I am always curious about how others solve a long-standing problem, so I’d like to share my recent experience.
A few weeks ago I had a remarkable breakthrough on my Baldwin line. Some Massachusetts town records were put on Ancestry.com and I managed, for the first time, to find the 1933 death record of my mother’s great aunt Hattie Baldwin Clapp. The death record listed her father’s place of birth as Townsend, Massachusetts. I knew he was born in Massachusetts, but never knew the town.
Here is the progression of how Edward Baldwin’s background came to light.
What I knew
- I knew through family lore, obituaries, and marriage records that my great grandfather Miles Edward Baldwin was born in Belmont, Allegany County, New York. I gradually pieced together that Miles had three siblings, only one of whom, Aunt Hattie, was a full sibling. The other two siblings were children of their mother Catherine’s by a previous marriage.
- I knew that Miles and Hattie’s father was named Edward Baldwin. Their mother is sometimes referred to as Catherine Youngs and sometimes Catherine Spaulding. I have never found birth records for Miles and Hattie; to the best of my knowledge there are none.
- The first actual evidence I found of Edward was a poorly crafted 1860 federal census record for Belmont (“Amity”) New York. I had to go page by page to find this “Baldin” record.
- From this record, I learned that Edward Baldwin was born in Massachusetts. I spent the next two years gradually narrowing down my guess to Worcester and Middlesex counties based on subsequent events in the lives of the various family members. Catherine married for the third time in 1870. So I knew they were divorced, or he died, by then.
Things that threw me off the track
- In the standard “Baldwin Genealogy from 1500 to 1881” by Charles Candee Baldwin, and his Supplement, there are dozens of Edward Baldwins. On two occasions I went through them all. The book is also divided into branches; in the end my branch turned out to be the Billerica branch. I had wandered through the Billerica and Woburn branches, but nothing seemed right. As it turns out, he is mentioned in the book, but is incorrectly referred to as Edmund.
- Once in a while, one of the descendants would indicate that Edward was born in New York State. And given the poor quality of that entire Amity, New York 1860 census enumeration, I hated to rely on its indication of “Massachusetts”. After all, the enumerator missed, or wasn’t told, that Catherine was born in England. Plus, many Baldwin branches are from Connecticut. So, I wasted time on other states.
What solved it
- This is from Aunt Hattie’s 1933 death record:
- I still haven’t found a birth record for Edward (not surprisingly, because I think I would have found that long ago). But what I did find in Townsend was a young couple, Eli and Polly Baldwin, who both died very young; Edward at 29 and Polly at 33. In their brief marriage they had two children, Catherine (coincidentally) and Edward. The Middlesex County Probate index [through NEHGS, membership may be required] cited some guardianship records, so off I went to the NEHGS to see that on microfilm. It wasn’t a smoking gun, exactly, but pointed to which of Polly’s siblings the children went to. I’m following up on all the relatives.
- Why do I think Eli and Polly may be the parents? Several reasons:
- Polly’s maiden name is Spaulding, and in fact Townsend is filled with Spauldings. I don’t know what to make of that, but it sounds like a clue to me.
- Edward and Catherine (wife) had 2 children, Miles and Harriet. Polly has 8 siblings. Two of them are named Miles and Harriet. Harriet never married, and eventually had (sister) Catherine living with her. Miles was an up and coming doctor, who became quite wealthy, and is buried in Townsend.
- Eli was paid by the town of Townsend for making 2 caskets in 1831 [Vital Records of Townsend, NEHGS database – membership may be required]. In 1860, Edward was a lumber planer. The skills couldn’t have been handed down directly, since the father died when Edward was a baby, but it seems vaguely appropriate.
- Edward’s life was, I suspect, short and chaotic. Born in Massachusetts, married to a divorced woman, living in poverty and working at a lumber mill in western New York by age 27, back in Massachusetts eventually, possibly dying an obscure death at a young age … it does not surprise me at all to think he may have been an orphan.
The clues I missed
- I always tried to make a connection between the last names of Miles and Baldwin, given that I knew one of the children was named Miles. I even, through searching, managed to quantify the appearance of those last names in an 1830 census collection, town by town in Massachusetts. In that scenario, the town with the most Baldwins/Miles turned out to be Gardner, Mass and nearby Baldwinville. As it turns out, those are only about 10 miles from Townsend, but searching in those exact locations didn’t turn anything up. WHAT I MISSED was that there was a connection between that mysterious “extra” maiden name of the wife, “Spaulding”, and Baldwin. I never thought of that. WHAT I ALSO MISSED is that he could have been named for someone with the first name of Miles.
- I knew (wife) Catherine remarried in Sterling, Mass in 1870, so she must have been divorced or widowed. I never tried hard enough to find a death record for Edward during the period 1860-1870 in Massachusetts. WHAT I MISSED was a record for an Edward Baldwin who died sometime during February, 1867, in Northbridge, Mass. No details at all are given in the town record so clearly whoever this was was not well known there. Even though this was in my “guess” counties, I never found it. Frankly, it all seems so mysterious, I wonder if I may find a newspaper article somewhere.
Lots of things I still don’t know
- Where did Catherine (the wife) come from? Was she an English orphan, adopted by some Spauldings? Did she meet and marry her first husband, with the utterly common name of William Bennett, near Townsend, and head off to western NY?
- Did Edward follow her out there? I know Catherine and William Bennett divorced, because their son lists him as alive in an 1890 document. Was their relationship the cause of Catherine’s divorce from Bennett, or did he come out to help her pick up the pieces after the divorce? Or, did he wander west on his own, and met her for the first time? Why does my family story always sound like a soap opera?
- Did Edward have family out in Belmont?
- When and why did they return to Massachusetts? Was Edward trying to avoid the draft, perhaps? I see no evidence that he served in the Civil War.
I suspect further research into all the siblings of Eli and Polly, some local newspaper research, exploring the cemeteries in Townsend and some research in Belmont, NY, will, somewhere, somehow, provide a direct link between this new theory and the parts of the story that I know. But I’m not sure I will ever pin down the death of Edward Baldwin, for sure.
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