FORT WAYNE, INDIANA - When I take these trips across Indiana I never know what I'm going to write about until I get back home to Indianapolis. This trip was different. After Marcus and I left the Genealogy Center on the second floor of the Allen County Public Library, I knew that this would be the place that I would write about.
I love Indiana, I love history, and most importantly, I love me. I've built this entire platform around my love for these three things. As I learn about Indiana, I learn about myself and there was absolutely no exception to that when I walked into our nation's largest public genealogy center.
I've taken a dive into my family's history a few times, but I didn't have the resources that were available at the Allen County Public Library.
We spent about an hour touring the center, and we easily could have spent longer. We then sat down with the professionals as they told us about who we were and where we came from.
Even with ALLLLLL of the books, and ALLLLL of the online databases, the best resources at the Genealogy Center are the people!
(We can't thank Allison and John enough)
I sent my family tree over a week before the trip to Fort Wayne, and when I arrived, they had every hole filled out and more. We sat with them for over an hour as we scrutinized dozens of documents consisting of my family's history.
So what did we find out?
Well, as you can probably assume, I had ancestors that were in bondage all the way up until the Civil War. They were slaves, property, and treated as such. They contributed to building this country just as much as anyone else who claims to be a founding father.
It's not often that the staff at the Genealogy Center can go back too precisely when look back through the lineage of African-Americans in this country pre-1865. For the most part, we were treated as cattle, we were less than human, our records didn't matter, our names didn't matter.
Here's an 1850 slave schedule from Kentucky. Mary Greenwell, a white woman from Union County, KY was listed as the owner of these slaves. Their names aren't found, just age and gender. These are my direct ancestors and they took the name Greenwell also.
Most black people here in America, we have European last names, we were given them as slaves. None of the last names within my family history are African, names like Givens, Levingston, Steward, Coleman, Burns, Rickman, etc., these are all European names.
Malcolm X didn't want his European last name, he changed it to X. This plays a role into why some Muslims in the United States will give themselves a new name.
History.com - Born Malcolm Little, he changed his last name to X to signify his rejection of his “slave” name. Charismatic and eloquent, Malcolm became an influential leader of the Nation of Islam, which combined Islam with black nationalism and sought to encourage and enfranchise disadvantaged young blacks searching for confidence in segregated America.
I like when I see black people in this country with the last name Freeman. Free man, as if to say "this is what you can to refer to me as now."
Now here was something that I found extremely interesting, on my mother's side of the family, they were able to trace my family lineage back to 1719. In 1719, John Rickman, my great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather, was born a free black man in Virginia.
John Rickman, free black man, 1719, HOW!? Look man, I have no idea. I mean there's no way to know for sure, but all throughout the colonial period, the Rickman's were black and owning acres land in the South. The family kept moving West and eventually settled in Indiana and Illinois.
Here I am, 300 years later, black in America and proud of it. I wish every last one my ancestors could see what they've helped create. They've allowed me the opportunity to see the world in the ways that I do, THROUGH 2 EYES!
What I shared in this article just barely scratches the surface when it comes to all the information they were able to pull for me. Here's something I thought was pretty cool, a 1926 newspaper article from my mother's hometown of Mount Vernon, Indiana. My great-grandfather, a man they called "Peanuts" Waller, saved the town!
As I mentioned above, it's almost impossible to fit everything from my experience there into this article. If you have any more questions about my own personal family history or about discovering your own, please don't hesitate to reach out!