52 Ancestors: William Emmett O’Neill (1849-1924)

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.

William Emmett O’Neill, one of my great grandfathers, entered this world on 26 February 1849 in Barrie, Ontario, Canada – or as it was known at the time of his birth, Canada West. He was the son of Irish immigrants, John O’Neill and his wife, Mary Murphy. They were a Roman Catholic family who lived in a one-storey log house on land that John farmed.

When William was a young man of twenty-two, he found work as a labourer in Tay Township, close to Georgian Bay. By the time he was thirty years of age, he was caring for his widowed mother in Barrie, Ontario while working as a store clerk. William continued working for others in the Barrie, Ontario store into the early 1890’s and then decided, through an unknown inspiration, perhaps the death of his mother, that it was time to strike out on his own.

He moved to Toronto, found work again as a store clerk, but also found love. He met and married Margaret Graham on 4 June 1894 in St. Mary’s Church. Neither William nor Margaret were ‘spring chickens.’ William was 45 years old when he married, although he claimed to be only 42 perhaps in an effort to be closer in age to his bride Margaret who was 39 when she married. William and Margaret didn’t let age deny them the opportunity to have a family and so in 1895, just more than a year after their wedding, they welcomed their first child, and my grandfather, John Graham O’Neill into the world.

Two daughters would subsequently join the family. First, Kathleen Marie O’Neill, who would later join the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph and be known by her religious name as Sister St. Edwin, in 1896, and then Avila in 1898.

Early in his married and family life, William would change careers. No longer content working as a store clerk, he became an insurance agent, the source of employment for the remainder of his life. He moved his family into a house on Claremont Street in Toronto from where my grandfather told me, they would push their children in a baby carriage through muddy roads to attend the annual Canadian National Exhibition, a little over a mile away. Later, William and Margaret moved to a house further west in the city on Golden Avenue.




On 24 July 1924, at the age of 75, William Emmett O’Neill died in St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. His cause of death was listed as “uremia” or kidney failure. At the time of his death, William and Margaret were living at 189 Pickering Street in Toronto, a home they had purchased from their son’s father-in-law John Foley. This was the same house that I would live in for the first nine plus years of my life. On 26 July 1924, William Emmett O’Neill was laid to rest in Toronto’s Mount Hope Cemetery where he would eventually be joined in the family plot by his wife, youngest daughter, son and daughter-in-law, and their infant son.

As a tribute to his father, my grandfather named his youngest son, one of my uncles, William Emmett O’Neill. Uncle ‘Bill’ as he is known to me, has told me often how creepy it is to visit the cemetery and see the headstone at the family plot bearing his name.


52 Ancestors: Mary Jane Fitzgerald (1864-1899)

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.

I have always felt a closeness to my great grandmother Mary Jane Fitzgerald even though I have no idea as to what she looked like or, what she liked or disliked. My mother often mentioned the name of Mary Jane Fitzgerald when talking about her own family history and told me that my great grandmother had died young.

Mary Jane Fitzgerald was born into the family of Lewis Fitzgerald and his wife Ellen Daley on 22 May 1864, the fifth of nine known children. Mary Jane’s father, Lewis, was a gardener, one of many who famously farmed the lands east of the Don River in what was then referred to as York Township, now part of the city of Toronto. 

The Fitzgeralds were an Irish Catholic family who attended mass each Sunday at St. Paul’s Basilica, Toronto’s oldest Roman Catholic church. Their church was about four and a half miles away from their home, not very far using today’s means of transportation but I suspect it was not an easy journey in the mid-nineteenth century probably in a horse-drawn wagon over muddy, dusty, or snow-filled rough roads. But the church records from St. Paul’s Basilica show that they were there often as evidenced in Mary Jane’s entry in the church’s baptismal register.




Of Mary Jane’s eight siblings, seven were sisters and it appears that they all remained on the family farm until they married. This was certainly the case for Mary Jane. I am unaware as to how they met but on 25 April 1894 Mary Jane Fitzgerald married John Foley in St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church on Leslie Street in Toronto, confirmed by a civil registration, the entry of the marriage in the St. Joseph’s church marriage register and an article in the local Toronto newspaper. The newspaper story provides the further detail that the wedding party and guests went to the home of the bride’s parents for supper and congratulations following the wedding ceremony.

