Given Names (or A Mini-Case Study Of Where I Got My ‘Ian Gerald’)

Given names, or if you prefer, first names. We all have them.

You know, the names that our parents ‘gave’ to us either at birth or some time shortly afterwards. These ‘given’ names appear on our birth records and are attached to us for life.

If you are like me, we want to know just how our parents chose our names. Were our names chosen by means of a heritage-based naming convention or as the result of a family tradition? Were we named after a celebrity or, as it might be today, were we named after compass directions?

My ‘given’ names are Ian Gerald.

My mother provided me many years ago with the explanation of how she and my father chose my names.

Ian was an easy choice. My father, a first generation Canadian, is incredibly proud of his Scottish ancestry so a Scottish name was preferred. Second, my father wanted a name that could not, in his estimation, be shortened or altered in the way for example James becomes Jim or Donald becomes Don. The name ‘Ian’ met his criteria. That is, until he noticed that my friends had shortened my name and began to call me “E.” Eventually, my father conceded to the shortened first name and joined my friends and other family members in calling me ‘E.’

My ‘middle’ or second name of Gerald was easily explained, but as you will see difficult to verify.

The easy part is that I was given the name Gerald in honour of my mother’s favourite uncle Gerald Foley, a brother of my mother’s mother Gertrude Ellen Foley. My mother thought the world of her Uncle Gerald and so naming her first child after him was an obvious decision. Just as easy as asking a favourite cousin, one of Uncle Gerald’s daughters, Mary Foley to be my godmother.

In the early days of researching my genealogy, locating the birth registrations of my maternal grandmother and her siblings, including Uncle Gerald, was one of my first goals.

Gertrude Ellen Foley was born on 16 April 1898 in Toronto, York County, Ontario, Canada according to her birth and baptismal records. Less than a year after her birth, on 9 April, 1899, her mother Mary Jane Fitzgerald died in Toronto leaving my great grandfather John Foley with an infant daughter and two young sons, known to me through often repeated family stories as Uncle Gerald and Uncle Clarence.

A search for the birth registrations of Gerald and Clarence provided a nil result. There was no Gerald Foley and no Clarence Foley born in Ontario in the 1890’s, nor the 1880’s for that matter.

I decided to search for all children born to Mary Jane Fitzgerald in Ontario in the 1890’s. As it turns out, there were in fact two sons born to Mary Jane Fitzgerald and her husband John Foley. Their birth registrations record that Lewis Fitzgerald Foley was born 17 February 1895; and, William Dorsey Foley was born 28 September 1896. A very puzzled expression on my face was the best I could muster.

FOLEY Gerald birth 1895

Birth registration for Lewis Fitzgerald ‘Gerald’ Foley, 1895

FOLEY William Dorsey  birth registration 1896

Birth registration for William Dorsey ‘Clarence’ Foley, 1896

The family story that I had heard was that my great grandfather John Foley was a brilliant, successful businessman. And the multitude of records about his life that I have found verify this to be true. However, John Foley was also illiterate, at least according to family story. He was a man who had been taught how to sign his name for business reasons but who was unable to read the documents he signed. Perhaps the baptismal records for these two boys would clear up the name dilemma. After all, their baptisms were events at which John’s wife, and the boy’s mother, Mary Jane Fitzgerald was present at and, there is no indication that Mary was unable to read and write.

Both of the boys were baptized at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Toronto. The records show that Lewis (spelled as Louis in the church register) Fitzgerald Foley was baptized on 3 March 1895. William Clarence Foley was baptized on 4 Oct 1896.

FOLEY Louis Fitzgerald baptismal record 1895

Lewis Fitzgerald ‘Gerald’ Foley, baptismal registration, St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, Toronto, 1895

It was becoming clear that the family commonly referred to the boys by their ‘middle’ names. Lewis was called or referred to as Gerald and William was referred to as Clarence.

In the 1901 Census of Canada, Gerald was recorded as “Jerald,” the 5-year old son of a widowed John Foley. Clarence was recorded as “William C.” The 1911 Census of Canada records them as Gerald and Clarence. The 1921 Census of Canada makes things a bit interesting again by recording, in an apparent error, Gerald as Clarence in the John Foley household. Clarence by the time of the 1921 census was married and was living with his wife Elizabeth (Blunt) Foley and 3-year old daughter Margaret in another house on the same street.

When Uncle Gerald enlisted for service in World War I, he did so as Gerald Foley, giving his date of birth as 16 February 1895. He was described as a five foot, five-inch tall teamster with dark brown hair and blue eyes.

On 12 November 1917, Gerald Foley of 96 Pickering Street in Toronto served as best man to his brother Clarence when the latter married Elizabeth Blunt.

When he passed away on 6 February 1968, his obituary in the Toronto Star newspaper listed his name as Gerald Lewis Foley. Similarly, the burial record card from Mount Hope Cemetery in Toronto, the final resting place for most members of the Foley family, recorded his name as Gerald Lewis.

So, in the end, I am named after a man who was known as Gerald but whom, ironically, had the same first name as my father, Lewis. Uncle Gerald as it turns out was named after his maternal grandfather Lewis Fitzgerald.

