The real Marie was a Louisiana Creole practitioner of Voodoo very renowned in New Orleans. She and her daughter had great influence over their multiracial following. Some say that, in 1874 as many as twelve thousand spectators, both black and white, swarmed to the shores of Lake Pontchartrain to catch a glimpse of Marie Laveau II (the daughter) performing her legendary rites on St. John's Eve (June 23–24).
Historical records surmise that Marie Laveau was born free in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana, about 1794. She was the natural daughter of two free persons of color, both biracial, one of which was Creole. On August 4, 1819, she married Jacques (or Santiago, in other records) Paris, a free person of color who had emigrated from Haiti. Their marriage certificate is preserved in St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. The wedding Mass was performed by Father Antonio de Sedella, the Capuchin priest known as Pere Antoine. Jacques Paris died in 1820 under unexplained circumstances.
According to VoodooMuseum.com, "The only evidence that exist(s) of any sort of occupation she had was (as) a liquor importer (in 1832) on Dauphine Street in the Faubourg Marigny (in New Orleans). The warehouse still exits at the intersection of Dauphine and Kerlérec Streets". Folklore says at one time she also became a hairdresser, as it is also portrayed in the series. She took a lover, Christophe (Louis Christophe Dumesnil de Glapion), with whom she lived until his death in 1835. They were reported to have had 15 children including Marie Laveau II, born c. 1827, who sometimes used the surname "Paris" after her mother's first husband.
Very little is known with any certainty about the life of Marie Laveau. Scholars believe that the mother was more powerful while the daughter arranged more elaborate public events. It is said that they received varying amounts of financial support. It is not known which (if not both) had done more to establish the voodoo queen reputation. Of Laveau's magical career there is little that can be substantiated. She was said to have had a snake she named Zombi after an African god. Oral traditions suggested that the occult part of her magic mixed Roman Catholic beliefs, including saints, with African spirits and religious concepts. Some scholars believe that her feared magical powers of divination were actually based on her network of informants which she developed while working as a hairdresser in households of the prominent. As she visited her clients (mostly white) she listened closely to their gossip. Some assert that she ran her own brothel and cultivated informants in that way as well. She appeared to excel at obtaining inside information on her wealthy patrons by instilling fear in their servants whom she either paid or "cured" of mysterious ailments.
On June 16, 1881, the New Orleans newspapers, the Daily Picayune for one, according to "Voodoo in New Orleans" by Robert Tallant, announced that Marie Laveau had died peacefully in her home. This is noteworthy if only because people claimed to have seen her in town after her supposed demise. Again, some claimed that one of her daughters also named Marie (many of the daughters had Marie within their names due to Catholic naming practices) assumed her name and carried on her magical practice, taking over as the queen soon before or after the first Marie's death.
Marie Laveau is generally believed to have been buried in plot 347, the Glapion family crypt, in Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans, but this has been disputed by researchers. Tourists continue to visit and some draw "X" marks in accordance with a decades-old rumor that if people wanted Laveau to grant them a wish, they had to draw an "X" on the tomb, turn around three times, knock on the tomb, yell out their wish, and if it was granted, come back, circle their "X," and leave Laveau an offering.