John and Mary Jane Foley lived in this house at 25 Blong Avenue in Toronto. 

25 Blong Avenue, Toronto, Ontario (from Google Streetview)


It was here that they welcomed into their family first Lewis Fitzgerald Foley (or Gerald as he was always known) on 17 February 1895, William Clarence Foley on 28 September 1896, and finally, my grandmother Ellen Gertrude Foley on 16 April 1898. 

It was also in this house that Mary Jane’s story came to an abrupt and premature end when she died on 9 April 1899, just a week before her daughter’s first birthday. The cause of death listed on her death registration was septic poisoning. Mary Jane was only 34 years old.

Mary Jane (Fitzgerald) Foley was buried at St. Michael’s Cemetery in Toronto in the same grave as her mother who predeceased her five years earlier. Ten years later, Mary Jane’s father Lewis would join them in the same burial plot to eternally rest in peace.

52 Ancestors: Uncle Gerald Foley (1895-1968)

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.


The Foley family plot gravestone, 
Mount Hope Cemetery, Toronto, Ontario, Canada 
(photo taken by Ian Hadden)



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.’

52 Ancestors: John Graham O’Neill (1895 – 1979)

Amy Johnson Crow of the Nor 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 ancestor, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don’t know.



This week I am profiling John Graham O’Neill, my maternal grandfather. It wasn’t wasn’t until he had died that I knew his first name was John as he always went by his middle name of Graham. ‘Granddad’ as I knew him always had personalized Christmas cards printed each year and below the holiday text was his name “J. Graham O’Neill.” When I was younger I wondered what his first name might be and imagined that it must have been something quite terrible in order for him to think using Graham was better.

My grandfather was the first child of William Emmett O’Neill, an insurance salesman, and Margaret Graham. He was born on 26 June 1895 in a house on Claremont Avenue (now Claremont Street) in the Trinity Bellwoods district of Toronto, Ontario. He would be joined in 1896 and 1898 respectively by his sisters Kathleen (who in later years became Sister St. Edwin in the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph) and Avila.

According to my mother, sometime in his younger days, my Grandfather lost his left eye when a dart inadvertently was misthrown. I never asked Granddad about his eye, purely out of politeness. As a result, when other young men and likely many of his friends were enlisting to fight in World War 1, Granddad was left on the sidelines.

My grandfather married my grandmother, Gertrude Ellen Foley, on 23 June 1926. According to a newspaper article from 25 June 1926, their wedding reception was held at the home of my grandmother’s parents. and my grandfather gave his bride a gift of a white gold wristwatch. Following the reception, my grandparents headed off on a honeymoon trip to Rochester, New York, then to Cleveland, Ohio and finally to Detroit Michigan. When they returned home after the trip, they lived in the home they received as a gift from my grandmother’s father (John Foley) at 189 Pickering Street.

J. Graham O’Neill was a sports fan and a raconteur. I loved listening to his stories, hearing about the city of Toronto as my grandfather experienced it at the turn of the 20th century and listening to his anecdotes about the many people he had come to meet and know well. I think to my mother, her father’s stories were too fantastic to be taken seriously but as I researched my grandfather over the years I have only been able uncover evidence that his stories were all based in truth.

Some of my most cherished memories involve my grandfather and sports. He regularly took me to ‘old’ Maple Leaf Stadium to watch the International League Toronto Maple Leafs baseball team games featuring a team that baseball Hall of Famer Sparky Anderson played for and managed. Maple Leaf Stadium, with it’s multi-billboard outfield fence, was located on the shore of Lake Ontario. From the stands, I would watch the game and if we were there over the Labour Day weekend, it was a great venue for watching the annual Canadian National Exhibition air show. I soon learned that if I went to the top row of the stadium, I could look out onto Fort York, the historic site from which soldiers defended Canada so many years earlier.

