Reiley Family History

Revised May 9, 2000

Part I
The Beginning

The history of these first two ancestors who came to this country is the fabric of legend. For that is almost all that survive of those early years. So we begin with one of those legends.

Thomas Reilly, or Reiley, born 1798-1799 in County Cavan, Ireland, was supposedly employed as a gardener on an estate of the Landed Gentry. While on the estate he met Martha Davis, born in 1800, the daughter of the estate owner. They fell in love and were married. Because Martha married beneath her station she was disowned. Whether because of that or other reasons, Thomas and Martha Reiley immigrated to America. Arriving, they end up in Randolph Township in Morris County, New Jersey in an area that will later be called Mine Hill.

From 1831 to 1841 as many as nine children, including possibly two sets of twins, are born to Thomas and Martha. Thomas died "young", probably about 1841, in a railroad accident of some sort, leaving behind a large family. Another legend has it that since his widow was very poor, there was some problem or dispute with the Catholic Church about Thomas' grave or burial, concerning tithes. This is possible as he is reported buried near Madison, New Jersey, several miles from his family residence. At this point, the family supposedly split from the Catholic Church and became Protestant. Actually there are several stories about how we became Protestant, again we just don't know. Martha married a man by the name of Michael Ward before 1845 when she gave birth to Michael's daughter Caroline, "Carrie". She would be widowed again as the 1860 Census lists her as the widow Ward. Supposedly Michael was a good father and husband as the name Ward was used as a given name in other generations.

Another, less prevalent legend states that there were other older children of Thomas born in Ireland who remained with the parents of Thomas. If so, were they Martha's children? Or was Martha the second wife of a widowed Thomas who had children by his first wife? Thomas and Martha were over thirty when their first child of record was born in America. Supposedly the male members of Thomas' first children later immigrated to America by way of Canada and then to the US. For this to be true for the known children of Thomas and Martha, it would mean both Edward and William would have been born in Ireland and Ellen stayed there. Although this would account for the lack of information about Ellen, it would also mean that what is written about the birthplace of these two men would be false. So if that legend is true it is more likely that there are two or more male children of Thomas that have not been identified. It also would mean that there were one or more female siblings who remained in Ireland. If so, nothing is known of them at present, male or female. Why those names have been omitted is hard to understand unless those male children arrived about the time of Thomas' death and if Martha was not their mother.

Poor and widowed with young children of her own, Martha would have had little time for her children's half siblings; especially as they probably would have been young adults. Survival of her immediate family would have been paramount. There would have been a natural estrangement between those Irish born young men and their stepmother and half siblings. Those new immigrants would have little or no memory of Martha and none of her children. Only the presence of Thomas could have forged a link between his first family and that of his second.

There are several stories about how the present spelling of Reiley came about, but they are meager and contradictory. They usually end with the statement that all who spell their name as we do are related. This is not true. Most of those who share our surname spelling are not related to us except in that all Reiley's of any spelling share a common ancestor long ago in Ireland. (There are Reiley's with our spelling in Michigan records before the Civil War. Dating almost as far back as the immigration of Thomas and Martha). There is also a story that the original spelling might have been Reille or Reileau, and that the name is of French origin, possibly arriving in the British Isles during the Norman invasion. Upon their eventual arrival in Ireland the spelling was changed to approximate that of the O'Reilly's of Ireland, evidentally to allow them to fit in better.

Part II
Census For New Jersey

The Census for any area is well known for its misspellings of names and wrong dates. Whether that is the fault of the person working for the Census, an illiterate responder or something else; is immaterial, the truth is spellings and ages cannot be depended upon. They serve as approximations only.

