Identifying James Polk Forrester’s First Wife

James Polk Forrester, the second son of Coleman Forrester and Anna Carnes, was born 16 Aug 1844 in Georgia.1

Forrester genealogy

1900 Fannin County Census - Forresters

I first encountered him in the census in 1900, where he appeared as James P. Foster, 55-years old and head of household. He lived in Fannin County, Georgia.2  His mother, Anie Foster, appeared three households away3and his sister Mary Ward (my 2nd great-grandmother) appeared four households away4; moreover, his birth date was reported as Aug 1844, which corresponds to the birth date found in the Forrester Family Bible records, so I was confident that he was the right person. He and his wife Martha A. (age 33) had been married 11 years, putting their marriage date at approximately 1889. They had four children living at home: Magnola (6), Claud C. (4), Cattie V. (2), and George W. (1 month).

Forre

1880 Fannin County Census - James P. Forrester

My next sighting of James was on the 1880 census in Fannin County, where he appeared as James P. Forester, head of household. This time, his wife was named Elizabeth and she was 36 years old. There is a 12-year-old son named William and a 7-year-old daughter named Ida J.5  This is clearly not the same family, but could it be the same James? He was 35, which is the right age for someone born August of 1844. A search of all variations of the Forrester surname yielded no others named James or Polk in Fannin County. A few James Forresters were found in neighboring counties, but the ages aren’t close. This is when I started to suspect that Martha from the 1900 census was James’ second wife (although in retrospect, the difference in their ages should have been a clue). Two things made me unsure about this being the right James. His father’s birthplace was reported as Georgia, whereas all other known records show South Carolina; however I think parents’ birthplaces is one of the least reliable pieces of information on the census, so I consider that a minor negative. The other thing that gave me pause was how far away he lived from his parents. Although they lived in the same district, James appeared in dwelling #4, while his parents were five pages away in dwelling #79.

Forrester genealogy

Forister-Vanzant Marriage License

Next, while searching for Forrester marriage records in Fannin County, I came across a marriage license for James P. Forister and Mary L. Vanzant, who were married 6 Dec 1866.6  The date seems right for the James and Elizabeth found in the 1880 census, as their first child was born about 1868; however, the name Mary L. is puzzling. There was one other record in the county for a James Forrester, who married Alice Mathis on 1 Dec 1899. The second marriage license could be for the Martha found in the 1900 census. Her middle initial was A. and they were likely married in 1899. I put a pin in both these records until I could find more information.

Forrester genealogy

Forresters & Vanzants 1870

The last census record found that shows James as an adult was for 1870 in Fannin County. He appeared as Polk Forister, age 25. Also in the household were Mary, age 25, and William, age 2.7  This is shaping up. William was 12 in 1880, so 2 in 1870 is a perfect match. Elizabeth in 1880 was 36, which is close enough to match Mary’s age in 1870. The real clincher was the next door neighbors – their surname was Vanzant, their ages were right to be the parents of Mary/Elizabeth, and the oldest female in the house was named Elizabeth. There were no other James or Polk Forresters in the right age range enumerated in Fannin County in 1870. It’s really starting to look like the James P. Forister who married Mary L. Vanzant is the same person that appeared in the household with Mary in 1870 and married to Elizabeth in 1880. Furthermore, since his age so consistently matches the James Polk Forrester who was the son of Coleman and Anna, and there are no others with that name in the right age range, it is reasonable to believe that they are the same person.

My last step was to look at the Vanzant household in other years to make sure they did fit into this scenario. I looked again at the 1880 census – the one where I was concerned because James lived so far away from his parents. There I found the Vanzants, three households away from James.8  Then, I looked at 1860 to see if a Mary/Elizabeth was living at home and indeed there was – Elizabeth, age 16, which puts her birth year consistently at 1844 or 1845 on the 1860, 1870, and 1880 censuses. This looks like a match. There was no one enumerated as Mary in the Vanzant household in any of those years, so I believe James’ first wife must have been named Mary Elizabeth Vanzant and was the daughter of Lewis and Elizabeth Vanzant.

  1. Forrester Bible Records, 1842-1888, family pages; photocopies supplied by M. H. Kendrick, {ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,} Georgia, Entries suggest that the earliest owners were Coleman Forrester (1817-1889) and wife Anna Carnes (1822-1914), who married in 1842, Births, entry for James Polk Forrester.
  2. 1900 U.S. census, Fannin County, Georgia population schedule; digital images, Ancestry.com; citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T623 (http://www.ancestry.com), roll 195; Stock Hill District, enumeration district (ED) 29, p. 2 B (penned), dwelling 42, family 42, James P. Foster.
  3. 1900 U.S. census, Fannin County, Georgia population schedule; digital images, Ancestry.com; citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T623 (http://www.ancestry.com), roll 195; Stock Hill District, enumeration district (ED) 29, p. 2 B (penned), dwelling 39, family 39, Anie Foster.
  4. 1900 U.S. census, Fannin County, Georgia population schedule; digital images, Ancestry.com; citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T623 (http://www.ancestry.com), roll 195; Stock Hill District, enumeration district (ED) 29, p. 2 B (penned), dwelling 38, family 38, Mary L. Ward.
  5. 1880 U. S. Census, Fannin County, Georgia, population schedule, Noontootley D., enumeration district (ED) 61, p. 695 (stamped), dwelling 4, family 4, James P. Forester household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 6 February 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 0145.
  6. Fannin County, Georgia, Marriage Books, Fannin County Ordinary Court, 1864-1894, p. 99, Forister-Vanzant, 1866; digital images, Georgia Archives, Georgia’s Virtual Vault (http://cdm.sos.state.ga.us/index.php : accessed 17 February 2011).
  7. 1870 U. S. Census, Fannin County, Georgia, population schedule, Militia District 844, p. 39 (penned), dwelling 303, family 302, Polk Forister household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 17 February 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 148.
  8. 1880 U. S. Census, Fannin County, Georgia, population schedule, Noontootley D., ED 61, p. 695 (stamped), dwelling 1, family 1, Lewis Vanzant household.

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