles, California. There are a number of reliable sources and documents that verify his death date. The puzzling aspect of John’s life is determining just when and where he was born.

The family lore surrounding John Foley’s life is the sometimes tragic tale of a man who in spite of being orphaned as a young boy and growing up unable to read or write, persevered to overcome personal and business setbacks to amass great wealth.

Moving back in time, the 1911 Census of Canada shows John living at 96 Pickering Street in Toronto with his second wife, Annie (McElroy), in addition to John’s three children from his first marriage and his son, John from his marriage to Annie. John is listed as being born in April 1865 in Ontario, Canada. In 1901, the Census of Canada shows John as a widow (his first wife Mary Jane Fitzgerald died in 1899) living in Toronto with his three children and an elderly housekeeper along with two boarders who appear to be the housekeeper’s children. Again, John is listed as being born in April 1865 in Ontario, Canada.

I have been unable to positively identify John in either the 1891 or 1881 Census of Canada which may be explainable through the family story that John made his living during this time of his life by working in the ‘bush’ – hunting and trapping. It just might be possible that as a result he wasn’t enumerated.

John is found again in the 1871 Census of Canada, this time living with his parents and siblings in Barrie, Ontario. John is listed as being born in Ontario, Canada and eight years of age, putting his year of birth at about 1863. To further support all that the census reports state, John listed his age as 29 when he married Mary Jane Fitzgerald in 1894 and gave his place of birth as Barrie, Ontario. This places his birth around 1865. When he married Annie McElroy in 1903, John gave his age as 39 and again his place of birth was given as Barrie, Ontario. This places his birth around 1864. A final piece of information – when John died, the rather large monument at his grave lists his date of birth as February 16, 1864 (pictured above left).

So here is the problem – the 1861 Census of Canada lists John living with his parents, William and Bridget, in Pickering Township, Ontario. Not only was this census obviously conducted prior to any birth date used at other times in his life but John is listed in 1861 as being born in the United States around 1859.

Thus far, all of my efforts to determine the when and where of John Foley’s birth has not solved the puzzle. Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to unravel this mystery and to please end my torment! Comments, tips, suggestions and, most of all, a solution are as always welcome.

Leave a Reply