The 1830 Census for Randolph Township lists a Thomas Ryley, a male between 20 and thirty, living in the same residence with a female between 20 and 30. At this time our Thomas would have been 31 or 32, and Martha would have been just thirty; possibily after the time of the Census. Thomas may not even have been home and his young wife may not have wished it to appear that he was as much as ten years older than her. Then again she may have wanted to have appeared younger and reduced both their ages. The area is right as their first child Edward is listed in the Hopkins-Reiley History as being born in Mine Hill with a question mark. That agrees with the fact that in 1831 Mine Hill did not exist and would not for some time. But they probably lived in the area that would become Mine Hill. The 1840 Census for Randolph Township lists Thomas Riley as working in agriculture. It lists one male age 40-50, one female age 40-50, two males 5-10, one female 5-10, two males 0-5 and two females 0-5. This Census accounts for all the listed children of Thomas and Martha except for Martha Davis Reiley II who was born in 1841 and the elusive Charles. The listing for Thomas Ryley that appeared in the 1830 Census is not there in this 1840 Census. Almost certainly a misspelling by the Census taker, one of many by a number of people in the records for our ancestors. Thus Thomas Ryley in 1830 is almost certainly Thomas Riley of 1840.

Here there is a movement from the area that will eventually become Mine Hill, Randolph Township, Morris County; to Drakesville (later Ledgewood) Roxbury Township, Morris County, New Jersey. Perhaps because of her marriage to Michael Ward about 1845.

In the 1850 Census, from Roxbury Township in Morris County, Roxbury is not only were Drakesville is located but also Kenvil. [For the first time in the Census all individuals are listed by name. This Census is dated August 29th. Thomas has been dead as many as nine years.] The listing is for Michael Ward 37 laborer, Martha Ward 50, Edward Riley 18 laborer, William Riley 17 laborer, Thomas Riley 11, Martha Riley 8, Caroline Ward 4 and Catherine Riley 15. Catherine is listed last, a position usually where a servant is listed. But that may have been the result of the census taker's assumption or as an after thought. Ellen and James are not listed. Ellen like Edward was 19 on April 21st of 1850 so she may have been married and in her own home. James absence, who would have been about 13, is a mystery. An apprenticeship is possible but unlikely. More likely he may simply have been missed.

Interestingly our ancestors position on the Census list is separated by only nine names from the family of Nathan Hopkins II that they will in only a few years marry into. Nathan is listed as a hotelkeeper. Those nine names however are listed directly under the names of Nathan's family as part of a single residence. It may be that those names may have been occupants of Nathan's hotel. It is likely that the "hotel" was a rooming house. The names of the Ward family with Riley children are directly below them as a separate residence. Now we know how three Reiley children met and married three children of Nathan Hopkins II and his wife Ann Wilson. For at least five years prior to those marriages they had been next door neighbors.

The Reiley siblings Edward, William and Mary Ann married the Hopkins siblings Sarah Rebecca, Abigail Gertrude and William Emmett. Edward in 1855, William in 1856 and Mary Ann on an unknown date but approximately those same years.

In the 1860 Census of Roxbury Township, we find William Riley 27 boatman, Gertrude 22, and Martha age 2. Nearby, separated by only one residence is Martha Ward Widow 60, Thomas Riley 21 boatman, James Riley 23 boatman, Martha Riley 19 dressmaker, Caroline Riley 15. In this Census we have the return of James, with an error listing Caroline as a Riley instead of a Ward.

This is evidentally a movement within the township as they are no longer next door or even near the Hopkins family.

The Census of 1860 and 1870 list Edward as a boatman. By 1880 he is listed as a "canal collector" in Dover, with his sons Dell and Ray listed as locktenders. Apparently he stayed there for more than twenty years. The place of birth given for Edward's son Ray is Pennsylvania with the older son Dell listed as New Jersey. This indicates that Edward and Family spent some time in Pennsylvania, as early as the Spring of 1872 (after Dell's birth) and as late as 1880 where the Census lists him as a resident of Dover.

This is partially confirmed by the recollection of Lynn Reiley (born 1914) and the eleventh child of Ray. How accurate he was told about something that occurred before his birth is unknown. However, it does make it likely that the move did occur.

