Black in Cincinnati: 'My family, my purpose'

Posted at 8:00 AM, Feb 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-14 08:00:00-05

When Thomas Darron Jordan’s paternal aunt died in 2002, another generation of his family was gone. He realized that he knew very little about his family roots. A visit with a cousin in Dunbar, West Virginia in 2008 altered his purpose in life and he became a genealogist. He invites you to join him on his journey to uncover his paternal ancestors. His search led him to Roberta, Crawford County, Georgia, the place where it all began. He has documented all eight of his paternal great-great grandparents and his research led to the creation of a biannual reunion of the descendants of his great-great grandfather Jessie Jordan, Sr. (1817-1915). Utilizing his newfound sleuthing skills, he discovered his connection to one of the most pivotal civil rights events in history.

“If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all the generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.”
- Buddhist author Thich Nhat Hanh

My name is Thomas Darron Jordan.
I am the son of Richard Jordan and Lela Beatrice Thomas Jordan.
I am the grandson of Willie Jordan and Clara Jane Jordan.
I am also the grandson of Martin Alfonso Thomas and Flora Gibbs Thomas.
I am the great grandson of Lloyd J. Jordan and Ammie Cloud Jordan.
And the great grandson of Felix Jordan and Ella Webb Jordan.
I am also the great grandson of Dennis Thomas and Viney Littlepage Thomas.
And the great grandson of David Gibbs and Mahalia Chapman Gibbs.
I am the great-great grandson of Lafayette “Fate” Jordan and Emma Hollingshed Jordan.
And the great-great grandson of Nathan Cloud and Amelia Culverhouse Cloud.
I am the great-great grandson of Jessie and Katherine Jordan.
And the great-great grandson of James Webb and Elmira Jackson Webb.
I am the great-great grandson of Betsy Littlepage Williams.
The great-great grandson of Alfred and Mary Ann Dean Gibbs.
And the great-great grandson of Mark and Chlorie Chapman.

This is the way I introduce myself whenever I have a speaking engagement. On one occasion when I recited my family pedigree to a group of high school students, one of them asked me “Who are those people? Are they famous?”

I responded ,“They are famous to me. They are my ancestors.”

Tom Jordan’s mother, Lela

On another occasion, when I recited my family tree to a youth group, the leader of the group approached me afterwards. “Man, that was deep how you said your family tree and named your relatives, because I don’t even know who my daddy is!”

I take pride in being able to recite my family tree back five and six generations. Ten years ago, I wasn’t able to do this, at least not much beyond my grandparents.

But what started out as a curiosity has turned into a lifetime assignment and has given concrete purpose to my life.

I have worked for WCPO-TV, Channel 9 and Scripps since I graduated from Xavier in 1987. I
have played a hand in delivering the news on some of the biggest stories in the modern era. I have been in Christian ministry for more than 33 years, founded a church and pastored for close to 20 years.

Aunt Mildred Barnes, whose death was Jordan’s catalyst to research his family.

I have spent the majority of my adult life helping people navigate through the complexities of life while trying to prepare them for eternity. But I have found my greatest personal fulfillment in the role that God has now placed me in as a genealogist and family historian.

This curiosity culminated in the book “Double Jordan: My Journey Towards Discovering My Paternal Ancestors.” The book chronicles my journey piecing together the lineage and history of my father’s side of the family. I am currently working on a book about my mother and my maternal ancestry.

Jordan’s paternal grandfather, Martin Alphonso Thomas

This past June, I was elected as the new President of the African-American Genealogy Group of the Miami Valley.

On Feb. 10, VH1 aired a movie about the life of Rosa Parks and the beginning of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The movie held particular interest for me because a cousin, Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, was portrayed by Loretta Divine.

Jo Ann Robinson was a professor of English at Alabama State College in Montgomery and also was a member of the Women’s Political Council and the Montgomery Improvement Association. She was paramount to the launch and success of the boycott.

Her recollections are shared in “The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It.” I found out about cousin Jo Ann as a result of my research. Her mother and my great-grandmother were siblings.

Recently, Fort Valley State University in Fort Valley, Ga. contacted me. Because they had a copy of my book and knew of my relationship with Ms. Robinson, they reached out to announce that they will be naming a street in honor of her on the campus, since she was graduate of the school. Cousin Jo Ann had no biological children and all of her siblings are deceased.

These kind of events and the continuing phone calls, emails, letters and messages on social media have made me very happy about the book’s impact.

What does this have to do with being black in Cincinnati? It is my aim to not just be an African-American genealogist but a good genealogist. Period. It is also my prayer that through teaching others how to research their family history I will be able to strengthen my community.

I am a firm believer that much of what we see in our community and from our young people stems from a lack of pride and self-awareness. It is amazing how life changes when you definitely know your purpose. I have never been more aware of who I am and could not be any prouder of my family and the sacrifices they have made on my behalf.

Those sacrifices have afforded me the opportunity to do some things many people only dream about. Forever grateful, I end with some brief but humbling words from one of my cousins in Georgia and the quote that ends our book: “Man, some people live a lifetime and never know their worth or purpose, but I thank God that you do. You are the BEST!!! And, I am grateful that you are MY cousin. Love you” - Edie