Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Make a “County Connection” the Saturday after Thanksgiving on “Family History Day”

The Thanksgiving weekend is a time when many of us spend time reconnecting with family members and sharing family stories. At the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA), families can also explore stories of their relatives who lived many years ago.

Redding Bonner family gathers around a table full of food, circa 1890.
Looking Back at Tennessee. Tennessee State Library and Archives

For the fourth consecutive year, the staff at TSLA is encouraging Tennesseans to visit the library and celebrate 'Family History Day' by learning more about genealogical research.

Gordon Belt, TSLA’s Director of Public Services, will host a beginning genealogy workshop providing an overview of resources available at the library and how to navigate through various databases. The workshop is entitled, “County Connections” and will focus on locating and using TSLA’s many county records. Afterwards, staff will be on hand to help visitors with their research.

The workshop will be held from 9:30 a.m. until 11:00 a.m. Saturday at the TSLA auditorium, which is located at 403 Seventh Avenue North, directly west of the State Capitol building in downtown Nashville.

While the workshop is free, reservations are required due to limited seating. To make a reservation, call (615) 741-2764 or e-mail Please note that TSLA will be closed on Thursday and Friday for the Thanksgiving holiday, so it's important to make reservations before then.

Although parking in front of TSLA's building is limited, there is plenty of additional parking behind the building.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Remembering “The Forgotten War” on Veterans Day

On Veterans Day, the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) honors all who have served -- and continue to serve -- our country in the armed forces. TSLA has many resources about veterans and the wars in which they served. Today, we highlight some of our materials on the Korean War. Sandwiched between World War II and the Vietnam War, the Korean War (1950-1953) is often called the “Forgotten War.”

TSLA has dozens of books and federal government documents about Korea and the Korean War. These include books like the unique Pictorial Korea: 1951-1952, published by the International Publicity League of Korea in 1953, and the more recent Understanding the Korean War: the Participants, Tactics and the Course of Conflict (2013), by Arthur Mitchell. Among government documents, we have a variety of selections, including the Pocket Guide to Korea, published by the Department of Defense's Office of Information for the Armed Forces, as a guidebook for U.S. soldiers.

TSLA is actively seeking more information about the experience of Tennesseans in the Korean War. Tennessee Remembers: Korean Veterans is a project designed to help veterans of the Korean War preserve their history by collecting original documents, stories, and memorabilia related to their in-country experiences during the war. We invite you to share your experience:

For a more comprehensive account of our holdings, including related manuscript collections, please see this online guide, Korean War Resources at TSLA: We also invite you to visit the Korean War page of our online exhibit, The Volunteer State Goes to War: A Salute to Tennessee Veterans: and hope you will explore the entire exhibit.

Additional resources about and for veterans

Military Records at TSLA

TSLA Resource Guides

Other Projects

If you have questions about our government document holdings, please visit or For more information about any of these resources, please contact our reference staff at

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Wills Research Fellow Melissa Gismondi reflects upon "Rachel Jackson and American Femininity"

Melissa Gismondi is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Virginia, specializing in colonial and early North American social and cultural history. Her dissertation, "The Character of a Wife: Gender, Power, and Prestige in Rachel Jackson’s Early America, 1760s-1820s" uses the life and constructed image of Andrew Jackson's wife, Rachel, to analyze gender and class formation on the frontier in the early republican and Jacksonian eras.

Gismondi recently visited the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA), and spoke with us in August about her research. She conducted research of our collections through the Wills Research Fellowship awarded on an annual basis by the Tennessee Historical Society. The purpose of the fellowship is to promote the interpretation of Tennessee history and the scholarly use of the Society's collections. The fellowship is provided through the Society's Jesse E. Wills Memorial Fund. The collections of the Society are especially strong in the frontier, Jacksonian, antebellum, and Civil War eras.

Q: Describe your research project for us.

MG: My project uses the life and experiences of Rachel Jackson and her extended kin in the Donelson and Jackson families to consider how gender shaped elite and class formation on the southeastern frontier (modern-day Tennessee and Kentucky) during the early republican period of the 1760s-1820s. Because of the very large shadow that the Civil War casts over American history, I think we often envision early America as divided into northern and southern districts. But my project reveals a deep division in the early republican-era between the regions east and west of the Appalachians. My project shows how ideas about gender—or social and cultural ideas on how men and women ought to behave—determined class formation among Tennessee families like the Jacksons, who occupied considerable influence in the early republican period. Through their wealth, and attempts to refashion themselves as social elites, I show how Rachel and her extended family achieved political and cultural influence in the early republican period, despite the fact that eastern elites harbored prejudice against westerners as morally incapable to lead the new nation.

Q: What initially interested you in this topic?