By the time of the 1880 Census William and family were living in Stanhope, Byram Township, Sussex County. This is on the west side of the canal reservoir that is now Lake Musconetcong. They are listed as William Riley 47 locktender, Gertrude 41 wife, Harry 19 teamster, Edward 14, Mertie 9, and Waneta 4. This excludes Marnie who was married in 1878 to Moses Brink; it also omits Edward "Ned" 14. This is a repeat of the missing child James from the 1850 Census. Again it is most likely that the census taker missed him.

This is a conflict with the Brinks-Reiley history in which the Brink, Meyer and Reiley families moved to Michigan circa 1878-79. It is more likely that William moved there after 1880 because of letters from his daughter Marnie and her husband Moses Brink.

Part III

Children of Thomas and Martha


Edward and Sarah Rebecca "Becky" have nine children between 1857 and 1875. It is unknown how many survived to adulthood. The only children that we are reasonably knowledgeable about are his first born Arthur Davis who came to Michigan and the last two children Dell and Ray whose descendants we have heard from. The others are basically unknown with only Lizzie Jackman known as dying in Pennsylvania with an unknown date and age. The 1860 Census lists Edward as a Boatman. By 1880 he was listed as a locktender and was joined by his youngest sons Dell and Ray as lock tenders. They are known to have lived in the lock tender's house at Lock 5 East, on the west side of Dover New Jersey. Since all three seem to have been working as lock tenders at the same time, it's possible that they were also associated with Lock 6 East and/or Lock 7 East, both of which were just a short walk away from Lock 5 East. Later those two sons along with their older brother Nelden, become carpenters and still later formed the Reiley Brothers Construction Company. This company was one of those that were involved in the construction of the original Newark Airport. There is also a reference that at least Ray was involved in the Hippodrome construction.


Edward's twin Ellen although accounted for in the 1840 Census is not listed in the 1850 Census. There is a possibility that is worth considering. Edward married Sarah Rebecca Hopkins in November of 1855, a month later, in December, Becky's mother Ann died. The following year in May 1856 William marries Becky's sister Abigail Gertrude Hopkins. Three months later the widowed father of Becky and Gert marries an Ellen, the possibly just pregnant widow of James King. She will later give Nathan Hopkins four children. The first of which is born eight and a half months after her marriage to Nathan. Before Ellen married the now deceased James King her maiden name was Reilly. The mores of the time frowned on single women who lived under the same roof with a single man even if both were widowed with children. Because of this it was not unusual for two people recently widowed and related only by marriage, not by blood to marry to provide a home for the widowed woman and her children. She in return served as stepmother to any young children of the widower while also being housekeeper. Back in 1853 the owner of the house where the Reiley's lived was owned by a "J. King". Was this the James King that an Ellen was married to and later widowed from. Could it be that Edward's twin Ellen married James King the families landlord and then after being widowed, chose the protection provided by marrying the father-in-law of two of her brothers and of one sister? Was this Ellen ours, who may have been the first of the children of Thomas and Martha to marry. If so, that will be a Hopkins line that must be traced.

James and Thomas

The 1860 Census lists James as being twenty-three and Thomas as twenty-one. Both were listed as boatmen living with the widow Martha Ward. Spelling means nothing, as others frequently spelled our ancestor's names as Riley, in some documents the name was spelled three different ways. They were of the right age to have served in the Civil War, with such common given names it will be difficult to trace them. Especially as they may have enlisted in New York not necessarily New Jersey, they probably died from one cause or another during that war.


On June 16, 1861 Martha married Robert Thornton, Jr., in the Succasunna Methodist church. After they were married they lived in a house directly behind (east of) the old hotel in Ledgewood that had been run by Nathan Hopkins. Robert Thornton Jr. was listed in the 1860 and 1870 Census as boatman.

By 1870 Martha and Robert Thornton had four children, two daughters and two sons. Those two sons may have been twins. Besides this family of six, it appears that her mother Martha Ward was at least a sometime resident of the household. In fact her mother Martha Ward appears in the 1870 Census twice; once in the household of Martha and Robert Thornton with an age of 80, but also in the household of Edward and Becky Reiley with an age of 68. She was actually 70 years old.


