Testing My Family History Assumptions

When I was a young child (oh, so very long ago!), my mother often told me stories about her grandfather, John Foley. She never knew her grandfather as he passed away before she was born but she was proud nonetheless of his success in life as a contractor. At the time, we lived on Pickering Street in Toronto’s east end. According to my mother, John Foley had either built or owned numerous homes in our neighbourhood and in fact, he and his family lived in “the big house on the corner.”

There was only one big house on the corner in my world at the time, at the intersection of my part of Pickering Street and a street called Swanwick Avenue. Despite the passage of time I believed that the house, not far from where we lived at the time, had been my great grandfather’s house. It certainly was big, at least three times the size of the house my parents and I lived in. I realize now that I never did ask my mother which corner she was referring to and so I assumed that that I knew which house was “the big house on the corner.”

I like to apply a research lesson I learned early in my family history quest – read your documents again! If you are like me, there is an excitement about just finding the document or record that interferes with the more serious review and extraction of the actual information contained in the document or record. As an example, I once researched, quite thoroughly I would add, a totally incorrect Hadden family believing one member of the family to be my second great grandfather.

Recently, while doing some research on the still too mysterious Foley family, I re-examined the World War 1 Attestation records for uncles ‘Gerald’ and ‘Clarence’ Foley. Uncle Gerald was still living at home when he signed up for military service in August 1915. He was five feet five inches tall and worked as a teamster, like his father before him, and listed his address as 96 Pickering Street. Why I hadn’t noticed the address I can’t say. Perhaps I only noticed that he was living on Pickering Street and for some reason thought the house number was just a minor detail.

While re-examining the record, the house number caught my attention and thanks to Google Maps I was able to see that I had been a large city block off on the actual location of the “big house on the corner.” The Foley home was on Pickering Street but not at the intersection with Swanwick Avenue. Rather it was much farther south, at the intersection with Lyall Avenue. Below is a photo of the ‘real’ Foley house that I recently took while visiting in the area. Ironically, this house is directly across the street from my paternal George Irvine Gaull’s grocery store and likely the place where my paternal and maternal family lines first intersected.

One thought on “Testing My Family History Assumptions

  1. Interesting story and a good reminder to review information and never make assumptions.

    I'm curious which of the two houses was bigger. The real Foley family home or the one you thought was the Foley's home? Just curious.

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