First, Happy St. Patrick’s Day! A day described by some as a time when everyone is either Irish or wants to be!
It is a day when I immediately think of my own Irish ancestry. Specifically, my maternal ancestry.
When I began researching my family history, it seemed that ethnic ancestry was easily described as my maternal ancestry was Irish and Roman Catholic whereas my paternal ancestry was Scottish and not Roman Catholic.
I discovered eventually, through many hours over many years of research, that my maternal ancestry was Irish with a good dose of Scottish blood and that my paternal ancestry was Scottish with a good dose of Irish blood. Things are not always as simple as first presented.
My mother often regaled me with stories of her maternal grandfather. A man named John Foley whom it was claimed lead a rags to riches life. John died, so my mother told me, in 1927 in Florida on a business trip. He died before my mother was born so she didn’t know him but she did love to pass on the stories she no doubt heard from her mother.
Finding John Foley’s grave in Toronto’s Mount Hope Cemetery was the easy part and as a bonus, the family had ‘set in stone’ his dates of birth and death for me. Being set in stone meant according to most dictionaries that the dates were firm, immutable, permanent and unchangeable. As seen below, John gravestone states that he was born February 16, 1864 and that he died on January 13, 1927.
As I researched my great grandfather’s life, I discovered that he died not in Florida as I had been told but rather in Los Angeles, California. His trip in January 1927 was not for business but rather it was a vacation. The State of California, various newspaper articles, and John Foley’s estate file all confirmed his date and place of death. But what of his birth?
John was born in what is now Ontario, Canada. He was born in pre-confederation Canada, at a time when there was no civil registration requirement for births. Therefore, there was no birth registration to be found. So I turned to the census records.
John can be found first in the 1871 Census of Canada recorded as being 8 years old and living with his parents William Foley and Bridget (McTeague) Foley in Barrie, Ontario. Both William and Bridget are recorded as being born in Ireland. Also in the household were John’s three brothers and two sisters. John is recorded as being the youngest of the four boys.
Based on that 1871 census, John was born about 1863. In the next census, that of 1881, John is recorded as being 18 years old, so again a birth year of about 1863. Unfortunately, John is (at least thus far) no where to be found in the 1891 census. However, in the 1901 census, John is recorded as being a widower (his wife, my great grandmother, Mary Jane Fitzgerald had died on April 9, 1899) living with his three young children along with a housekeeper and her two children. His date of birth is recorded as April 1865. The 1911 census records John’s date of birth again as April 1865, and finally in the 1921 census, John is recorded as being 56 years of age from which can be calculated a year of birth of about 1865.
Fortunately FamilySearch has posted the Roman Catholic Church records for numerous parishes in Ontario covering the period of 1760-1923 (there is no index available but images can be browsed which can be a lengthy but in my case rewarding bit of research) and so it was that I discovered John’s baptismal register record in the records of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Roman Catholic Church in Barrie, Ontario. The baptismal register misspelled the family surname as ‘Froley’ but provided me with what I believe is the first recording of John’s February 16, 1863 date of birth.
Even when the dates of your ancestors appear to be ‘set in stone’, nothing can be taken for granted until all the evidence is in.