William was listed in the Hopkins-Reiley Family History as haven been born in Drakesville, Roxbury Township. But the Riley's are listed in both the 1830 and 1840 Census in Randolph Township in the area that will become Mine Hill. Drakesville is not listed as his home until the Census of 1850. With a birthdate of 1833, it would mean either a brief move to Drakesville and back or an error in birthplace. As both Edward, two years his senior and Mary Ann his junior by four years are both listed as being born in the area that would become Mine Hill. What it could mean is the place where he grew up. If his parents moved there prior to Thomas' death just shortly after the 1840 Census then he would have been seven years old. As he remained there until he left home, the conflict in birthplace could have been confusion over where he was born versus where he grew up. If however the move did not occur until after his father's death when his mother married Michael Ward it becomes less understandable as he would have been at least twelve, possibly as much as seventeen, at the time of the move.

William and Abigail Gertrude "Gert" have nine children between 1857 and 1876, but only five survive past the age of five. At some point he becomes a boatman on the canals. During the summer months their son Harry drove mules along the canals towing the canal boats. Harry attended school during the winters in Jersey City. The Census of 1880 lists William as a lock tender in Stanhope and his son Harry as a teamster when he was twenty, how much earlier is uncertain but definitely while school age.

The canals by 1880 were on the decline as they were being supplanted by the railroads. This may have been a large factor in his subsequent move to Michigan. The term "boatman" appears to be a generic term for those who worked aboard the canal barges. What the actual position was for each of these men is not known. However, William seems to have been able to amass a moderate amount of wealth in that profession as he did a considerable investment in his Michigan venture.

The Brink-Reiley History states that he had his own canal boat, whether owner or captain the history doesn't say. But so far there has not been any collaborative evidence, except for the amount of his investment in his relocation to Michigan.

At some point William Reiley's oldest child Martha Davis "Marnie" Reiley meets Moses Brink, son of Peleg E. Brink and his wife Mary Jane nee Kelly. The Brinks were long time residents of Rowland, Pennsylvania. Moses and Marnie marry March 1878 in Pennsylvania.

Peleg's brother George, prior to 1864, had gone west to Wisconsin, then to Michigan, finally settling in Ashland, Newaygo County, Michigan; becoming a farmer. Much farmland was becoming available as the primeval forests were lumbered off. Lumbering had been going on in Newaygo County for about thirty years at this time. How long George Brink farmed there is not certain, although he is listed in the Census of 1870. He died there on May 7, 1876 of causes unknown at present, and his body was returned to Rowland, Pennsylvania where he was buried.

Shortly after their marriage, Moses and Marnie, in an attempt to relieve the asthma from which she suffered her entire life, moved to Newaygo County, Michigan. This lasted only a short time. Homesick for family they returned to Rowland, Pennsylvania.

With a March 1878 marriage for Marnie Reiley and Moses Brink and move to and return from Michigan and subsequent immigration of the Brink and Meyer families to Michigan. The Brink-Reiley History states that Lena was the first Brink born in Michigan, her birthdate was in July of 1879. This leaves very little time for that first trip to Michigan. It is likely that Moses and Marnie went to Michigan during the late spring-early summer and returned before fall. The major immigration then would probably have occurred the following spring in 1879 just before the birth of Lena. What the families did from the spring-summer of 1879 to April of 1882 when Peleg Brink bought land in Ashland Township is unknown.

Part IV


After returning to Pennsylvania Marnie's asthma became worse. This along with the stories of Michigan from Moses and Marnie, also possibly along with letters of their deceased Uncle George, resulted in the families of Peleg Brink, William Reiley and John Meyer, and the spouses of the married children packing up and moving to Ashland, Newaygo County, Michigan. It appears that the Brink and Meyer families traveled to Michigan together with Marnie Reiley and her husband Moses Brink. Records show that Peleg Brink purchased 80 acres in Ashland Township on April 20, 1882. A year and a half later William Reiley purchased land in Bridgeton Township on October 31, 1883. It is probable that the families of Peleg Brink and John Meyer with their married children came to Michigan together. But as William and family are listed in the 1880 Census in New Jersey, they probably did not arrive until 1881-1883.

