The Fitzgerald Kids

In my last post I promised to share the information I found in the Ontario Roman Catholic Church Records, posted on FamilySearch, for the children of my maternal second great grandparents, Lewis and Ellen (nee Daley) Fitzgerald.


Canadian census records had provided me with the names of their nine children as they entered the family unit and eventually left the family, to strike out on their own or perhaps, through an early death. I have found no evidence of the deaths of these children with the exception of my great grandmother, Mary Jane Foley (nee Fitzgerald).

As previously posted, Lewis Fitzgerald married Ellen Daley at St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Basilica in Toronto on 11 September 1856. Their marriage was recorded in the church’s register by Father J. FitzHenry. Searching the subsequent Canadian decennial census records, starting in 1861, produces a list of nine children however with the exception of the 1901 census, the records for 1861, 1871, 1881, and 1891 only provide an age and place of birth, not an exact date of birth.

In 1861, the Lewis and Ellen Fitzgerald household included three children. In 1871, the household included six children however the eldest child, Mary Rebecca, listed in 1861 was no longer present. The census records for 1881 provide the most complete family picture as eight children are present in the household with again the eldest, Rebecca as she was known, the only child missing. By 1891, the there were only five children living at home in the household and by 1901, only Alice, the youngest of the Fitzgerald children was part of the household.

This is where the church records came an important role, especially as civil registration had not yet been instituted. These records helped provide exact birth dates and verification that there were no other children who may have been born after a census was taken and died before the following census.

The baptismal records of St. Paul’s Basilica provide the following names and dates for the Fitzgerald ‘kids’:

1. Mary Rebecca Fitzgerald, born 14 November 1857
2. Margaret Fitzgerald, born 25 April 1859
3. Anne Fitzgerald. born 23 December 1860
4. Ellen Fitzgerald, born 20 May 1862
5. Mary Jane Fitzgerald, born 22 May 1864
6. Elizabeth Fitzgerald, born 11 February 1866
7. Catherine Fitzgerald, born 28 September 1868
8. Lewis Albert Fitzgerald, born 16 August 1872
9. Alice Caroline Fitzgerald, born 29 December 1874

At least five of the Fitzgerald daughters married. In addition to Mary Rebecca whom I suspect died at an early age, I have found no record that suggests Margaret or Elizabeth married. Similarly, I have found no record indicating that Lewis Albert married.

Mary Jane Fitzgerald married John Foley on 25 April 1894 in St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, the marriage event entered into the church register by Father William Bergen. Although I don’t yet have many of the details, I have been contacted by a local Toronto historian who has informed me that Lewis Fitzgerald was one of the founding members and contributors to St. Joseph’s Church which is located in what is now the east end of the city of Toronto, in an area known as Leslieville.

Digging in Church Records

I have had a difficult time tracing my maternal Irish ancestry back more than about 150 years and feeling confident that I was closely approaching having all of the information that would help propel me further. Census records provided snapshots of the family unit at points in time but my information was too vague for my liking.


My great great grandfather, Lewis Fitzgerald and his family are a good case in point. The following AHNENTAFEL list shows my ancestral connection to Lewis and his wife Ellen Daley.

1. Ian Gerald Hadden

2. Lewis John Hadden
3. Anne Margaret O’Neill

6. John Graham O’Neill
7. Gertrude Ellen Foley

14. John Foley
15. Mary Jane Fitzgerald

30. Lewis Fitzgerald
31. Ellen Daley

I was aware that Lewis and Ellen Fitzgerald had nine children, including my great grandmother Mary Jane Fitzgerald, but most of the children were born “about” a given year in my database. This is where the “Ontario, Roman Catholic Church Records” on FamilySearch.org have been of great assistance.

