Meet George Fortman – A Brickwall Bust

George Fortman Sr. (abt. 1852 – d. unknown) is the last known patriarch of my husband’s aunt, J.  He was born in Kentucky as a slave around 1852, lived in Illinois for awhile, and his son, George Fortman Jr. (1878-1934) married Martha Sanders and had 11 children, one of whom was J’s father.  George Jr. too was born in Kentucky,  had a career with the Illinois Railroad and lived there before moving the family to Evansville, Vanderburgh County, Indiana.  In Evansville, George Sr. worked as a janitor.

Let’s look at some curiosities regarding George Sr.’s name — it seems there is some variation in the documentation.

In the 1930 census here is at 78 years old living with George Jr. and family, but his name is George Ford here. Even more curious, it looks like the census taker made a mistake – the name originally in the surname position had a “ge” at the end and then was written over with the word “Ford.” hmm…

In another oddity, on the death certificate of George Jr.’s wife Martha, in the “father” space is the name “Forte George.”  This is very likely a reference to her father-in-law, not father.

Almost two years ago I happened across a slave narrative of a former slave named George Fortman aka Ford George aka George Ford.  This interviewee was born in Kentucky, worked for the Illinois Railroad, moved to Evansville later in life and was a janitor, and lived in the same neighborhood as J’s family.  Just how much of a coincidence could this be?  The interviewee describes life in detail living in the Caldwell County, Kentucky area.  So, I hypothesized that the two men were one and the same and began to try and collect more information to help document it but I did put it away for awhile.

Last week J emailed me to ask for help on her family tree again and as I searched, I found a tree in Ancestry Member Trees of a person who seemed to be related to her.  I sent a message right away and the next day was talking on the phone with J’s 80 years young cousin who’s been researching the family for 30 years.  The cousin (we’ll call him W), did not have much information about George Sr., but guess what he did have — him having lived in Caldwell County, Kentucky!!!!

Brickwall busted! I am fairly sure, now having had independent verification of the specific locale in Kentucky, that the two men are the same man. Besides, the name variation as I found in the records matches the name variation reported in the slave narrative and the life details are so strikingly similar.

With the info in the narrative,  3 more maternal generations and 2 paternal generations are added to the family tree.  I now feel confident enough to add it to my online tree for this family and am excited to see where this takes me.  I still plan to search for additional records of course but this is a great enhancement.

Evansville Argus – Historical Black Newspaper

I love newspapers.  I truly do. Anything I can do to promote their accessibility is one of my passions.  I am pleased now to learn that an African-American newspaper of Evansville, Indiana (where my husband’s family is from), is now available in it’s online!

The Evansville Argus was published from June 25, 1938 – October 22, 1943.  The University of Southern Indiana’s David Rice library is one of the few places that holds the entire run of the paper.  I have been interested in the paper for awhile now because of the fact that my husband’s family is from there and from time to time I have visited Willard Library in Evansville and perused a few of them.  I contribute from time to time to the blog of the genealogy society in Evansville and for one post I transcribed a marriage I found in the paper.

Front page of the first issue of the Evansville Argus - June 25, 1938

The David Rice Library received grant funds to digitize this collection, and in doing so, provides us all with access to this treasure trove.  You may browse the issues online at the library’s website or choose “Advanced Search” at the top of the screen to search specific information.   For any specific issue, the archive team has implemented a feature that allows you to view the entire issue in PDF format — quite handy indeed! I especially like that feature since I find contentDM’s page navigation absolutely horrid and nowhere as easy to use as that used by Google for their newspapers and the Library of Congress for the Chronicling America website.

And, in keeping with my new practice of using the FamilySearch Research Wiki as my own personal research tool I have added a link to the collection to the Wiki page for Vanderburgh County, Indiana.

(Update:  I thought ALL the issues were available, but it looks like currently they have up through April 1942 online).

SNGF: Dream Database

This week @ GeneaMusings Randy has asked us to consider what our dream database would be

Define one or more genealogy or family history databases, that are not currently online, that would really help you in your research. Where does this database currently reside?

What are some of the things people are wishing for??

1)Randy stated that he would like to see an index to the San Diego Union newspaper as well as index to probate records

2) Chris states that he has an interest in seeing Pennsylvania marriage, deed & probate records go online, in addition to a nationwide county level inventory of records.

3) Tina would like to see NARA’s Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Land records

4) Mel also has a desire to see newspaper indexes go online, one from Hawaii and one from San Francisco – in addition to some other resources

5) GeneaDiva has a request close to my heart – the actual images of TN Death Certificates, as well as those from AK and AL. She also has a newspaper in her list – an index to the Jackson, TN paper and one from Jonesboro, AK.

6) Family Tree Writer keeps it simple — every small town newspaper indexed!

7) Transylvania Dutch also desires newspaper indices -for the St. Louis Dispatch that is comprehensive enough to cover existing gaps; better indexes for the St. Louis Globe Democrat;  and indexes for 4 St. Louis area Jewish newspapers.

