Publisher of Quality Genealogy Materials
Volume 6, Number 18 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 August 27, 2014
In this article we discuss the places to look for information after you exhausted the Census, County and Federal Records. The next steps are definitely more difficult to undertake, but you can find great information in them.
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James L. Douthat
The first place most of us start to look for our ancestors is the U.S. Census. These records are readily available. They will cover more than 80% of the population at the time they were taken. There are some missing due to mis-spelling of names, overlooked households or perhaps no one knew their names. After the census, we generally go to the county records which are getting more and more available online as well as in book form. Finally, we venture into the Federal Records, if there are some that seem to have the right information. Now, where do we look?
The next avenues for research are more difficult, but can be very rewarding. Here we have to venture into the private collections, diaries, letters, church records, school records and other materials that are harder to locate and may not be found on library shelves. Over the years, Mountain Press has made a conscious effort to find and gain permission to publish private collections and other resources that are more difficult to locate. Publishing these records helps many with their genealogy research as well as preserving them for future generations.
One area where we have been able to publish private collections is in the area of Cherokee records. These all started in the early 1920s when a grandson of Chief John Ross came to Chattanooga with over fifty boxes of the Chief’s private papers and collections of Native American Records. The grandson sold these to a local historian and many of them are just now coming to light. Most of the removal records we share are from those boxes, but still are in private hands today. Since many of the removal records were not a part of the Federal Records, the contents were not known before. In fact, these private papers contain many notes about the various Cherokee families that have been unknown prior to this time.
Another collection that Mountain Press was given permission to publish are the records of the Tennessee Valley Authority in their grave removal process. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Act was passed in 1933 to improve navigability, control flooding of the Tennessee River, and provide for the Valley's agricultural and industrial development. Before the dam was flooded, graves had to be relocated to higher ground. The earlier Corp of Engineers moved a lot of graves in their life span, but had few if any requirements as to their record keeping. TVA was given a list of requirements for their records. Each grave that was moved had to have a file with multiple pages of signed documents from the descendants, officials of the cemetery or trustee of the land before a grave was disturbed. A large number of the descendants did not want the graves moved and those graves are now covered by a lake.
Each cemetery involved in the process was mapped and details of each grave were recorded. These records will show the grave number, the name with the dates of birth and death and/or marriage if given. In most cases, if there was a quote on the gravestone, this is also retained. Since this was a Federal project, the local mapping division was requested to send everything to the Federal Archives in Georgia.
However, the local mapping division had undertaken another project to compile a listing of each of the over 30,000 names involved that was completed by retired personnel. Since this local project was not part of a federal project, the records were turned over to Mountain Press which has published them in one volume. We have published most of the records for the main channel lakes with the maps of each cemetery and the listing of all the names recorded. In many cases, we had access to the first surveyor’s notebooks that recorded information about the cemetery and many of the descendants.
Church records and school records may also be difficult to find, but they are very important as well. In many areas, only the older records are available. You can find some interesting stories when reading the church records. In the records of one Baptist Church, it mentioned that one man was “churched” or kicked out for drinking. In a meeting of the officials later, he repented and was re-admitted, only to be kicked out a few months later. This went on for years. In several Methodist records, the history books say there were no Northern Methodist Churches in Tennessee prior to the ending of the Civil War. However, one area of the south had Northern connections at least a year before the ending of the War. The Church records can in some instances provide proof of age. Many years ago, the Social Security agents contacted me as the pastor of a church to verify the age of one applicant from our records at the church. We were able to verify the information and the individual was granted their Social Security payments.
Another record that can be difficult to find is the Federal Summaries of the Census, which is available in some larger libraries. These do not have names, but the information helps to answer many of the questions you have about the area and times in which our ancestors lived. This information definitely helps round out our knowledge of our ancestors.
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