I also owe some of my love for hockey to my grandfather. You see, my parents really were not hockey fans, so on Saturday night, “Hockey Night in Canada,” I would walk the two houses over to my grandfather’s house and watch the games of my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs, winners of multiple Stanley Cups in those days. Granddad always sat in his deep green armchair while I occupied the matching green sofa under the front window. My placement on the sofa was somewhat strategic on my grandfather’s part as he knew that I usually would not be to stay awake until the end of the game, so the sofa became my bed.

I really wish I had taken the time to talk to my grandfather more about the changes he witnessed in his lifetime throughout the 20th century. Most regrettably though I wish I had told him that he was going to be a great-grandfather. My late wife, Karen and I found out in early December 1979 that we were expecting our first child. We decided to wait until Christmas to tell our immediate families. My grandfather passed away a week later on December 10, 1979 before I could tell him the news. I still wish that I had made that telephone call to him to share the news and swear him to secrecy. His first great grandchild that I never got to tell him about was named John Graham, partly in tribute to him.

Even in death, J. Graham O’Neill was making stories to endure when the hearse carrying his remains got separated from the funeral procession and was lost for several long minutes in the streets of Toronto while on the way to Mount Hope Cemetery and my grandfather’s final resting place. He would have loved that and told the story to all who would listen, repeatedly.

52 Ancestors Sunday: John Foley (1863-1927)

Amy Johnson Crow of the Nor 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, on a weekly basis and usually one of my direct ancestors, sharing what I know about the person and perhaps more importantly, what I don’t know.

I am going to start with my favourite ancestor, one of my maternal great grandfathers, John Foley.

One of the catalysts to my family research research was the death of my maternal grandfather. He was unfortunately for me the last possible link to someone who knew John Foley and might have been able to tell me about him. As a result, all I know about John Foley comes from family stories and the many records I have found that document his life and death.



According to his gravestone, John Foley was born February 16, 1864 and died January 13, 1927. He died before my mother or any of her siblings were born. His gravestone also records that he was the husband of Annie McElroy (born May 5, 1864; died March 5, 1950). The gravestone is located in Mount Hope Cemetery in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

My mother told me that John Foley was a wealthy and successful businessman – a teamster and developer who built homes. According to the family story, John Foley was from Barrie, Ontario and that he had been orphaned at a young age. According to the family story, John died suddenly in Florida having gone there to sell some land he owned. The family story also holds that John could neither read nor write but that he had learned to sign his name, a necessity for business purposes.

John Foley’s birth pre-dates civil registration in the Province of Ontario, Canada (civil registration commenced in 1869). As a result, it took some time and a fair amount of tedious digging to find his baptism registration. The family story was correct in that John Foley was from the Barrie, Ontario area. According to his baptism registration, he was born on February 16, 1863 (note that this is one year earlier than the date on his gravestone) and he was baptized at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Roman Catholic Church in Barrie on February 21, 1863. In the church baptismal register his surname is misspelled as ‘Froley.’ (Source: Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Roman Catholic Church (Barrie, Simcoe, Ontario, Canada), Ontario Roman Catholic Church Records, Page 71, No. 706, Birth and Baptismal Record for John Foley (misspelled as ‘Froley’ in register); digital image, Family Search (www.familysearch.org : digital image 21 January 2012).

In the 1871 Census of Canada, John can be found living with his parents and siblings in Barrie, Ontario. However, in the 1881 Census of Canada, John is found living in Vespra, near Barrie, with three of his siblings. His parents cannot be found in the census records lending credence to the story of John having been orphaned at a ‘young’ age. Further research found that John’s father, William Foley had died in 1880. I have been unable to find John Foley in the 1891 Census of Canada.

By 1894, things were going much better for John. The banns were read so that on April 25, 1894 John married Mary Jane Fitzgerald at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Toronto. The marriage was recorded both in the church’s marriage register and with the province. The local newspaper, the Toronto Evening Star (as it was then called, now the Toronto Daily Star) even contained a small story in the next day’s edition about the wedding stating, “Mr. John Foley and Miss Fitzgerald were quietly married yesterday evening in St. Joseph’s church, Leslie street, by Father Fagan [it was actually Father William Bergin who officiated at the marriage]. After the ceremony an adjournment was made to the residence of the bride’s parents, Brooklin avenue, where supper was served and the happy couple received the congratulations of their friends.”