From these posts that I could quickly locate (there may be more and I’m sorry if I missed you), there is something that very clearly stands out for me.  Do you see it?  NEWSPAPERS!!!  5 out of 7 people have newspaper indexes on their wish list.  Guess what? That is also what I desire for my dream database.

As I began doing genealogical research, I quickly realized the tremendous value of newspapers; I think primarily because of the work of the Evansville Public Library’s Browning Obituary Database and how I was able to find a tremendous amount of information about my husband’s family using their extensive database.  When I considered how I could do something to give back to the genealogical community as I felt I’d been given too, I quickly settled in on creating newspaper indexes.

Instead of just wishing for my dream database, I’m making it happen!

For these efforts, I have three separate newspaper indexing projects going on.  True, they are slow-going, but they have been incredibly valuable for my understanding of local history and culture.  And, I try as I can to share notices from them with other researchers by posting to message boards, looking up persons named in the articles in Ancestry Member Trees and sharing them with tree creators, and sharing them with USGenWeb sites & project archives.

Some people help out by indexing records for FamilySearch & Ancestry.  I personally, would rather work on my own databases.  My three projects so are:

a)  Roanoke Beacon Index — newspaper of Plymouth, Washington County, NC.  So far, I’ve covered issues from the late 1800s.  In addition to my efforts, I’ve just recently made contact with another researcher who wanted to help, so now there are two of us working on it.  This is a weekly paper and the database includes 96 issues so far.

b) Kinston Free Press Index – newspaper of Kinston, Lenoir County, NC. To date, I’ve covered issues from the late 1800s to early 1900s.  This is a daily paper and so far I’ve done 81 issues.  Right now I’m working in 1905.

c)  Black Nashville History & Genealogy Blog – this started with my interest to index a former black newspaper of Nashville, the Nashville Globe, but I’ve expanded the scope to include other aspects of the history & genealogy of blacks in Nashville.  This is the one I get the less work in on because I have to visit the public library to capture the content.  With the other two, I have purchased microfilm and had the microfilm digitized so I can work on them as I wish.

Here’s to making dreams come true!  When I’m done with my academic studies in May, I am looking forward to really picking these projects back up; adding a few more newspapers to the mix and hopefully recruiting a few other interested researchers in helping with the work.  In the ideal world, I’d love to have a database for the newspapers of each of the counties I coordinate for the NCGenWeb Project (Jones, Martin, & Onslow — I already have Washington covered w/ the Roanoke Beacon).

Fundamentally, as I am a librarian, I believe area public libraries should be spearheading these efforts.  Some are, but so many more could be involved.  Until then, you’ll find me indexing away!

Family Vacation – 1st Day

Last week, I was very busy with my family as we took our family vacation.  I feel fortunate though in that I was able to work in a number of genealogy-related activities, so the next several posts will be dedicated to sharing my experiences during the vacation.  I will also be posting more general items on my family website and will focus on the genealogy activities here.  Our vacation began August 1, when we drove up to Evansville.  I have four bonus sons (that’s my new term for them, seems to be how the celebrities refer to their stepfamilies :-)) and two of them live there.  In all, the kids are ages 14, 12, 11, 8 and then Kaleya is 4.   See my family site for an overall synopsis of the day.

While we were there however, I was able to go to the Evansville Public Library for a few hours and get some genealogy work in.  I went for the expressed purpose of retreiving obituaries.  I am trying to verify if one of the interviewees in the Slave Narratives Project is an ancestor of Kalonji’s aunt.  I’ve blogged about the specifics for the blog of the Tri-State Indiana Genealogical Society and needed to do some follow-up based on some information I was able to find online.

Those in the Evansville area have on hand a wonderful resource, the Browning Genealogy Database, and I used the index to locate details of obits I wanted to look at.  However, I learned this day, of a major limitation of the Browning database — Evansville had two major papers over the last several decades and when the obits were abstracted for the database, there is no indication of which paper the obit was published in.  This meant I needed to often search both papers for the obit of interest.  Also, the database gives death date, not obit date, so I still had to search across several days to find the obits of interests.   That said, I’m better off for having this handy index than not!

The EVPL has an interesting computer use model that I’ve not yet encountered, but thought it was a good idea.  If you are not an account holder, you pay $1 for two hours (continous or not) of computer use.  With this, I was able to access the internet as I needed.  Also, the microforms area has a microfilm reader connected to a computer for making digital copies of articles of interest.  Sweet!

I was not able to find the most important obit I needed, that of George Washington Fortman Jr.  According to the Browning Database, he died June 6, 1934 and there as an obit in one of the papers that listed his family members.  All I was able to locate was a death notice for him that appeared in the Evansville Press on June 9, 1934 where he is included in a list of deaths recorded in the city, but this notice has no family details.  I looked in both papers across a 10 day period and never found the obit I was looking for.

