The Irish Orphan

Louis and Charlotte Foley-Poulin, Circa 1857

In my husband’s family, legend has had it for years that, although their last name is “Foley”, they are not actually Irish because my husband’s Grandpa Foley was adopted.

I never bought it.

You see, one look at my husband’s boisterous clan will convince you that there has to be at least some Irish in them. Besides, who’s to say that just because Grandpa Foley was adopted that he wasn’t Irish himself? And why in the world would an Irish family adopt, when they usually have so many kids in the first place?  So when my dad introduced me to, one of my first quests was to prove once and for all that my husband, and thus my children, had Irish genes. And I did.

Louis Foley, my husband’s great-great-great grandfather, was born in about 1800. When he was 17 years old, he and his family set sail to Canada. It was common for the Irish to immigrate to Canada during that time, as the fare was much cheaper, and the Irish were notoriously poor. Unfortunately, the waters were much more treacherous further North, and shipwrecks were also very common. This ship that carried Louis and his family shipwrecked off the coast of Nova Scotia. Louis was the only one of his family who survived. He was alone, at 17, in a strange country. He somehow ended up in Quebec, working for a man with the last name of Poulin, which was a name of fairly high status in Quebec at that time. When he was nineteen, he desperately wanted to marry a young woman (my husband thinks he probably knocked her up, but I prefer to think he fell head over heals in love) named Charlotte Ganthier, whose family was also of very high status, but he didn’t have the name or means to marry her. He begged his employer to adopt him and give him his name, and his employer did. So he became Louis Foley Poulin. However, when the children started coming, he insisted that they all have the last name of Foley. Louis and Charlotte’s son, William, named his son after Louis. That Louis Foley was the father of James William Foley, who is the father of my father-in-law, James Foley Jr.

So there was some truth in the family legend, but it got a little muddled in the retelling over the generations, as family stories often do. There is also a legend that Grandpa Foley had Native American genes, which I have also discovered is accurate, but I need to do a little more research.

The thing that fascinates me the most while I explore our family’s history is the young people who single-handedly brought an entire branch of family to this country. My ancestor, Ada. My husband’s ancestor, Louis. Both of them were 17, the same age as my older son is now. I can’t imagine my son traveling all by himself from Nova Scotia to Quebec — I wring my hands and pace the floor when he’s driving by himself across town. And yet, the entire branch of my husband’s name comes from this one 17-year old boy. And the entire branch of my mother’s maiden name comes from a 17 year old girl who sailed across the ocean all by herself. It boggles my mind and inspires me, which is probably why I’ve become so addicted to genealogy and the stories still waiting to be uncovered.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. coffeegirl88
    Mar 17, 2011 @ 15:53:49

    My mind boggles at how much was done by so many young people in our pasts. My maternal grandfather was abandoned when he was like 13 and he took care of himself for a couple weeks before a neighbor took him in. My paternal grandmother was married and pregnant by the time she was 15.

    Sounds like you’ve been have much fun and luck with Wish I was having half your luck.

  2. Jennerosity
    Mar 18, 2011 @ 03:59:12

    I’m also envious of your genealogical findings. It’s something I’d love to have the time to investigate with my family. However, my own family is German and since I don’t read German, it’s been a pretty big disincentive to starting. I wouldn’t mind doing some research on my husband’s line or my step-family too. However, in both cases there is an amateur genealogist who has done a bunch of ‘research’ that is largely without document support. So, it’s just as well that I don’t have the time since I’d largely be running into brick walls or upsetting apple carts.

  3. msryry
    Oct 03, 2014 @ 10:27:03

    I am currently working on my family tree on ancestry and I believe Louis Foley is my 4th great grandfather. I’m trying to figure out the names and such since I seem to find that their children are either Poulins or Foleys. I think you can see my tree, the link is . It is quite large but digging up the Foley side will bring you to Louis and Charlotte.

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