I could have been named Ian Lewis Hadden or perhaps Ian Fitzgerald Hadden. But no, I proudly can say I was named after Uncle Gerald, and the records provide me with a slightly twisted tale to tell about the name.

Visiting Granny

It has felt like we have hit a period of time when Ellen and I have attended more funerals than at any other time I can remember. We have even had funeral times conflicting with other funerals that we also wanted to attend. These are funerals for friends and former work colleagues who we have lost.

Last week, we attended the funeral of one of Ellen’s friends, a woman who died at the very young age of 46, leaving her husband and young sons grieving her loss. 

The funeral was held at the Pine Hills Cemetery visitation centre in Scarborough (now part of Toronto), Ontario. This is also the cemetery in which my paternal grandmother is buried.

Agnes Little was born in Greenock, Scotland and immigrated to Toronto in 1928 with the grand sum of $10 in her pocket. I still shake my head in amazement when I think of the courage she had as a 20-year old young woman leaving the only home she had known to travel “half way around the world” in search of a brighter opportunity.

As her eldest grandchild, I had the chance to know ‘Granny.’ Maybe not all that well as I was only just approaching my fourth birthday when she lost her battle with cancer, but I do vividly and fondly remember her.


Granny was buried in Pine Hills Cemetery so, after the funeral, I took advantage of escorting Ellen to Granny’s grave in order to make ‘proper introductions.’

Granny possessed a beautifully thick Scottish brogue that she referred to as her passport. She was only four feet, ten inches tall but she was a force in the family. She was only 50 years of age when she left us but she is not forgotten and legacy lives on.

Don’t Blink, You Might Miss It! – Lingelbach Cemetery

If you blink, you just might miss the Lingelbach Cemetery, a small cemetery located just east of the village of Shakespeare, Ontario.

Last month, while en route to the Merner family reunion, I almost missed it. Of course, I wasn’t expecting to see it either.


When planning our trip to the family reunion, I knew that our route would take us through one of Ellen’s ancestral towns, New Hamburg, Ontario, and so, I allowed time for us to visit the Riverside Cemetery there (I documented this stop in a previous post). After leaving Riverside Cemetery and new Hamburg, we journeyed along; Ellen likely happy that my cemetery roving was finished and me, well, I was happy to have finally turned Riverside Cemetery into something more than a name on a record.



My “Oh My God!” exclamation caught Ellen off guard as we traveled down Highway 7/8 towards Stratford, Ontario and our eventual destination of the reunion location in Seaforth, Ontario. No, I explained, nothing was wrong but I had just seen the sign for Lingelbach Cemetery, something we definitely had to stop and explore on our trip home.


Lingelbach Cemetery is small, well maintained and is located on the corner of the highway and regional road 104, just outside the eastern boundary of Shakespeare. Like Riverside Cemetery is was just a name, albeit a bit of a strange name, that I had seen many times contained in death and burial records for some of Ellen’s ancestors. Now it was real and I had a chance to walk it’s few rows of graves, occasionally stopping to photograph the grave of a known ancestor and pay my respects to them.

Below is one of the ancestral graves found, that of Israel Eby (1850 – 1903) and his wife Mary Anne Witwer (1854 – 1932), Ellen’s first cousin, three times removed.







Opening Up Canada’s West

One of the challenges that I have faced researching both my family lines as well as those of my wife, Ellen, is the relative young age of Canada. This is especially problematic due to the involvement of our family branches in Canada’s western, specifically the prairie provinces.

My Hadden family ancestors first immigrated from Scotland to Saskatchewan around 1907 when Helen ‘Nellie’ Shand and her husband Andrew Gammie took up a homestead near Aneroid, Saskatchewan. I have recounted previously, how in 1923, my great grandfather Alexander Shand Hadden answered his mother’s call for some help and he left Scotland with his wife and children and put down Canadian roots that I can now call my own.
I have not yet found Helen and Andrew in the 1911 census records but they appear in the 1916 census records of the Canadian prairie provinces.
Saskatchewan only became a province on Sept. 1, 1905, meaning that are only three publicly available set of census records – 1906, 1911, and 1916. As my family was still in Scotland in 1906, I’m limited to the two remaining record sets.
But (!) thanks to a stalwart group of volunteers, additional Saskatchewan information for genealogists is becoming available – one plot at a time! I have found through the Saskatchewan Cemeteries Project website a small treasure trove of burial locations, date information and numerous gravestone photos of many Latimer ancestors (Ellen’s family). A special thanks to volunteer Val Thomas who photographed and indexed the Benson Cemetery, the final resting place for several of Ellen’s relatives.
The Saskatchewan cemeteries site contains the transcriptions of more than 1,000 of the province’s more than 3,300 cemeteries so while there is still lots of work to do before the ‘project’ is complete, great work has already been done and made available. The site provides a listing of the transcribed cemeteries along with the municipality to which they are associated.
More than just cemetery transcriptions, the site also includes an obituary index with links to the obituary text that unfortunately does not seem to allow the ‘copy and paste’ function. This technological aspect is in my opinion not helpful. However, the obituaries, if you find one connected to your family as I did with Ellen’s Latimer relatives, are typically full of great information about family members but also about the deceased and their life in the community.
Keep up the good work Saskatchewan Cemeteries Project volunteers!