I decided to pursue John and Mary Bolton's early life and after some searching, I found that John & Mary Bolton immigrated to America in 1844 and patented land in Lafayette county Wisconsin in 1848. Then John disappears before the 1850 census and his wife and two daughters, leaving them living with a prominent family in the area headed by Elias Pilling. This is right before they too disappear in the U.S. Federal census record.
On the off chance that I might find something conclusive which has never been the case, I checked the 1861 England census to see if by some chance John had died soon after immigrating to America and mother Mary and family had gone back home. Indeed, I almost certainly found a census record for 1861 in Cumberworth Half, Yorkshire, England where a now widowed Mary Bolton, daughters Selina Jane and Frances Ann are living and the correct ages as the ones listed in the 1850 U.S. Federal Census and a brother, Jeremiah J Bolton too. Selina Jane and Frances Ann are both listed as having been born in Wisconsin and Jeremiah in California. Selina Jane was easily traced and went on to have a family of her own. Jeremiah would die in young adulthood. I'm not sure on Mary. Since she was born in England as were most everyone living in England, it is hard to separate her out of the many other Mary Boltons living there. Selina and Jeremiah were easy to track with their United States births. Frances should have fallen into the same category but disappears. More on that later.
One little detail of finding my Bolton family in England that threw me for a loop was Jeremiah being born in California. Then I realized that it offered up a likely explanation on what happened to Mary's husband John. John patented land in Wisconsin in 1848 and then disappeared while his wife and two daughters stayed behind in 1850. Let me give you the hint that the year between these two events was 1849. Combining the year and the fact that his son was born in California in 1854, I think this is my first confirmed ancestor that was part of the famous California Gold Rush of 1849. He must have first went out there by himself and later did well enough for his family to join him so that Jeremiah could be born in 1854. Still something went wrong again for him to be dead and the rest of his family to end up in England less than seven years later.
After all this, I feel that I am on the right track and that my 3rd great grandmother Frances Bolton is indeed the same Frances Ann Bolton listed in the Willow Springs census and that her parents are Mary and John Bolton. I would still however like to have that proverbial smoking gun and figure out under what circumstances Frances came back to America. Her obituary says she was married in the year preceding the Civil War to my 3rd great grandfather Joseph Baker but no mention of where. Did she meet Joseph Baker after she got back to England and then immigrated back with him to start again? If so, I have been unable to find an immigration record for them together. If the obituary were correct with all their dates, which they often times aren't, she would have been married at the age of ten or twelve if I use the birth year in the census records. Either way, she was pretty young to be married and ship off to another continent. I suspect that she probably got married in the year AFTER the Civil War was over which puts a three year window between marriage (at age of 18) and the birth of her first child in 1869. One census record listing her years of marriage seems to support this also.
Did she come back with her mother Mary who perhaps remarried? I haven't found record of that and I would have thought that if that were the case, Jeremiah would have come along too since he had been ten years old or younger. But Jeremiah certainly stayed in England and died at age twenty. Did Frances come back alone? I think that would have been very unusual unless she had previously met her soon to be husband Joseph Baker but that would mean that she probably met him in California, which would put his parents involved in the gold rush too. I haven't seen any evidence to support this and it just doesn't feel correct to me.
If I were a betting man, I would say that Frances Bolton met Joseph Baker in England in the early 1860's after the death of her father and the boat ride back from California. Together, they immigrated back to someplace unknown in America and Joseph got caught up in the ongoing Civil War. This might explain the lack of a service record for him. After the war, they settled briefly in central Illinois before migrating to northwest Iowa where the family settled down. Joseph soon died in 1882 of an old war injury or perhaps murder so Frances unable to raise five children on her own, kicked the oldest two (my 2nd great grandfather John Henry Baker and his oldest sister Frances Ellen Baker) out the door and gave up the middle two for adoption to the Chicken family and kept the baby Mary to raise. Forty-five years later, she would end up in the same bone yard as her first husband Joseph and a couple of their children though next to her second husband whom oddly enough, lived in the same Illinois town as she and Joseph did before moving to Iowa. In fact, he was there until Joseph died and suddenly moved to the town where Frances lived and married her. I'm sure there is probably an interesting story buried in that bit of information.
So a brick has fallen out of the brick wall due to my repeated head banging and given me some more clues to follow. Unfortunately, so far, they only seem to lead to another brick wall. I suspect more head banging is soon to commence but for now, I am just savoring the new bit of knowledge.