Visiting My Ancestral Homelands (Part 1)

I have just returned from two weeks away in Scotland and Ireland, my ancestral homelands.

But first, I should point out that this was not a ‘genealogy trip.’ I did not go to Scotland and Ireland with the intent of conducting any research. Rather, the purpose of the trip was to visit family and friends.

The trip to Scotland was primarily a chance to visit with my youngest daughter, Jenna, who is completing her Masters degree at the University of Aberdeen. It just so happens that Aberdeen is that part of Scotland that my Hadden ancestors lived in for many generations before my great-grandfather, Alexander Shand Hadden, moved his family that included my grandfather John Gaull Hadden to Canada.


My wife Ellen is greeted by Jenna Hadden at the Aberdeen International Airport on April 27, 2015

The trip to Ireland, Dublin specifically, was to visit friends, former neighbours, who had moved back to Ireland after many years living in Canada.

Those purposes were met and the expectations of them exceeded. And admittedly, I did sneak in a little bit of genealogy. In fact, I was encouraged to do more genealogy related research activities but resisted.

Genealogy for me is more than records and documents. It includes experience and the senses. It was enough for me to walk where my ancestors walked, to see the views that they saw, to touch what they touched and smell what they smelled. I can feel somewhat more connected to them having that shared experience.

Our trip did not get off to good start with flight delays on top of flight delays, rescheduled connecting flights that were rescheduled once again from unplanned destinations. Eventually, through the layers of security checks and passport checks and customs questions, we did arrive in Aberdeen, Scotland. And the look of joy and excitement on my daughter’s face at the airport made the journey worth while.

Over the next few posts, I will share some of the sights and highlights of journeying back to my ancestral homelands.

But The Date Is Set In Stone

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.

FOLEY John grave stone Mount Hope Cemetery Sec 20 Lot 360

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.

FOLEY John baptism record 1863 - Copy

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.