Seeking Fortin, my grandfather
December 15, 2008 7:59 PM   Subscribe

I'm doing a family tree. As part of doing this, I'm trying to trace the ancestors of my maternal grandfather, Lawrence Fortin. The problem is that not only did he die before I was born (in the 40s), as it turns out he was adopted by the Fortin family. The question is, where on earth do I begin in finding records on Lawrence Fortin and who his biological family was?

Note: unfortunately, I'm starting out knowing nothing about him, since my late grandmother kicked him out in the late 40s and disliked talking about him. My mom doesn't remember him. All I can tell you is that they lived in Worcester, MA during their marriage and were probably married there.

By the way, in case this helps sleuths out there, he allegedly died at age 28 (again, late 40s), of cirrhosis of the liver (you see why grandma booted him), in a hospital in Rhode Island.

Also, at the risk of being obvious, from my other geneological studies I've learned that many, many Fortins emigrated from Quebec around the turn of the century. Don't know if that helps or not.
posted by azieger to Human Relations (4 answers total)
Start where you should always start with genealogy -- with the known facts. In this case, that means getting the marriage certificate (and your mother's birth certificate, if you don't have it). Those will confirm his name, at least an approximate date of birth, and perhaps location of birth. Then I'd try to track down the death certificate, using Rhode Island's death indexes. If you don't find him there (or in the time frame expected), expand your search -- maybe he didn't die then or there. That should have enough information to enable you to get his birth certificate.
The birth cert. will almost certainly be amended, but it will give you a place to start looking to find the birth family. It may be impossible, as adoption records may be sealed (or it may have been an informal adoption -- in which case, the birth cert. might actually have the correct biological info). The Massachusetts state archive has a nice website with information about records available, including the adoption records.
Another option is to try to determine whether he had any Fortin siblings; tracking down surviving members of that family may give you some pointers in the right direction.
Good luck! I know how frustrating these dead ends can be -- I've been working on the same ancestor for five years and haven't even confirmed his proper name.
posted by katemonster at 8:35 PM on December 15, 2008

Once you know his date of birth, you could also look at census records and try to find him at home with his (adoptive) parents. It may be hard if Fortin was a popular name and since you don't know any other family names, but I'd still see what you can find. has these census records online, for a fee. But the National Archives has these census records for free. Not sure where you are, but I've used the one in Waltham, MA and had good luck.

I'd also recommend searching boards like the ones at (there is one, I just looked) and see if you can find anything. Good luck--it can be hard, but fun to try to track these folks down!
posted by jdl at 5:52 AM on December 16, 2008

Look for "Famille Fortin" for lots of results in French.
posted by bru at 6:34 AM on December 16, 2008

Brush up your French. There are entities in Quebec that will help you, but their site content will mostly be in French. Quebec's got a population of seven million, many of whom can, if they want to, trace their family lines back to specific families from France. Try googling for "généalogie" and "Québec" and you'll see a number of sites that may be useful.

Mind you, Fortin's a fairly common name, and then Quebec has the added complication of dit names which may or may not come into play. But if you can work back to a Fortin ancestor born in Quebec, the genealogy society files may get you a lot further back than that.

As for your grandfather, consider that if his parents came directly from Quebec, his birth name may well have been Laurent Fortin. (Not "Laurence" - that's a woman's name in French.) In Quebec, back in those days, boys were very often given several other saint's names before the name they actually used. Joseph is the most common. (For example, Pierre Trudeau's full name was Joseph Philippe Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau. He would never have gone by Joseph or Philippe.) So keep an eye out for those extra names as well.
posted by zadcat at 4:54 PM on December 16, 2008

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