These records are not indexed but are available in image form. Fortunately, the record group is divided by city or town in Ontario and then by church name. Beyond that help, I needed to examine each page of each church register looking for the members of the Fitzgerald family. It was tedious and, it was time-consuming but it was worth the effort. Register pages containing records involving my Fitzgerald ancestors were saved easily as JPEG files on my computer with a simple single mouse click using the helpful ‘Save’ feature.
Above is the register entry for the marriage of Lewis (spelled Luis in the registry) Fitzgerald and Ellen Daley (spelled Daly in the registry). The marriage took place on September 11, 1856 at St. Paul’s Basilica which is located on Power Street in Toronto, Ontario. The priest who officiated at the marriage and signed the register was Father J. FitzHenry and the witnesses to the marriage were William McDonald and Briget (spelling is as it appears in the registry) Sexton. I don’t know who these witnesses were but assuming that they were close friends of my great grandparents, I now have a clue for further research. Most interesting to me was the appearance in any record about Ellen Daley that I have found of a location in Ireland for further research. Typically, census records would list her birthplace as Ireland but this church record states that she was from County Clare. Wishful thinking has me wanting to believe that there was only one Daley family in County Clare but how likely is that to be true?

In my next post, the Fitzgerald ‘kids.’

Starting Over! Am I Crazy?

I have long suffered (and have posted about) what I refer to as the ‘sins of my genealogy youth.’ Specifically my lack of source citations for all of the ‘facts’ I had gathered over thirty plus years of research.

When I began researching my family’s history, source citation was something I had done in university but my family history was different – it was for me. In the early 1980’s there was a collaborative approach taken to genealogy but that usually meant having a query posted in a society newsletter and then waiting, hoping that one day something would appear in the mailbox (as in ‘snail mail’ box). With computers and the Internet, genealogy database programs, however rudimentary, helped keep my information organized and made finding fact tidbits a bit easier through posted indexes. The digital age has ever increasingly allowed me to gobble up large numbers of records, as well as digitize and share large quantities of family photos and documents, and connect more easily with family members and researchers, close and distant.
But I always came to the same spot. When asked what I had used as a source for a fact or event, I was usually left having to search through pages of notes or hundreds (thousands?) of scanned images in the hope that I would find the information source.
My first effort to tame this merciless dragon was to begin wading through the 12,500 plus individuals in my database and one by one, add source citations to the facts and events that I had recorded for them. I made the effort but was not satisfied with the results. It just didn’t feel, for me, that I was really advancing. It felt like I was trying to get somewhere by running on a treadmill – you put out the effort but at the end you’re still in the same space.
As I posted previously I began formal genealogy study through the National Institute for Genealogical Studies some months ago and I know as a result, my research habits and practices have improved. Ultimately, this lead me to the conclusion that I needed to start over again.
So I have created what I refer to as my family ‘master’ file. Nothing, no name or fact, is allowed into this master file without a well composed source citation supporting it. I am using Elizabeth Shown Mills “Evidence Explained” as my source citation ‘bible‘ which is always open on my desktop as I research. As a back-up, I have Elizabeth Shown Mills’ book “Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian” close by my side.
So the big question for me was “Has this helped? Is my ‘new’ database any better?” I think so and can offer two quick examples: in my original database I had six sources cited for the birth of my second great grandfather Lewis Fitzgerald but now in my ‘master’ database, I have fifteen sources for his birth. Similarly, in my original database I had four sources for the birth of my great grandfather John Foley whereas I now have thirteen sources cited for the same event in the new ‘master’ database.
I’m not trying to suggest that he/she who has the most sources for an event wins but rather doing it right has great merit. What do you think?

Solving My Foley Family Puzzle

I have shared previously, and most recently in July 2011, about the uncertainty of information about one of my maternal great grandfathers, John Foley. This past week, fellow Canadian genealogy blogger, John Reid of Anglo-Celtic Connections, posted a note on Google Plus that Family Search had added 126,534 Ontario Roman Catholic Church Records to their online databases.


I immediately thought of my Foley ancestors and the puzzlement about verifying John’s birth. Census records have provided conflicting information ranging from locations in the United States to Barrie, Simcoe County, Canada West (now Ontario) and birth years ranging from 1860 to 1865.

Fortunately, the Ontario civil registration for John Foley’s marriage to Mary Jane Fitzgerald on April 25, 1894 provides the name of the church in Toronto in which they married. My first stop then was the church records for marriages at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in 1894. Unfortunately, the images added by Family Search are not yet indexed so finding the church marriage registration meant ‘surfing’ through numerous images. The church registrations are in chronological order so using the marriage date, I was able to find the marriage registration information fairly quickly. All of the information contained in the church record was identical to the civil registration record.

