NetGuide NZ - Family on the move

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Family on the move

A correspondent named Peter has asked about John Fortnam, who was born in England in 1881 and immigrated to America in 1887. His father Albert was there already and Albert’s wife, with children John (4) (b c 1883), Harry (6) and Helen (8) were to join him.

I found what could be the family in the 1881 census using FindMyPast ( In an ‘include variants’ search I found Albert, Mary (22) and Helen (2) FORDHAM in Leeds. A check on found Helen FORTNAM’s birth in Leeds, in 1879, and Harry in 1881. There was no John in Leeds, but has a baptism for John, son of Albert and Mary in June 1884. There is a death for Mary Ann FORTNAM in early 1887, aged 28, registered in Leeds. This is relevant, as the wife and children had boarded the ship, but the wife died before departure and her body was put ashore. Peter does not give me the mother’s name, so I don’t know if this is his family. However, this family is not showing in the 1891 census in England.

Peter does have the record of the three children arriving in the States. Because the surname could be spelt or transcribed in different ways, he will need to carefully search for the family in the 1900 US census (, as very little remains of the 1890 US census. This is the most important searching to do. Also try 

Albert, Harry and John came to New Zealand, and Peter would like to know what happened to Helen. I would search for Albert’s second marriage in California, to see just where they were living then. I would also look for a marriage for Helen at,, and  If Helen lived after 1956 you might find her on, in the social security indexes. He should also check, (records listed by state) and (papers around the world).

I would also look for a Fortnam mailing list ( to find others searching that surname. Don’t just look; add a request for information. Also see 

Albert has siblings on the 1861 and 1871 census - work forwards on those names to find living descendants who might know what happened to Helen.

It would also be a good idea to purchase Albert’s death registration in New Zealand - it could show Helen alive at that time, and give details of Albert’s second marriage. Phone 0800 22 52 52 to order it if you know the approximate year. Maybe Helen is mentioned in Albert’s obituary or death notice - check with your local library as to access to newspapers. See also 

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