The Pennsylvanians came to Grand Rapids, Michigan by train. From there they traveled by horse and carriage to Newaygo County. William Reiley probably followed the same route later when he also brought his mules from his days as a boatman. William had a general store in what was known as Dickinson, located at the approximate center of Ashland Township in Newaygo County. Dickinson was a station on the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. On May 31, 1888 he opened a post office in the store, he operated it as the only postmaster until June 29, 1901. That is, he was the postmaster of record, but his wife Abigail Gertrude "Gert" served unofficially as postmaster, as her husband was frequently with his lumber camps. The old Dickinson School still stands near this location on Dickinson Road. Dickinson is long gone and is listed in a book about Michigan Ghost Towns. By 1890 William Reiley is reported to have had the first telephone and first windmill in the immediate area, which was quite an attraction.

William and his sons Harry and Ned started lumbering near the Muskegon River in west Ashland as early as 1888, but it could have been as late as 1892. It was about this time that they were joined by Arthur Davis Reiley. Arthur, son of William's brother Edward and Sarah Rebecca Hopkins was the only one of the New Jersey Reiley's to come to Michigan, his parents and his siblings remained behind in New Jersey.

At this time lumbering in Newaygo County was waning but by no means ended. When William had purchased acreage in Bridgeton Township it was probably fairly wooded. Clearing the land had likely proven profitable. Seeing a better means of earning a living than farming, he probably continued, contracting with neighbors to clear their land for them, giving them a share of the timber. A common practice of the smaller logging companies.

By 1893 William Reiley had a lumber camp at Norway Lake, Clare County, Michigan. A photograph circa 1895 shows the following people: William Reiley, Harry Reiley, Lena Reiley Patrick, Arthur Reiley, Eleaze Reiley Moore, John Meyer, Eunice Reiley, Ned Reiley, Nora Brink Reiley, Uriah "Pid" Williams, Isabelle Brink Williams, Susie Williams, Cassie Reiley, Fern Reiley, Millie Reiley Powell, Earl Williams, Pearl Reiley, Sadie Reiley Neil, Marnie Reiley Hill, Lizzie Reiley Walkey and Lou Reiley Bouschard along with others.

Some would eventually remain in Newaygo County, others would settle in Antrim County when the primal hardwood forests gave out, and some would go on to greener pastures and emigrate to Saskatchewan, Canada becoming farmers.

Like the generation of Reiley's that had married into the Hopkins Family. Three of this next generation of Reiley's married into the Brink Family. They were Martha Davis "Marnie", Arthur Davis and Harry Reiley, Sr., they married Moses, Eunice and Nora Brink.

The Reiley family found lumbering to be fairly prosperous in the turn of the century forests of Michigan. They basically followed the path of the earlier companies who had harvested the giant pine trees. They gradually worked their way north following the hardwoods. Almost certainly they contracted with various landowners to clear their land of hardwood to provide more cleared acreage for farming. Their camps were close to the major rivers while also staying close to the spreading railroad lines. One of the ways of getting the logs to the mills was to cut and stack the logs along a high riverbank thru the winter. The spring thaws provided the high water necessary when the logs would be released to go rolling down into the swollen waters to be carried downstream to the mills. Frequently some of the logs would yield over 500 board feet of high quality tight grained lumber much in demand at the furniture factories in and around Grand Rapids. These large diameter logs were usually too big or heavy even for a swollen river and had to be transported by rail.

When the hardwoods were lumbered out in an area they would transport people and equipment to the next area via the railroads. Arriving in the summer they had time to build new camps before winter set in. The snows and frozen ground making it easier to maneuver the huge hardwoods to the selected jam sites along the rivers or to the railroads. But as time moved on advances in logging techniques permitted the logging of timber other than in the snow months. Usually they had three lumber camps at one time. Slowly they worked their way north. Harry served as general manager and traveled between camps by bicycle and sometimes railroad. A story told by his daughter Millie relates how the railroad men hated transporting his bicycle, but when he sold it and bought a chainless bike they loved it and it started a craze for chainless bikes. As they progressed northward, their lumber company and that of others gradually depleted the source of their livelihood.

