Tag Archives: TSLA

TLSA Lecture Series – Supreme Court Case Files

Yesterday, yours truly had the opportunity to attend a presentation at the Tennessee State Library by Dr. Susan Knowles, “Unfolding History in the Tennessee Supreme Court Case Files.” I learned so much!

Sample of TN pink marble. Image from Wikipedia.

Dr. Knowles is a digital humanities research fellow at  Middle Tennessee State University’s Center for Historic Preservation. Her dissertation work on history of East Tennessee marble is the foundation for an upcoming exhibit soon to open at the Museum of East Tennessee History, “Rock of Ages: East Tennessee’s Marble Legacy.”  Dr. Knowles’ dissertation topic was centered around the East Tennessee marble industry – particularly how the marble has been use in civic architecture and the people who built the industry. 

US Capitol Visitor Center – uses the pink hue of the TN marble. Photo by Taneya Koonce.

She led us through her experiences tracking these details after she learned, during a visit to the US Capitol Building, that it was full of marble from east Tennessee. Indeed, as many buildings in Washington DC, and throughout the United States are! There is also a block of east TN marble inside the Washington Monument. I visited the US Capitol Building earlier this year and didn’t even realize the floor I was standing on came from Tennessee.   🙂  During her research, Dr. Knowles found valuable information among the Tennessee Supreme Court Case files.  Hearing her descriptions of using the files was quite informative, and she noted the ease of use now that the Tennessee State Library provides an online, searchable index database.

The Tennessee Supreme Court records held at TSLA are a major component of their overall collection; they span about 1809-1950 and includes more than 10,000 boxes of material.  The online database is an ongoing work in progress and can be searched by county, date range, and keywords against the names, crime, and description fields.  According to the current information on the TSLA website, there are more than 35,000 cases indexed so far.

If you’ve not had the opportunity to investigate its use for your own research, you will definitely want to check it out. Even if you have used it, new records are continually added, so check for updates.  Before leaving TSLA, I looked for cases involving people with the Koonce surname (for my Koonce Surname Project) and spent about an hour looking through the case file of one of the individuals in my project; it was a file of around 200 pages with great detail about the family structure of those involved.

TSLA lectures are generally posted on the TSLA website, so check the site for updates. Currently, you can find videos from past presentations there – including one of our own TNGenWeb county coordinators, Jim Long.

If you are interested in learning more about the East Tennessee Marble industry, you can read Dr. Knowles’ dissertation online. And, if you are in the Knoxville area between November 18th – May 16th, be sure to check out the museum exhibit. 

Thank you Dr. Knowles for an insightful and interesting presentation! For our TNGenWeb friends, the opportunity to understand more about our state’s history adds helpful detail to our ancestors’ and relatives’ experiences. 


AncestryDay Recap

Yesterday, the Tennessee State Library and Archives partnered with Ancestry to host the “Tennessee Ancestry Library Event”  here in Nashville. The event had two primary days – a Librarians’ Day on Friday, and a Researcher’s Day yesterday. I was so pleased that I was able to attend the Saturday Researchers’ Day event. for which there were more than 600 attendees.  I don’t often have the opportunity to attend genealogy events in person and I cherished each moment. I met several new people, and even had a chance to see some of our TNGenWeb peeps there!

Upon arriving and registering, we were all given a bag, nametag, and a well-done syllabus booklet; our Stewart County coordinator, Jim Long, took this picture at the beginning of the day.


After a welcome by Kim Harrision, a Senior Account Executive with Ancestry, and Chuck Sherrill, the State Librarian at the TN State Library and Archives, we began the day’s presentation series.  First up was Anne  Gillespie Mitchell, aka AncestryAnne.  Her presentation, “How to Search Successfully to Tell Your Story on Ancestry.com” focused on how to take advantage of the search and filtering features of the Ancestry website.  Anne did a great job, is an entertaining speaker, and I enjoyed hearing her personal stories and the tips and tricks she shared. Anne blogs for Ancestry and is active online – you can learn more about her at http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/author/amitchell/.

Chuck Sherrill then presented “Your Ancestor’s Lawsuit: Finding and Using Tennessee’s Supreme Court Case Files.”  This was probably the most informative presentation of the day for me because I just don’t know a lot about court case files research. But I learned and now feel I can use what Chuck shared to explore these records further.  The TSLA is in the process of indexing the Tennessee Supreme Court Case Files so he shared details about that project. If you’ve not yet had a chance to, go explore the index – they have about 30,000 cases in the database already.


A presentation on AncestryDNA was done by Anna Swayne. I did my first DNA test about 3 years ago with 23andMe, and only did my AncestryDNA test back in July. I’m just getting started exploring my matches, and it was inspiring to hear Anna describe not only how you navigate the system, but also personal stories on connections she’s made and success stories.  Amazingly, she shared that the number of people who have done the test has doubled since the beginning of the year, from 250,000 to 500,000. That is great news because the more people who take the test, the more opportunities there are for matches!  I look forward to Ancestry doing more development of their DNA testing features – they have 12 PhD’s working on the team so that’s encouraging.


Anna Sawyer shares a photo she received after connecting with a DNA match

After lunch, J. Mark Lowe did an AMAZING presentation about a story of a girl who swallowed a snake.  You can read about the story on the Rutherford County TNGenWeb site. Not only are the case details highly interesting, but Mark did the presentation in character; as Dr. William K. Bowling, a physician who was involved in the case and all the happenings around it. Mark was just great! But, he also left us with a cliffhanger – for which you will have to read his blog in October and November for the follow-up. I definitely encourage you to check it out! His blog is at http://keepingthestoryalive.blogspot.com/.  In the video clip below, here Mark describe “himself” in character as Dr. Bowling.


Then, Juliana Szucs Mitchell presented “Jumpstart Your Research” during which she gave a series of tips for how to search and general strategies to employ as you search in order to be more organized and focused. Juliana helps with the Ancestry Learning Center and also navigated us through parts of that site. Juliana particularly emphasized the need to search widely and be aware of all available resources; I of course very much agree! You can learn more about Juliana at http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/author/jsmith/.


The day concluded with a panel for all of the presenters to answer questions from the audience.  This was nice because it gave us all an opportunity to hear their approaches for seeking information in specific circumstances. There were two personal favorite highlights of mine from this session.  One audience member asked about finding families in an adoption case, to which Anna Sawyer replied “So…there is this test you can take….”  Loved that because I’ve been interacting with a few people lately who have been adopted and are searching for their families. In each case, I always recommend DNA testing.  Then, one visitor asked about an ancestor who changed his name so was looking for help on where to search.  Would you believe that Mark Lowe had actually READ that pension file in which there were details about where this person had done the name change so Mark was able to tell the visitor which counties in KY to look further. Amazing!


Juliana Smith, Mark Lowe, Ancestry Gillespie Mitchell, Chuck Sherrill, and Anna Sawyer

Overall, the day was just wonderful. Thanks again to the event organizers and if you ever happen to have an event like this come anywhere near you, it is definitely worth going. Follow the #AncestryDay hashtag on Twitter for future news and announcements.