TSGS Cruiser Blog

Friday, June 12, 2009

Research Tip & Genealogy Story!

Interviews of Former Slaves

The Library of Congress hosts a collection of more than 2,000 interviews & 500 images of former slaves. These interviews were collected from the 20s - 40s and help preserve the memories of what life was like for many in slavery. The interviews are available online at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml/snhome.html.

From time to time, I like to search the collections for relevant information, in hopes of locating information on what life may have been like for my own ancestors. To date, I've found one story, that of a slave named Will of the Battle family of Edgecombe County, NC that particularly resonated with me since I had ancestors that were also owned by the same family. (see my blog post at http://is.gd/R2iF).

When searching the collection for Evansville-related stories, there are several that come up. Among those interviewed from Evansville include:

James Childress
Katie Sutton
Joseph William Carter
Elizabeth Jones
George Fortman
John Rudd
Samuel Watson
Adah Isabelle Suggs
George Taylor Burns
Dr. George Washington Buckner
Amy Elizabeth Patterson
George W. Arnold
Prof. W.S. Best (of Lincoln High School)
Samuel Bell

Now, I was all prepared to highlight one or two of these interviews and provide additional data as I could gather from additional research, but when I saw the name George Fortman on the list I was floored. Why? Because I think this is the ancestor of my mother-in-law's sister! This particular sister has a different father than she (we'll call the sister, J) and J has a grandfather named George Washington Fortman Jr. On my family tree site, I have a profile of him that is linked to some data sources, such as census records. (at http://is.gd/Reax).

So, I go back to GW Fortman Jr. and take another look at his father. I have his father listed as George Fortman Sr., which came from the Browning Database entry for him. When I looked again at Jr. in the 1930 census though, I noticed that his father is enumerated as George Ford.

So, when I go to read George Fortman's interview, the details of his life as he provides them are amazing. He is describing his ancestors and this Native American heritage. He is white plus Native American; the son of a white slave owner and his Native American slave. Even more astonishing to me is that he tells that he was named Ford George after his white father (James Ford George). The interviewer asked him if that is the case, why does he go by Fortsman? To this George replied that when the census taker came, the wife of his father told the census taker the true nature of George's birth and that she was raising George, but the census taker
convinced them to put down George Fordsman and switch it around.

To add to this: the interview provides George Fortman's address and this address is VERY near where J's George Ford was living in 1930. I found a George Ford in the 1920 census that is of similar age to J's George Ford, and he is listed as having the occupation of janitor at a business college. Guess what the interviewee George Fortsman did for 11 years? "Janitored" at Lockyear Business College! J's George Ford in 1930 is enumerated as a janitor at a church. J's George Ford was born around 1850-1855 in Kentucky. The interviewee George was born around this time in Kentucky as in the interview it is noted that he was too young to participate in the Civil War. J's grandfather, George Fortman Jr., lived in Illinois and many of his children, including J's father, were born there. George Fordsman the interviewee was employed by the Illinois Central Railroad Company. The interview states that George Fortsman was a 35 year resident of Evansville. The 1922 Evansville City directory does not contain any Fortsmans. But, there are two George Fords (that are noted as colored) and one is a janitor. There are some spelling issues in George Fortsman's interview, but I have located his white family based on information in the interview. The "Patent Ford" he speaks of was actually William Patton George (1768-1837). He said Patent's wife was Hester Lam, but her maiden name was actually Lamb. George states that their son, Ford George, was his father and that his father had married a woman named Lorraine. In the 1850 census, I found William P George & Hester George in Caldwell County, Kentucky (location consistent with George's interview) and in their household are 25 year old James F. George and 26 year old wife Luraine. I even found a picture on Ancestry that is labelled as possibly being William Patton George and son James Ford George (http://is.gd/RgU9).

So, I'm trying to figure this all out! Is this all coincidence or is J's George Ford the same as the interviewee George Fortsman? From what I've found so far, I'm starting to think it is, but I definitely need to gather more information.

This is why it pays to revisit sites regularly!
- Submitted by Taneya Koonce

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