When he married in April 1894, John gave his age as 29 years, meaning he was likely born around 1865. John’s gravestone in Toronto’s Mount Hope Cemetery lists his date of birth as February 16, 1864 but due to the various pieces of conflicting information, I have always been suspicious of the date.

I then proceeded to viewing the church baptismal records for Barrie, Ontario, the location John had maintained was his place of birth. The church record images available through Family Search for Barrie consist of one Roman Catholic church – Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary including two mission, or satellite, locations. The baptismal records cover the period 1858 – 1875 and consist of 218 images in the main church register.

Like scrolling through microfilm images, I went through the baptismal records one image at a time, hunting for the Foley name. Fortunately, this was made easier as the family surnames were printed, not written, in the left hand column of the register book. On image #86, line #706, I found it! The baptismal record for John Foley, although the surname was misspelled as ‘Froley.’

The parish priest, Father P. Rey, listed: Froley, John; Date of Birth – 16 Feb. 1863 in Essa (a small town near Barrie); Date of baptism – 21 March 1863; Parents – William Foley, Ireland and Bridget McTigue (misspelling of McTague); Sponsors – Joseph Cain and Elizabeth Hussey.

So, at long last, I know that my great grandfather was born in Essa, part of the Barrie, Ontario area, on February 16, 1863, exactly 125 years before his great great granddaughter, my daughter, Jenna was born! Finally, a puzzle solved.

Connecting With Family Through Ancestry

I am often asked if it’s true that simply searching for a name of Ancestry (.com; .ca,; .co.uk;.au,etc.) can produce a shaking leaf providing you with a full family tree or an instant connection with a distant, previously unknown relative who sends family photos that you have never seen before as is suggested in some television advertising. My answer is usually along the lines that if it were that simple, I’d be really disappointed in myself for spending so much time over the past thirty years when only a few keystrokes and a mouse click were needed.

Ancestry is certainly a great Internet site to search for historical records and documents. I have maintained a world deluxe subscription for many years (and by way of disclaimer, I pay for this entirely myself, with my own funds). It has been a tremendous source of documentation and collaboration. I have previously posted that there is benefit to exploring the ‘public’ member family trees in spite of any criticism that the family trees may frequently contain erroneous information.

A recent additional benefit for me has been making new connections with cousins I didn’t know about who either sent a message to me asking for some additional information based on details found in my posted tree or who I sent a message to with a similar request.

I have three (!) examples to offer from the past three months.

Donius contacted me offering a correction to a date associated to her mother who appeared in my posted family tree. It turns out that Donius is my wife Ellen’s 4th cousin. They share Andrew Kimmerly, a United Empire Loyalist, and his wife Susannah Sagar as common ancestors.

Another Andrew Kimmerly and Susannah Sagar common ancestor connection was made when Pat contacted me with some questions about my family tree file. Pat, as it turns out is married to my wife Ellen’s 5th cousin.

I have been able to share information, tips, sources, and photos with both Pat and Donius. A truly great connection experience.


My favourite recent connection was one that I instigated. Recognizing that new trees get added and older trees updated frequently on Ancestry, I found one of my second cousins of whom I had no previous knowledge, had posted a family tree. More important to me is that this cousin and I share a great grandfather, John Foley, in common. My maternal grandmother, Gertrude Ellen Foley, was John’s only daughter. My cousin Margaret’s grandfather was John Joseph Foley, my grandmother’s half-brother (pictured above), and John’s third son but only child from his second marriage (to Annie McElroy).

John Foley without a doubt has been my greatest genealogical challenge. I have posted previously a number of stories about John who was, in modern terms, a self-made millionaire, despite his inability to read or write. I am a namesake of John’s oldest son who was my mother’s favourite uncle and whose funeral I can vividly remember attending when I was ten or twelve years of age. Various records provide various dates and locations of John’s birth. John appears and then ten years later disappears in census records. The only thing certain seems to be that John married my great grandmother, Mary Jane Fitzgerald in 1894 in Toronto, Ontario, that they had three children before Mary Jane’s sudden death at age 33 in 1899, and that John married Annie McElroy in 1903 in Toronto, Ontario. John died suddenly in 1927 while on a business related trip to Los Angeles, California in 1927.

I have never seen a photograph of my great grandfather John Foley although I feel certain that one must exist somewhere. Fortunately, through the Ancestry connection I may be getting a step closer to breaking through this stubborn brickwall.