(The Root) —
“My name is Linda Brown, and I have definitely hit a dead end regarding my great-grandfather, Firmin Francois Fortier. How do I find out if he was really born in Martinique? The story in the family is that he was born in Martinique on Oct. 27, 1850, to a French father and native mother. He came to New Orleans with his brothers. It’s said that his brothers went to the white race, and he stayed in the black race. On all U.S. documents, Firmin wrote that he was born in New Orleans. I do find him in New Orleans in 1872 with the birth of his first son, Allen Fortier; having a cigar business in 1875; married to Amanda Brice Fortier in 1875; and in the New Orleans 1880 census. However, I can’t locate him before 1872. Would I have to contact someone in Martinique to find out this information? —Linda Brown
You provided enough details for us to come up with some promising leads here in the U.S., but before we go into them, know that there are a number of online sources and reference materials available related to Martinique genealogy that can be helpful with your research. Geographical and surname-based message boards are accessible through websites such as Ancestry.com, which allows people to post inquiries about their family research. The website Rootsweb has a number of genealogical databases and guides, and also provides links to mailing lists covering a variety of topics, including Martinique research. If you subscribe to this mailing list, you could search the archived messages for information that may help you with your research.
If you read French, historian Marial Iglesias Utset advises accessing the parish registers (des registres paroissiaux et d’état civil) of Martinique for the 19th century online for free. She says you can also check the website of the Archives Nationales d’Outre-mer for “état civil” records for Martinique online.
It’s also worth noting that, as the historians John Thornton and Linda Heywood have noted, there was a history of migration from the French Caribbean to Louisiana during the entire period of slavery. Many ex-planters from Haiti settled in Louisiana after that country’s revolution. Such historical developments might help explain your family lore of a Martinique connection.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ Family History Library has a number of genealogical databases available free on its website, including “Louisiana, New Orleans Passenger Lists, 1820-1945,” and “Louisiana, Naturalization Records, 1831-1906.” Looking through them may help you find additional information on Firmin Francois Fortier’s possible Martinique roots. In addition to the databases, the Family History Library has a significant number of microfilmed records from around the world, including Martinique. For a small fee, individuals may rent these microfilms through their local Family History Center or library.
If you have not done so in your previous research, you may wish to look for published genealogies pertaining to families with the surname Fortier, which may provide clues about your family’s origins. Even if the family profiled in the book did not reside in the same area as your Fortier family, it is beneficial to take a look at it, in the event that distant relatives by that name are mentioned. A Fortier surname message board is also available at Genealogy.com.
In addition to Fortier genealogies, you may wish to check Old Families of Louisiana, edited by Stanley Clisby Arthur, which includes a chapter titled “Fortier.”
Again, if you read French, you might look at Geneanet. Utset found at least one person with the surname Fortier living in Martinique during the 19th century: Thérèse Sophie Fortier.
Town and county histories often include biographical sketches on various members of the community, so consider searching for historical accounts of New Orleans from the 1800s that may include biographical information on your Fortier ancestors. Journals and newsletters pertaining to occupations or fraternal organizations are another valuable source of information.
You note that Firmin Francois Fortier had a cigar business in the 1870s. One journal that is searchable, on a limited basis via Google Books, is Cigar Makers’ Official Journal, which was published in the late 1800s and early 1900s. While the main focus of this journal is the business of cigar production, some issues contain biographical information on individuals. For example, Volume 39 of this journal has an autobiographical sketch submitted by a member named Thomas Dolan. This sketch includes information about his place and date of birth, where he apprenticed and where he worked over the years.