But, this does at least confirm that he died somewhere around that time frame.  I am searching for information about George’s father.  In the 1930 census, his father’s name is listed as George Ford, but in the Browning Database entry, it is listed as George Fortman Sr.  Since this George was a Jr., the Fortman name makes sense.  In the slave narrative interview, George Ford (the interviewee) apparently goes by both surnames.  This, in addition to some other details being similar between the George that I *know* to be the Sr. and the slave narrative interviewee have me considering that they may be the same person.  I am seeking verification though, so my next steps will be to

1) order the death certificate of George Washington Forman Jr.  Perhaps it will be more clear on his father’s name

2) to also see if I can contact a living daughter of George Jr.s to see if she can shed any light on this.

The interview details are absolutely fascinating so I do hope I can let Kalonji’s aunt know if this is part of her ancestry or not.  You can read the interview here.

While at the public library, I did copy some other articles of interest that is no relation to my quest, so I could use it as fodder for the Tri-State Genealogical Society Blog.  I’m not yet a member, but I regularly submit content for the blog.  The newspaper articles I have as a result of this trip should give me great posts for the next several weeks.

All this in just day one of my trip.   More to come later!

Gravesite of Betty Sanders

In follow-up to my post earlier this week on Kalonji’s great-grandmother Betty, I was indeed able to go to the cemetery today and take a picture of her headstone.  The Oak Hill Cemetery here in Evansville maintains a database of all those buried there, so they make it rather convenient to locate your loved ones. It is a huge cemetery so, it is quite necessary.

Betty is buried in Section 54 of the cemetery and here is her headstone:

Since we had the exact section information, Kalonji and I were able to find her literally in less than a minute.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that one of her children, her daughter Elnora, was buried next to her.  The year of birth on Elnora’s headstone is 1920, but the records I have so far suggest 1919.  I’ll have to sort that out later.

While I was visiting the cemetery, I took a few pictures at random to see if they were needed for FindAGrave.com and I ended adding Betty, Elnora and about 12 strangers up to FindAGrave.

Betty Sanders (1901-1982)

Today is the anniversary of the death of Kalonji’s great-grandmother, Betty Sanders.  She was born July 16, 1901 in the Hebbardsville community of Henderson County, Kentucky and died on this day (June 23) in 1982 in Evansville, Vanderburgh County, Indiana.


Currently, the family is unsure of who Betty’s father may have been, but her SSA has the name of a Parker Sanders.   Her mother’s name was Marge and from Kalonji’s mother, I understand that Marge was a former slave and lost her foot due to frostbite. This interestingly enough, is similar to a family story that one of my great-great-grandmother’s also lost part of her foot due to frostbite. I’m sure this must have been a common happening when access to proper footwear may have been an issue.

I do know that Betty’s maternal grandparents were a Willis Sanners and Betty Collins. I am unsure about the spelling of the “Sanders/Sanner” last name – are they two different names? Or, are they the same name with different spellings? The record trail that I have for the family so far makes it difficult to tell. Will & Betty had at least 5 kids, Marge being one of the younger ones.  Marge herself would have around 8 kids if I have the tree right.

Kalonji’s mother knew her grandmother well and has shared tales of how wild Betty was – she always had two or three boyfriends, was always on the go and always down for a good time. Kalonji’s mother always went places with her and has very fond memories of her grandmother.  In July of last year, Kalonji and I took a trip to the new African-American Museum in Evansville, which is located on a block next to where Betty used to live.   I still haven’t posted Part 2 to that post, but in the post, I included pictures of where Betty’s house used to be located.

As I take a moment to review my research on Betty and her family, I see many potential places for further research.  Betty was a member of Nazarene Baptist Church in Evansville – I wonder if they have any records, old programs, etc. where she may have been included?  Betty is buried in Oak HIll Cemetery and I have not yet been to take a picture of her gravesite. We are going to Evansville this weekend, so I must make an effort to visit her gravesite.

Browning Genealogy Database

Today on her blog, Arlene posted a nice review of the Browning Genealogy Database provided through the Evansville Public Library. I was very happy to see this as this database has been one of my best resources! Kalonji’s family is from Evansville, and when I discovered it last year, I had so much fun looking up his family members.

Between the death information and the local history information, I was able to locate so many news items on his family and extended family members. Including, this picture of his mom’s high school graduation picture from Central High School in 1963. The information from the paper tells us that she was in the Future Nurses club, a member of Y-Teens and on the Student Council. Kitty does in fact have the real picture that is represented in the paper, but I did not know of her club memberships until finding this card in the Browning Database.

This database is amazing and I cannot speak well enough about it.

Explorations in Evansville: Part 1

Yesterday, we took three of my stepsons back home to Evansville after having had them for two months. Yesterday afternoon, Kalonji drove me to the area of town where he grew up.

Our first stop was to E. Cherry street. His grandmother, Betty Sanders, lived in the first house on the street – 652 E. Cherry Street. However, her house is no longer there, it is now the empty lot you see in the picture, to the left of the driveway. So, I took a few pictures and pasted them together. It’s not a great paste, but it gives the idea of what her corner looked like. The two houses next to where hers was are very similar in shape and appearance to what hers was according to Kalonji.