Amy Johnson Crow of the No Story Too Small genealogy blog suggested a weekly blog theme of ’52 Ancestors’ in her blog post “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.” I decided to take up the challenge of the 52 Ancestors blog theme as a means to prompt me into regularly sharing the stories of my ancestors. So over the course of 2014 I will highlight an ancestor, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don’t know.
Uncle Gerald Foley was my mother’s favourite uncle, so favoured that my middle name of Gerald was given to me as a tribute to her uncle. Unfortunately, I never really knew Uncle Gerald and have no memories of time spent with him, although Uncle Gerald’s funeral was the first funeral that I attended and I do remember much of that occasion.
Uncle Gerald is also the subject of some of the most important lessons I learned about researching my family history. I began my genealogical pursuits in the ‘dark ages’ before computers, databases, and digital images had been heard of. There were no television commercials extolling me to just type in a name and open a whole world of family connections. No, I had to go to libraries and archives to search through file cards that directed me to other file cards and eventually snippets of information.
One of the first ancestors I wanted to research was Uncle Gerald because of my name connection to him. The problem – no Gerald Foley was born in Ontario, Canada when Uncle Gerald should have been born!
Gerald’s parents, my great grandparents, John Foley and his wife Mary Jane Fitzgerald were married at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church on 25 April 1894 in Toronto, Ontario. I have the family oral tradition, a copy of their civil marriage registration, a copy of their church marriage registration and a newspaper article about the wedding as evidence of that marriage. Their three children were born likely between the date of the marriage and 1899 when my grandmother, the youngest of their three children was said to have been born. Even with that narrow search window, I could find no Gerald Foley.
Eventually, computers, databases and digital images became available. I searched for Gerald Foley. Nothing. I tried his brother Clarence Foley. Nothing. Surely I would find my grandmother Gertrude Foley. Again, nothing. How could three children, born within about a five year period, in a time of compulsory civil registration not be found in the civil birth registrations for the Province of Ontario?
This is where I learned my lesson. The names the family used for them were not their first given names. Each of the three children’s births had, in fact been registered by their father John Foley, a man who was an astoundingly successful businessman but who was, according to family oral tradition, illiterate. John Foley had been taught to sign his name and he had, in fact, registered the births of his children, signing all three birth registrations.
Uncle Gerald was registered as Louis Fitzgerald Foley. I later found his baptismal registration showing that he was baptized as Lewis Fitzgerald Foley but the family called him Gerald, a name he used and answered to his whole life. Clarence Foley was registered as William Dorsey Foley but his baptismal registration entry clearly shows him to be William Clarence Foley. My grandmother, Gertrude Foley was Ellen Gertrude Foley. Assuming the names the family used were the names to be researched kept me frustrated for a very long time. It is clear that the children of John and Mary Foley were called by and throughout their lives used their middle names.
On a very recent visit to Mount Hope Cemetery in Toronto, I stopped in at the cemetery’s administration office as obituaries for my Foley uncles informed me that they were both buried there. Uncle Gerald’s obituary was published as “Gerald Lewis Foley” and Uncle Clarence’s obituary was published as “Clarence W. Foley.” I was provided with copies of their internment records (a huge bonus as a genealogist!) and learned that they were buried along with their father John Foley and his second wife, their step-mother Annie McElroy. John Foley’s grave was very familiar to me. I have visited and paid my respects many times. The names of my uncles also buried in that Foley plot however do not appear on the gravestone nor elsewhere on the family plot. But now I know where to find and pay respect to my ‘sort-of namesake.’