Family Tree

Author Perney pens book
about one of first families in area

Bear family settled in
Jefferson County, Ind., in early 1800s

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(July 2010) – In 1812, pioneer John Bear decided to buy a tract of wild, frontier land in Indiana, just inland from the Ohio River on the Indian-Kentuck Creek. Problems with Indians, however, kept him from actually settling the land with his family until 1814. For the next century, that tract of land in the hills above what is now Brooksburg, Ind., saw generations of Bears live and die.
Today, the Bear family remains a large presence in the area surrounding what was once that little frontier farm. Throughout Jefferson County, Ind., Trimble County, Ky., and all along the Ohio River in southern Indiana, relatives of John Bear have worked hard to help their communities thrive and prosper.
Author and genealogist Jean Wilson Perney has compiled an extensive Bear family history, “Bear Branches: Family History,” that chronicles the descendants of John Bear through the line of his son Christian Bear and Christian’s wife, Nancy Hall. Nancy was the daughter of William Hall, a Revolutionary soldier who built a cabin and settled just up the river from Madison.
According to Perney, “Bear” was only one of the many spellings the family used for its surname. Others included “Bar,” “Baire,” “Beare” and “Bare.”
Some of the area families related to the Bear family include Atchison, Brown, Conely, Imel, Johnson, Lockridge, Lodge, McWethy, Neal, Phillips, Rogers, Thome and Webber.
Perney’s great grandmother was Mary Bear Phillips, one of the descendants of Christian Bear. Christian was the son of John Bear and his first wife, Esther Newcomer. He was born in 1795 in what is now Henry County, Ky. John and Esther had four children before Esther died sometime in 1802.
In 1803, John married his second wife, Mary “Polly” Kinder, in Shelby County, Ky. They had eight children: Abner, Sophia, Catherine, Solomon, Andrew, Nancy, Elizabeth and George W.
In order to put together the comprehensive genealogy, she spent thousands of hours in libraries, cemeteries, and historical societies combing through records. She also contacted Bear family members and started collecting oral histories from them.
“There are thousands of people listed in the book, but I am sure there are more that I did not find. There are always people you wished you could talk to and some you just can’t reach,” said Perney. “What’s fun about doing this type of research is learning who is related to whom.”
Perney is a native of Madison, Ind. She graduated from Madison High School in 1943 and worked at the Jefferson Proving Ground during World War II. She graduated from Hanover College in 1948 and later earned her master’s degree in 1967.
Her interest in genealogy began early in life, and by 1984, she had published a biographical sketch of the life of her maternal grandmother, Luella Morgan Phillips. In 1994, she and her husband, Warren W. Perney, co-authored a book about his family history. She has also written several other genealogy books about families in the area.
“I think this is a great venture that brings our family back together again and lets people know we are one of the first families of Jefferson County and the Ohio River Valley,” said Carol Crawford, a family descendant. “It’s wonderful that we are still going strong in the area today.”
“I thought it was very interesting to find out the names of my great and great-great-great grandparents,” said June Ritchie, also a Bear family member.
“I didn’t realize my family history went back so far,” said Mark Bear, owner of Bears Furniture Gallery on Madison’s hilltop. “It was a real eye-opener to realize my family has been here since the early 1800s and helped settle the area. We are related to so many other families around here.”
Bear has a copy of the book and recently went to visit the former Bear Farm and Bear Bridge near Brooksburg. “I’ve lived near the family farm for years and didn’t realize it,” he said.
There is a Bear Family Reunion scheduled for noon on Sept. 18 at Clifty Falls State Park, according to Valerie Strickland, another family relative. She said there are still many family members in the area, including prominent members of the community who are excited about the book and the upcoming family reunion.Family members are encouraged to bring a covered dish and join the clan for fun.
The book is available for reference at the Switzerland County Public Library in Vevay, Ind., at the Scott County Genealogical Society Library in Scottsburg, Ind., the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis, and the Cincinnati Public Library.
In Jefferson County, there are two places, the Madison-Jefferson County Public Library and the Jefferson County Historical Society Archives on West First Street. Other counties in Indiana are Grant County Library in Marion, Ind., and Hamilton East Public Library in Noblesville, Ind.

• Books may be ordered by contacting Jean Wilson Perney at jwperney@earthlink.net or by calling (317) 846 7164.

Back to July 2010 Articles.



Copyright 1999-2015, Kentuckiana Publishing, Inc.

Pick-Up Locations Subscribe Staff Advertise Contact Submit A Story Our Advertisers Columnists Archive Area Links Area Events Search our Site Home Monthly Articles Calendar of Events Kentucky Speedway Madison Chautauqua Madison Ribberfest Madison Regatta