Who do I think I am? by Pat Simmons

I really didn’t know the answer until a paper trail led me to Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina and other American ports of entry for those who were destined to be enslaved.

Here’s my story…

I became interested in my family’s genealogy prior to writing my first Christian novel, Guilty of Love. I decided to incorporate some of my family names into the Guilty series in hopes of tracking down distant relatives who might pick up my book and recognize names.

For my main character, Parke, I chose Charlotte for his mother’s name. Charlotte was my maternal grandmother and my maternal great-great grandmother’s names. The last name wasn’t so easy as I pondered to give them something with a distinguished ring to it. Somehow Jamiesons stuck, thus creating Parke K. Jamieson VI. He and his brothers became the strong, successful and confident Black men who were the tenth generation descendants of a royal African tribe.

I continued my genealogy research while penning Guilty of Love, but I got stuck.  My maternal grandmother’s last name was Wilkerson. I had located Charlotte Wilkerson, along with her two sons, William (my great grandfather b. 1866) and his brother Samuel (b. 1868), on the 1880 census. When I searched the 1870 records, I hit a wall. I couldn’t locate them. I turned to other genealogy enthusiasts to help in the hunt for Charlotte Wilkerson and her two sons. It’s amazing how savvy some these sleuths are. A few days later, they came back with information that made me hold my breath.

It appears that Charlotte’s last name was actually Jamieson. Eerie, huh?  I had no idea that I was giving my character the exact FIRST and LAST name after an ancestor. People talk about a sign from God, well I had it.

Curious, I had to see it for myself. I went back to the slaveholders’ schedules in 1860. There were some Jamiesons listed, but I needed the right one. Ding, ding, ding, ding. There was a Robert Jamieson in Chickasaw County, Mississippi, the same county where my great-great grandmother lived in 1870! My heart was pounding and my palms were sweating. Could it be? So where did my family get the name Wilkerson?  Okay, I calmed down and regrouped, then checked the names in Robert Jamieson’s household. Besides his only daughter, Artie, and his sons, there was a guest with an occupation listed as teacher in the academy, John Wilkerson (my white great great-grandfather).  I wanted to scream, “I found him! I found him,” but I was in a public library and I’m sure I would have been put out. He had father two sons with the mulatto slave Charlotte. cropped John adams Wilkinson

From that record, I was able to find his mother, who looked like a pilgrim, and other relatives. I’ve gone back four and five generations on other family trees and connected with cousins I would have never met if it wasn’t for my desire to find out who I am.

But there is one more thing I would like to share about who I am. Years before I landed a book deal, I worked for Books-a-million. I was a community events planner/bookseller or whatever else they needed me to be.

It was a part time gig whenever I wasn’t working part-time at a TV station. One night after closing, the bathroom cleaning detail fell on me before I could go home. I called home and told my husband I would be a little late. The conversation went like this, “You have to clean the restrooms? You have a college degree and…”

Begrudgingly,  as I slipped on the rubber gloves, pulled out the mop bucket and grabbed the disinfect solution, I could hear the voices of my ancestors fussing and asking me, “Who do I think you are? Are you too good to clean an inside bathroom when we had to clean outhouses?”

I saw visions of my great grandmothers working in the Arkansas and Mississippi fields in the heat with babies on their backs. Immediately, I felt ashamed. I had some nerve to think the task was beneath me because of a college degree. With gusto and pride, I cleaned the women and men’s restrooms as if I was at home. I did it in memory of my greats who had survived before me, in hopes that my life would be better than theirs. I wanted to make my ancestors proud and to know that what they did for me wasn’t in vain.

But there’s one more thing. As I walk with God, I want to make Him proud to know that His suffering wasn’t in vain. Now that I know who I am in my family tree and in Jesus Christ, I strive to stay humble, so that I can represent Christ in word and deed, and not make His name Jesus or my ancestors’ name ashamed.

Read more about my work at my website www.patsimmons.net and my reviews on Amazon. Please pre-order my March release In Defense of Love. Currently, a film company has requested the novel for review. Well, praise God!

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