I’ve used the past month – of the challenge of posting once a day – to look at old, forgotten posts and to reconnect with family history research. A few days ago I posted about the Donohoes of Plymouth, who are connected to the Wildman family tree, and this in turn led me to look further into other relevant connections. All of which rekindled a dead-end: a woman named Elizabeth, who was my great-great-great-great-grandmother.

Because of the dead-end, I don’t actually have a surname for Elizabeth, which prevents me from tracing her line further into the past. However, I am able to trace myself back to her through the Wildman to the Donohoe families. In the previous post on the Donohoes I noted about Francis Donohoe married Elizabeth Forrest in Plymouth in 1879 (both being my great-great-grandparents). Elizabeth Forrest’s father was John Thomas Forrest (1827-1907), and her paternal grandmother was this surname-less Elizabeth.

Research beyond John Thomas Forrest is stunted. His father appears to have passed away before he was a teenager, and we are left with only a name: John Forrest. His mother – the Elizabeth under focus in this post – is a mystery: finding her maiden name has proved elusive. She can be found in the 1851 census – under her married surname – but yet not after that point. It is possible that she died in that same year after the census was taken.

However, the 1851 census provides the origins of where people were born. It lists Elizabeth has being born in 1788 in Northam, north Devon. At this point I assumed that I would be able to dig a little further and find her maiden name, and I was able to utilise the GENUKI website entry for Northam to find out the info. The website is stocked with useful links and some fantastic research of baptism and marriage entries. I thought a search of the baptism entries for Northam (between 1774-1840) would reveal a possible Elizabeth in which I could search further. However, as it turns out, there were three people listed with the first-name of Elizabeth baptised in 1788:

  • Elizabeth Battin: 2 March 1788
  • Elizabeth Evans: 3 March 1788
  • Elizabeth Mullins: 28 December 1788

So, which one is “my” Elizabeth? Well, the short answer is: I do not know!

It is unlikely to be Elizabeth Battin; this Elizabeth married in Northam in 1811 to a Thomas Green. So, that rules her out. And it seems unlikely that it is Elizabeth Evans; there are many records of someone called Elizabeth Evans marrying during the period (1808, 1809, 1818, 1824, 1834) but none of them were to a person called John Forrest.

All of this seemed to lead me to the final one: Elizabeth Mullins. However, Mullins is listed as being 63 when she died, and she was still alive in Northam in the 1861 census. As such, it is very unlikely that this is the same person.

Of course, the recording of ages appears to be slightly chaotic in the nineteenth century, with ages jumping around from census to census. This opens up the possibility of other Elizabeths born a year or two earlier, or a year or two later.

So, there is Elizabeth Phillips (born 1777), but she has strong Cornish connections that do not fit the pattern of “my” Elizabeth. The closest other one is Elizabeth Barrow who married John Fisher in 1803; but even if we allow a large slice of artistic licence in Fisher possibly morphing into Forrest, it seems improbable that they married in 1803 and did not have a child for another twenty-four years seems implausible.

I wish there was a purpose to this post. But unfortunately family history searches are littered with dead-ends, and it seems that this line of the family stops here. Of course, this does not mean that I will stop looking trying to solve this puzzle. “My” Elizabeth exists somewhere out there in documents!