By 1899, things were going well for John and Mary. They had a home at 25 Blong Avenue where they were raising their three children, two boys and a girl. However, that all came crashing to a halt when on April 9, 1899, following a three week illness, Mary Jane died at the age of only 31 of septic poisoning. John’s youngest child, my grandmother Gertrude, had turned one year of age only a couple of weeks earlier.

Eventually John Foley was able to once again bounce back from his tragic loss and on October 14, 1903, John married Annie Teresa McElroy, a native of Thornhill, Ontario. John became a father for the fourth time in 1905 when his third son, and only child with his wife Annie, John Joseph ‘Jack’ Foley was born.

John and Annie settled with the four children into the biggest house on their street in Toronto’s east end and remained there until John was in his 60’s. John retired and he and Annie then did what we would call ‘downsize’ when they moved to 249 Queensdale Avenue in Toronto. It was at this residence that a ‘bon voyage’ party, complete with a small orchestra, was held prior to the start of John and Annie’s 1927 trip that commenced on January 4th. 

John Foley died on January 13, 1927 in Los Angeles, California. His remains were returned to Toronto where his funeral mass and internment took place on January 18, 1927.

John Foley left an estate valued, at current values, of more than $1 million.

I have no photos of John but would love to receive one. I have an image in my mind of my great grandfather and I am certain that there were likely many photos taken of John and his family members. I just don’t know where they might be and those family members I have asked, don’t seem to know either.



Fun With the 1921 Census of Canada?? Finding the Foley and Gaull Families

Well, the day finally arrived. The images of the 1921 Census of Canada became available through Ancestry.ca yesterday at 2:00 p.m. EDT and I immediately began the process of searching for family members.

Ancestry is working on a nominal index for the census records but that searchable index is estimated to not be available for about two or three months. In the interim, the 1921 Census of Canada images are available indexed on a geographic basis. Ancestry describes this geographic index this way, “For the 1921 census, each province was divided into census districts. These districts were divided into sub-districts. Districts were roughly equivalent to electoral districts, cities, and counties. Sub-districts were typically towns, townships, and city wards.”

As my paternal Hadden family members did not arrive in Canada until 1923, I focused on finding my maternal Foley ancestors. I knew that one of my maternal great grandfathers, John Foley and his family lived on Pickering Street in the east end of Toronto.

I chose the Province of Ontario and the Toronto East district. This provided me with a list of 70 sub-districts to choose between, including the inmates of the Toronto ‘Don’ Jail. Some of the sub-districts had geographic boundary descriptions, in rather fine print, that assisted me in eliminating them from my search. I also grew up on Pickering Street so I know all the various street names in the neighborhood. Nothing seemed to match; nothing seemed to be even remotely close geographically. 

Convincing myself that I was simply misreading or misunderstanding the sub-district listing, I began browsing through the images of the Toronto East sub-districts. No, I had been correct. The enumerated streets were in Toronto’s east end but still quite a distance from Pickering Street.

A moment before I was about to inform Ancestry that they had forgotten to upload my great grandparent’s sub-district, I took a moment of forced calm to again review the available district list. At the bottom of the list I found York East  and scrolling the the sub-district listing I saw street names attached to sub-district 37 that were from my old neighborhood.

Finally, in sub-district 39, I found Pickering Street!

Listed on page 17 of the sub-district census record, living at 96 Pickering Street, was my great grandfather John Foley, his second wife Annie (nee McElroy), and three of his children – Gerald (my namesake misidentified in the census record as Clarence (Clarence was married and was found living in his own home at 9 Pickering Street), my then 23-year old grandmother Gertrude, and John Joseph Foley.


All of the frustration in locating known family members dissolved  But who else was living in the area?

Scanning through the census pages, I found George Gaull, my paternal Hadden great grandmother’s brother. George was a driving influence in my family’s decision to settle in Toronto’s east end after their immigration from Scotland and a few years of farming in Saskatchewan. George and his wife Mary (nee Coulson) can be found living at 67 Pickering Street, a house from which he operated his grocery store. With them was their one-year old son George Leonard ‘Lenny’ Gaull as well as George senior’s sister Elsie Findlater and brother William Fowler Gaull. I knew that Elsie had lived in Toronto for some time before returning ‘home’ to Scotland but I was unaware that William Gaull had joined his siblings in Canada. According to the record, William arrived in Canada in 1920 and in 1921, he was working as a labourer at a lumber yard, perhaps the lumber yard that was located just a few blocks away from their house.


