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. 


2 comments on “TLSA Lecture Series – Supreme Court Case Files”

  1. Deidri Bryan Reply

    Thank you for the informative and interesting article. I grew up in East Tennessee in the 1950’s and 1960’s. My mother, proudly, told me about the beautiful Tennessee marble used in Washington, D.C.

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