MG: The southeastern frontier always fascinated me because the two phenomenon that I think defined early America—the extension of African slavery and relations with Native Americans—converged in this region. As an undergraduate, I learned more about early Tennessee and knew I wanted to explore the period in greater depth. I became interested in Rachel Jackson because I always felt that historians seemed to treat her as an aside to Jackson. While my project explores Jackson in considerable depth, I do so because I think that the best way to look at gender includes considering masculinity and femininity together, since early Americans often defined one against the other. I hope that my project will flesh Rachel out as a real historical character and actor. But I also hope that by focusing on her life and experiences I can shed light on broader issues prevalent during the period, which touched the lives of many early Americans including slaveholding, kinship with Native Americans, marriage and divorce, evangelicalism, and the Jacksonian period’s rigid gender ideals.

Q: What collections have you examined at the Tennessee State Library and Archives?

MG: My current research for my project is very much rooted in traditional social history methods, so I spent a long time going through Davidson County wills and county court records from the earliest period of settlement through the 1820s. With these, I tallied the division of property based on gender. I conducted a similar survey on an earlier visit that traced patterns in early Tennessee divorces. This research reflects my larger goal: putting Rachel’s life in a broader context to consider how her life reflected or diverged from other Tennesseans. Every time I visit the TSLA, I also spend a lot of time going through Tennessee’s earliest newspapers to capture cultural attitudes towards whatever topic I’m working at that moment. For this, the TSLA’s newspaper database for Nashville newspapers after 1815 is always tremendously useful.

Portrait of Rachel Jackson (1767-1828) reading "Mrs. Rachel Jackson, late Consort to Andrew Jackson, President of the U. States."
Library Collection. Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Q: Have you found any surprises during your research here?

MG: I learned that much to my surprise—and other historians who I subsequently spoke with—Rachel’s oldest brother, Alexander, who never married or had children, sternly ordered that all his slaves—expect for one—be freed upon his death. He even provided instructions in his will for their transportation out of the state to be freed in another state if Tennessee outlawed manumission. I have no idea why he refused to free one slave but found his entire will fascinating and evidence there emerged radically different ideas about slavery within the Donelson family. I also uncovered very interesting research about public representations of Rachel following her death.

Q: What conclusions have you drawn from your research?

MG: So far I have been surprised to learn that early Tennessee families—such as the Donelsons and Jacksons—often adopted flexible attitudes to gender roles to attain or maintain elite status. While cultural expectations undoubtedly influenced how men and women should behave, I find that the frontier produced conditions which made the perpetuation of eastern-rooted gender ideals almost impossible. Often, non-white actors, especially the neighboring Creek and Cherokee, influenced these conditions and restricted the options available to Tennesseans who wanted to portray themselves as elite men or women, rather than frontier folk.

Q: Where else are you conducting dissertation research?

MG: Currently, I’m researching locally in Virginia, where Rachel’s family originated from. In the past, I have done research as a fellow at the Kentucky Historical Society, and I will also research this year as a fellow at the Filson Historical Society. I will undoubtedly return to Nashville many times to research at the Metro Archives and TSLA again. I will also research at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and the American Antiquarian Society (for the later portions of my project which consider the 1820s), as well as at the North Carolina State Archives and the Southern Historical Collections at UNC Chapel Hill, since Tennessee was under North Carolinian jurisdiction until it became a federal territory in 1790.

Q: What first sparked your interest in early American cultural history?

MG: I grew up in Canada, so my exposure to American cultural history was somewhat limited until I went to college. In my first year as an undergraduate, we read about the role of the frontier in defining ideas about America and American identity. From there, I became fascinated by how early Americans perceived themselves in relation to other groups: for instance, how women defined themselves in relation to men, how the Puritans defined themselves in relation to the Wampanoag and other Native American tribes that they interacted with in the seventeenth-century, or how early nineteenth-century Tennesseans saw themselves in relation to their slaves. People manifest ideas about themselves through their culture and popular culture remains, I think, one of the best ways to understand a particular time period.

Q: How has your research at TSLA influenced your scholarship?

MG: Since my project is so rooted in Tennessee and Nashville history, the TSLA and its collections are an invaluable component to my project. But the collections are only one part of the TSLA and every time I return to the TSLA, I’m always so grateful for the conversations I have with the staff and other researchers. In this way, the TSLA and THS feels like a very supportive community of scholars, archivists and librarians who make my project and research infinitely better.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Tennessee State Library and Archives Releases a New Digital Collection Showcasing Tennessee Folklife

What do roley hole marbles, white oak baskets, shape-note singing, and banjoes have in common? All are examples of Tennessee folk culture or "folkways" available online in the Tennessee State Library and Archives’ newest digital collection: "Tennessee State Parks Folklife Project Collection, 1979-1984." The collection documents folk culture unique to Tennessee and highlights Tennessee's significant contributions to national studies of folklife.

Joseph Ernest Dyer, Henderson County resident and fiddle maker, is pictured with a fiddle he made as he discusses the techniques used in fiddle making and woodcraft. Dyer provides guitar performances of old time, blues, country, and religious music.
The Tennessee State Parks Folklife Project. Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA). Tennessee State Library and Archives.