Patience, something I don’t possess a lot of at times, ruled the day. If you are going to search images that are not yet indexed, it can handy to pack a little extra patience in your tool box.

The Wedding of My Maternal Grandparents – J. Graham O’Neill and Gertrude Ellen Foley

I have many fond memories of my maternal grandparents, John Graham O’Neill and Gertrude Ellen Foley. I was their first grandchild and grew up living just two doors away from their home. My grandmother, Nana as I referred to her, spoiled me, not that I’m complaining.  My maternal grandmother died when I was seven years old and my grandfather when I was 24 years old. I therefore only knew them in their twilight years. It is hard for me to picture them as children, teenagers or even young adults for to me as a child, they were old.

I’m certain that photos exist somewhere, held by someone, of my grandparents’ wedding but I have never seen one. So it was especially helpful when I was finally able to discover a small article contained in the Toronto Star newspaper (June 25, 1926 edition, page 24) that described the marriage of my grandparents, J. Graham O’Neill and Gertrude Ellen Foley. 

I have searched for newspaper articles about family members for many years, typically relying on a surname as the search term in the local newspaper database. This approach can lead to long and tedious hours of examining multiple search term hits that are not related to my family members. I was successful this time however for two reasons: one, I used the surname Foley for my search rather than the O’Neill surname I had previously been using. As it turned out the article about my grandparents wedding consistently misspells the O’Neill surname as “O’Niel” so my prior searches for the surname skipped over this article. Two,   knowing their date of marriage, I was able to narrow the timeframe for my search, allowing me to search all sections of the newspaper without worrying about receiving an overwhelming number of results.

So here is my transcription of the small article that details my grandparents’ wedding:

O’NIEL – FOLEY 


St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church was the scene of a smart June wedding on Wednesday when Miss Gertrude Ellen Foley, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Foley, became the bride of Mr. John Graham O’Niel, son of the late N. J. O’Niel. The ceremony was performed by the Rev. Father Armstrong, while during the signing of the register Mrs. Summerfell sang ‘O Salutaris’ and an Ave Maria. The bride wore an attractive frock of peach georget with hat to match, while her bridesmaid, Miss Mary McCormack, was in powder blue georget with hat to match. The bride carried a shower of Ophelin roses, while her attendant carried Columbia roses. The groom was supported by Mr. John Hammall. Following the ceremony a reception was held at the home of the bride’s parents on Queensdale boulevard, where Mrs. Foley and Mrs. O’Niel received with the bridal party. The former wore a becoming gown of cocoa brown crepe, while Mrs. O’Niel was in black crepe. The groom’s gift to his bride was a white gold wrist watch, to the bridesmaid a silver mesh bag, to the best man monogrammed green gold cuff links. Following the reception Mr. and Mrs. O’Niel left on a honeymoon trip to Rochester, Cleveland and Detroit. Upon their return they will establish their home at 189 Pickering street, the house being the gift of the bride’s father.

Some final observations: I’m uncertain as to who authored the article. I doubt that it was submitted by a family member due to the O’Neill surname misspelling. Also, my grandfather’s father was not N. J. O’Niel (or O’Neill) but rather William Emmett O’Neill, who had died two years before this wedding. The term ‘georget’ was also misspelled  as it should have been ‘georgette.’ And finally, the last line of the article confirmed a family story that the house at 189 Pickering Street in Toronto was a wedding gift to my grandparents from my great grandfather John Foley. It was also the house that I lived in with my parents for the first nine and one half years of my life.

The Importance of Being Lewis

There are some names in families that are carried on generation after generation. Following some of my more recent posts about Lewis Fitzgerald, one of my maternal second great grandfathers, I was reminded by my cousin, and author, Pamela Gaull, that Lewis is also an important name in my paternal family.


