In Search of George Forman

I was approached by a friend last weekend who wanted to know what I knew about George Forman of the firm Brown-Forman. I had to admit that I knew very little. I know that he was working for Brown-Thompson when James Thompson left the firm to form his own liquor company, James Thompson and Bro. in 1890. George Forman bought Thompson’s shares and the firm became Brown-Forman. I knew that he died in 1901 and the Browns asked permission of his widow to continue to use his name in the firm. That was all I knew, but I told him I would look into it further and see what I could find out about George Forman.

group picture featuring Emily Forman

January 1886, group photograph featuring Emily Forman - daughter of Geo. Forman - seated in the center...holding owl.

I decided that the place to start is with the city directories to establish an address. I found him in the 1889 directory as a clerk for the firm Brown-Thompson and residing at 1230 2nd Street. In the 1899 city directory he was listed as working at Brown-Forman and residing at 1403 2nd Street. There were no other family members listed, but this gave me something to work with for my next step. This step was made easier by the fact that Filson Librarian Cassie Bratcher was in the stacks while I was searching the directories and became interested in my search. She suggested that we look to see if he was in Cave Hill Cemetery.

George is buried in the Cave Hill Cemetery.  He died on 19 November 1901 of “Locomotor Ataxia”, which is a disease that causes the person to lose control of their limbs. George was 57 years old giving me a birth year of 1844. He was buried on 21 November 1901. The next step was to search the census records. The census of 1900 has a wealth of information about George. He was born in August 1844 and was married for 35 years. His wife, Hannah, had two children but only one survived. Their daughter Emily lived with them as did their two Irish servants, Kate, age 45 and Mary, age 19. The 1880 census records show George, Hannah and Emily living with a single Irish servant, Hannah. He is listed as a clerk at a wholesale liquor firm.

Things start to get a little interesting starting with the 1870 census. George, Hannah and Emily are farmers in Illinois. The 1860 census records have a George Forman, age 15, living with the family of Theodore and Sallie Brown. This George has a real estate value of $11,000 and a personal estate valued at $1,500. Looking back to the 1850 census, there is a George Forman living with his 13 years old sister who is listed as an orphan. If these two records are showing the same George Forman, then it appears he was orphaned at an early age, but inherited an estate. He was learning the farming trade from Theodore Brown.

A search of the Filson’s image database revealed that we have no images of George or Hannah, but there is an 1886 image with Emily Forman in the collection. The first day of the search is finished, but there are many other avenues of research to pursue. It looks like a trip to the public library to search microfilm for his obituary is the next step…

Mike Veach

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