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From Top to Bottom: A Story of Family History

Updated: Feb 5, 2020

MOUNT VERNON, INDIANA - Towards the beginning of the summer I went to the top of the state to find out some more about the people that come from the bottom. My mother is from Mount Vernon, Indiana, a small little river city tucked in the Southwest corner of the state. I wanted to know more, not about the place, but about the people. My mother is one of ten, nine of those ten still live in either Mount Vernon or neighboring Evansville.

Me with my Uncle Rodney, July 2019

It seems as if we’d always been here, and as the water of the Ohio moved along, we’ve been still. We’ve been here, in Mount Vernon, for a century and a half. I’d bet everything I own that we’ll still be here a century and a half later, at least I hope so. I wanted to know more, where were we before this? I went to the top to learn about the bottom.

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In the Northeast corner of the state is the country’s largest public genealogy center. I traveled up there excited to hear more about my beautiful mother and her family. I provided the genealogy center, which is located on the 2nd floor of the Allen County Public Library, with as much information about my family that I could. Even with all the information I was able to gather, my tree still had a lot of leafless, lifeless branches.

To read my original story from my trip to Fort Wayne, "Who Am I Made of?" click here.

To add life to my tree, I had to find some dead people, but not just any dead people, MY dead people, the ones I can still feel living through me. I had tried to find the answers on my own, but I needed help from the professionals. The Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne has access to the top family history databases in the world! This is all available on the second floor of the library, and check this out.. you get to access them for free!

I sat down at a table to go over some newly found information with Allison Singleton of the Genealogy Center. My tree, deeply rooted here in Indiana, began to spread her roots across the country. That soil along the river is rich, the history is rich. My grandmother, who lives right along the breathtaking riverfront, descends from slaves. Her great-great grandfather was born a slave in 1808 in Maryland and was sold to a family in Union County, Kentucky. Mount Vernon is in Posey County, Indiana, and if I was still lifting weights everyday I might just be able to throw a rock across the river from Posey to Union County.

Now although the majority of my family history is rooted in slavery, all of my mother’s side of the family was free before the Civil War. My grandfather’s grandmother, was Matilda (Rickman) Jefferson. The Rickman’s are one of the most prestigious black families in American history, and the Genealogy Center traced my linage back to 1719! I had actually left the center and was in my hotel room in Fort Wayne when Allison called and said that I needed to come back and see what she had found!

John Rickman, my great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather, was born an free man in Colonial Virginia in 1719! These roots are well preserved, as free records are much more thorough and accessible compared to the records of those that were in bondage. The Rickman’s owned land in North Carolina and Tennessee, black land owners in the early 1800’s!! They eventually made their way up to Illinois and then over the Wabash and into Indiana.

The center was able to find stories of heroism, like when my great grandpa, “Peanut” Waller, saved the city of Mount Vernon! The headline of the June 24, 1926 local newspaper reads, “NEGRO AVERTS WRECK OF EXCURSION TRAIN”! They found the stories of me, and I know if you go up there they’ll find the stories of you!

Despite the bending of the river and the blowing of the wind, the roots are strong, and the trunk of the tree remains here in Mount Vernon, Indiana. I had to find my roots to fill the branches. I had to go to the top to learn about the bottom.

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