William Reiley died in 1908, two years after his wife. They are both buried in Shippy Cemetery, Newaygo County. Later their son Ned and his nephew Arthur Davis Reiley and Arthur's wife Eunice Brink will also be buried there, along with other Reiley kin.

Harry Reiley, Sr. purchased land near Bellaire, Michigan in 1907 to provide a permanent home for his family, as the heyday of lumbering was drawing to a close. Farming in the summer months, he continued to serve for the thirty years prior to his death in 1931 as General Manager of the William Reiley & Sons Lumber Co., which operated throughout Western Michigan and into the Upper Peninsula.

About when Harry Reiley settled near Bellaire, his cousin Arthur Davis Reiley and family moved to Saskatchewan to try pioneering those northern prairies. It was a hard life that resulted in Arthur Davis returning to Newaygo County with most of his children, but some of his children remained there. Their descendants are still found in the provinces of western Canada.


For the time being, this story ends here; because those first two generations comprise most of the unknown and early generations of our kinfolk in this country. Only Edward and William are well known. With James and Thomas only known by the Census before the Civil War. The marriage of Martha Davis Reiley and the subsequent Census' are all that is know of her line. The information about Ellen may be correct, then again it could be another Ellen. But probability and the locations makes it likely that it was our Ellen.

Mary Ann's line, although she married and had children, is known to have died out and little is known about her, other than the barest of facts. Her marriage date is not even known for sure and is estimated between 1852-1856, with the latter being the most likely. Her last child of record was born in 1877, she has not been found in the Census for any area searched so far. Catherine was fifteen at the time of the 1850 Census. Nothing more is known about her. A possible twin, Charles, is only rumor and if he existed most likely died at an early age.

The problem with finding female ancestors when they cease to be listed in the Census is you don't know whether they married or died. If they marry they frequently move out of the area.

Of their half sister Caroline "Carrie" Ward, a reference is made to a married name that may be spelled anywhere from Cannon to Camar.

Much is unknown; some is surmised but included to provide a feel for the possibilities. Hopefully as more becomes known this history will be expanded, including the stories of later generations. Hopefully the next update will include the next generation. The desire is there to tell the stories of all the Reiley's and kin. The amount of facts available will determine whether that occurs.

The origination of this history is a composite of what I have gleaned from the Hopkins-Reiley history written in 1934 by Alfaretta Hopkins Lefferts, (daughter of Charles Ferren Hopkins). Which was later copied by Marion Anderson Hill (wife of Don Reiley Hill) in 1977. Much of the Michigan and Pennsylvania information came from the Brink-Reiley History, published in 1979, by Kathy Klok, (daughter of Elaine Brink). Those two histories were the starting point for this one.

I have updated and rewritten it several times with more recent information while changing the focus away from the Hopkins' and Brink's to that of the Reiley viewpoint. At some point when what we know has grown I would like to write the history in chapters. With each persons chapter from their viewpoint. So far we have information on Reiley's and Brink's. With the possibilities presented by Ellen Reiley a Hopkins chapter(s) and viewpoint may have to be covered. We have only located descendants for about half the family tree at this time.

Information has been provided by many people, most especially Alfaretta and Kathy with their histories. In addition to information, special insight was provided by Robert Ewald (grandson of Dell Reiley) and by Robert Goller, an historian specializing in the history of the Morris Canal in New Jersey.

Dennis Reiley

The Reiley Family History was provided by Dennis Reiley, descendant.
We thank him for his contribution to the Antrim Co., Michigan Genealogy pages. I am sorry but we no longer have an email address for him.

If you would like to contribute your family tree or other information to the Antrim pages, please write to Margaret Fallone

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