The Baldwin Family Mystery

New York Subway Map, CIrca 1918, Library of Congress
New York Subway Map, CIrca 1918, Library of Congress


My 2nd great-grandmother Sadie Donnelly Reilly was a nickle-snatcher – a subway token clerk in New York City.  She was raising three children in Brooklyn, the youngest of whom as 2 years old when her husband disappeared.  John Reilly was riding the ferry one day when he allegedly fell overboard.  No body was ever recovered, and he was declared dead, leaving Sadie to raise their children alone.

Arlington, Madeline and Lawrence were raised by their mother, with the help of her parents, Michael and Elizabeth Reilly.  Sadie had given birth to two other daughters, Helen and Arlene, but neither survived infancy.

In the 1910 Federal Census, Sadie is listed as the wife of Nelson Baldwin, and has taken his last name.  Living in the house with them is an infant named Nelson, and her son Arlington, who is listed as Nelson’s step-son.  Madeline and Lawrence are listed in the census as living with their grandparents in another household.  But by the 1915 New York Census, and later the 1920 Federal Census, Sadie is listed as a Reilly again, and a widow, living with one combination of one or more of her children – no Nelson Baldwin or infant son.

According to my grandfather and my father – both of whom knew my 2nd great grandmother – she claimed to have never remarried after her husband’s death.  She only talked of having five children, two of whom did not survive infancy.  It’s as if the Nelsons Baldwin had never existed.  The 1910 census listing is certainly her, as how many Sadies could have been living with a son named Arlington Reilly who was the right age and living in the right city.

So who is Nelson Baldwin?  Why was Sadie living with him?  Were they really married, and was the infant Nelson Baldwin really her son?  Did he survive infancy?  Did both Nelsons die?  Was it too tragic for her to want to remember them?  Was she living with Nelson and helping to care for his son by a first deceased wife?  Where did the Nelsons Baldwin go?  Why did she never mention them later in life?

Word Count: 347

Running Total: 2411

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