Sara “Sadie” Donnelly was my 2nd great-grandmother on my father’s side of the family, and married my 2nd great-grandfather John Michael Reilly. Sadie and John had four children together, only three of whom survived infancy. Madeline, Arlington and Lawrence lived long lives into their eighties, while their daughter Helen died as an infant. I don’t have the death certificate yet, so don’t know the cause of death. She was only fourteen months old at the time of her death in 1900.1
When their youngest, Lawrence, was a year old, John committed suicide by jumping off a ferry in Brooklyn harbor after he had been terminated from his job. According to the newspaper article, his body was not found, but he left behind his hat on the deck of the boat near where they though he went overboard. This act left Sadie to raise their three children without him.2
Over the course of the next several years, the children would alternately live with Sadie or with their paternal grandparents, Michael and Mary Reilly.
In 1905, according to the New York State Census, all three children are recorded as living at their grandparents’ home at 136 Bedford in Brooklyn. Sadie has not been located in the 1905 New York Status Census, so her location at this time is unknown. 3
In 1910, we start to find some mystery in Sadie’s life, as no living family has knowledge of these next events. Not even my grandfather, when he was still alive, knew this about his grandmother.
Sadie is listed in the 1910 Federal Census, she is listed as Sadie Baldwin, and married to Nelson Baldwin for one year. It is listed as her second marriage and his first. Living with them in the home at 176 Division Avenue is Arlington and an infant, Nelson Baldwin Jr. At the time of the census, Nelson Jr. is a month old.4 Madeline and Lawrence are living with their grandparents (though Madeline is listed as Margaret in the census that year. 5
A month after the census was taken, Nelson Jr. passed away at 2 months old. He died at home at 19 Lee Avenue, Brooklyn, which around the corner from the home they had been in just the month earlier. This is one example of the many locations Sadie lived in while trying to raise her kids in Brooklyn. Nelson Jr.’s cause of death is listed as “Inanition asthema. Child anaemic from birth due to artificial feeding.” Inanition is the medical term for exhaustion due to malnourishment.[enf_note]New York City Department of Records & Information Services; New York City, New York; New York City Death Certificates; Borough: Brooklyn; Year: 1910. Certificate 15850 [/efn_note]
The Nelsons were completely unknown to the Reilly family up until the discovery of the census and death certificate. Later in her life, Sadie did not talk about her second husband or the son that she lost as an infant.
In 1915, her husband Nelson Baldwin was no longer living with her and she had reverted to using her first married surname, Reilly. In the New York State Census of that year, she had moved again, this time to 469 Rogers Avenue, and was living with Arlington.6 That year, Madeline and Lawrence are again living with their paternal grandparents.7
In 1920, only Madeline can be located in the Federal Census that year. She’s living with her paternal grandparents. Sadie, Arlington and Lawrence have not been located in the census records.8
In 1925, Sadie reappeared in the New York State Census and was living with Madeline and Arlington at 103-39 106th Street in Ozone Park, Queens.9. Lawrence had married at this point, and was also living in Ozone Park with his wife Ethel, and son Lawrence, at 101-12 110th Street.10
In 1930, she was living at 76-11 101st Street in Ozone Park with Arlington.11
In 1940, she and Arlington had moved again and were living at 108-02 103rd Street in Ozone Park.12
Sadie worked most of her adult life for the New York subway system as a token collector. My grandfather would tell stories of going to visit her in her toll booth to bring her lunch or dinner. She lived long enough that my father knew her as a child/teen, as he was fourteen when she passed away on September 2, 1960 in Levittown, New York. She was buried at St. Charles Cemetery in East Farmingdale, New York.13
So in her life, Sadie lost two husbands – one to suicide, one to reasons unknown. She lost an infant daughter and son. She moved frequently, often not even living with her three surviving children. Her second husband Nelson Baldwin and son disappeared in time, unknown to her descendants.