So I decided to check my genealogy database on the number of individuals named Lewis and their relation to me. Currently, I have 12,660 individuals in my database covering both my ancestral family and that of my wife. Using the custom report feature in RootsMagic 5, I found 36 men who were named Lewis. Interestingly enough, I found that there is an even split of the Lewis name between my wife’s family and mine; eighteen men named Lewis in my Hadden family tree and eighteen men named Lewis in Ellen’s Wagner family tree.

There are different versions of the origin of the name Lewis offered on the Internet. Two of the more popular origin versions indicate that the name derives from a Scandinavian word meaning ‘famous warrior’ or ‘glorious ruler.’ I suspect my father, who is a Lewis, would be happy enough with that, particularly as the alternate origin suggested is that the name is from a Norwegian word, Ljodhhus, apparently meaning ‘sounding house,’ a place where men who took the depth of the sea were housed.

As stated previously, Lewis was an important name in my ancestral family. My father is a Lewis, named after an uncle named Lewis. I was named after a Lewis in my mother’s family, Lewis Fitzgerald Foley, although you won’t find Lewis in my name. Lewis Fitzgerald Foley was commonly known as Gerald Foley, so I was given the Gerald name.

My third great grandfather was Lewis McKenzie, a crofter in 19th century Cluny, Aberdeen, Scotland. His father, my fourth great grandfather, was also named Lewis McKenzie, an inn keeper and farmer at Old Mill, Coull, Aberdeen, Scotland. In fact, my family tree contains six men named Lewis McKenzie. I am directly descended from three men named Lewis while the remaining fifteen men are uncles or cousins.

It seems that until you really look at the popularity of a name in your family, it can easily go unnoticed, possibly due to the spread of time and generations.


Gertrude Ellen (Foley) O’Neill


Exactly 50 years ago today, on Friday, July 13, 1962, Gertrude Ellen O’Neill (nee Foley), my grandmother, passed away in Toronto, Ontario.


‘Gertie’, as her husband J. Graham O’Neill always called her, was born in 1898. The exact date of her birth is somewhat of a mystery. The baptismal register for St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Toronto, signed by a Father McEntee, does not list a date of birth but rather lists her date of baptism as March 16th. The civil registration (available through Ancestry.ca), signed by her father John Foley , lists the date of birth as April 16th but the genealogical extract, prepared by the Office of the Registrar-General in Ontario for me in 1985, again lists March 16th. Her marriage registration, death registration, obituary and gravestone do not list a date of birth at all. John Foley was reputed to be illiterate, but had been taught to sign his name for business purposes, and may not have fully recognized the error in the information he was attesting.

Gertrude’s mother, Mary Jane (nee Fitzgerald) Foley, died a few days after Gertrude, or “Nana” as I knew her, turned one year of age. Four years later, John Foley re-married, this time to Annie McElroy. It appears that life was good for Gertrude and her brothers Gerald and Clarence as their father’s contracting business flourished. They lived in the largest house on their street and when Gertrude married my grandfather in 1926, the wedding gift from her father was a house that she actually turned down, convincing her father to provide the house instead to her new in-laws, William and Margaret O’Neill. Later, after the deaths of both William and Margaret, the house came back to Gertrude and her husband Graham. It then became my parent’s home and thus the house in which I was raised.

Gertrude had numerous medical problems including diabetes, a heart condition, and near the end, likely cancer. Conveniently, my mother was a registered nurse and we lived two doors away, which in Toronto’s east end meant our front door was about forty feet away from Gertrude and Graham’s front door so my mother made at least daily visits to administer her mother’s insulin injections. It was very convenient as well for me as Gertrude’s first and eldest grandchild and therefore the ‘one who could do no wrong.’

On Friday, July 13, 1962, I was in the kitchen of my best friend Bob Dobson’s house, directly across the street from my house, when my mother returned from the hospital. My friend Bob heard the news first. He stopped, looked at me and asked if I had heard. I hadn’t heard anything but then immediately heard my mother calling across the street, explaining to Bob’s parents, Eunice and Jack Dobson who sat on their front porch, that ‘Nana’ had died.

Some family memories are indelible.


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.