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.

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