In the late 1970s, Bobby Fulcher of the Tennessee Division of Parks and Recreation began a concerted effort to document and preserve Tennessee's diverse folk culture. The Tennessee State Parks Folklife Project was designed to contact and record interviews with local musicians, craftsmen, and storytellers in communities around six state parks; present programs in the parks using those local people; document on film and audio tape the folk art and folklore of the area; and organize and present annual community folk arts festivals within state parks. Folklorists Jay Orr, Elaine Lawless, and Raymond Allen all made significant contributions to the project.

This project produced more than 500 hours of audio tape, 9600 slides, and 2,200 black and white negatives, including duplicates of scores of historic photographs which had been cached for years by their owners. The recordings, held originally on reel-to-reel and cassettes and the accompanying photographs include material on traditional quilting, burial customs, storytelling, blacksmithing, herbal medicine, fishing, logging, farming techniques, and music. Nationally recognized ballad singers Dee and Delta Hicks and Joe, Ethel, and Creed Birchfield (founding members of the Roan Mountain Hilltoppers) are just a few of the musical artists featured in the collection.

Several years ago, the Tennessee State Library and Archives initiated a project to digitize selections of the audio recordings and photographs from the collection in order to improve public access. The recordings and images found in this collection represent just a sample of the rich material yet to be discovered. The digitization project is ongoing, and TSLA will add items as they become available. The collection may be found at

TSLA Conservator Carol Roberts will give a presentation on the collection in the TSLA auditorium, located at 403 7th Avenue North in downtown Nashville, from noon to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 12. The program is free and open to the public.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

TSLA Premieres Video on State Senator Douglas Henry, Tennessee's Longest-Serving Legislator

He's been called a statesman, a fiscal expert and a champion of the less fortunate. Now State Senator Douglas Henry's life has been chronicled in a new documentary produced by the Tennessee State Library and Archives. The video, which has a running time of just under 30 minutes, is narrated by former Gov. Winfield Dunn. It covers some of the highlights of Henry's career and includes remarks from people who worked with him through the years. Read more here:

The video is available at

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Celebrate “Movember” in November

Movember is the annual charity event which invites men to grow mustaches for 30 days to change the face of men’s health.

Over the years, men have used facial hair (or lack thereof) as a means of self-expression and to craft a distinct masculine appearance. From Ambrose Burnside’s famous sideburns to Wyatt Earp’s handlebar moustache, the styles of facial hair have varied greatly throughout the decades, and were as complex and changing as any fashion trend in history.

This carte-de-visite features Zina B. Chatfield, an officer in Co. A 4th Minn. Infantry Regiment. Chatfield was born December 3, 1828, and died in August, 1923. This carte-de-visite, taken in 1861 by photographer N.H. Black, shows Chatfield’s pointed mustache and beard. Facial hair became fashionable during the Civil War, and soldiers often imitated their commanding officers by growing facial hair in similar ways. This trend was not exclusive to the soldiers, however. Edwin M. Stanton, Lincoln’s Secretary of War during most of the American Civil War sported a long thick beard with no mustache. Many people may believe that soldiers grew beards out of lack of resources or time, while in fact many of the facial hair designs required meticulous grooming and upkeep.

Henry Connor McLaughlin was a Major in the Confederate States Army. Here he is dressed in Confederate uniform, with a frown-like mustache with soul patch combination. He has one hand tucked into the front of his coat, referred to as the “hand-in waistcoat” gesture, commonly found in men’s portraiture’s during the Civil War, gaining popularity with Napoleon I of France, though the pose possibly originated in ancient Greece.

On our Facebook page, TSLA is highlighting facial hair of note during the month of November every Monday for "Movember Mondays" where you can find particularly impressive mustaches and beards. We hope you’ll take this opportunity to visit our Facebook page each Monday for a new Movember update.

Are you growing your facial hair this month? Get some inspiration for your own facial hair from TSLA’s Digital Collections!

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Haints and Witches and Legends...Oh my! Tennessee Folklife Myths and Legends

Tennessee has a long history of ghost tales, odd happenings and legendary individuals with larger than life personas. Perhaps our most well-known haint is the Bell Witch as her story has been called “America’s greatest ghost story.”

Dean confronts the Witch, An Authenticated History of the Famous Bell Witch: The Wonder of the 19th Century, and Unexplained Phenomenon of the Christian Era (1894) by M. V. Ingram, Library Collection.

In the early 19th Century, a spirit allegedly haunted the family of John Bell in Robertson County, Tennessee. In the first reported appearance of the witch, John Bell fired a shot at a “dog-like” creature which then vanished. Soon after, John’s children, Drewry and Elizabeth (Betsy), believed they saw other strange creatures around their home. These sightings were accompanied by strange sounds around the house. Betsy, Drewry and John began hearing unexplained knocks on the door and windows, and the sound of wings flapping against the ceilings and rats gnawing on bedposts. More disturbingly, the family claimed they could hear the echoes of choking and strangling along with a noise that sounded like chains dragging the ground and heavy objects hitting the floor. Sounds emanated from a bedroom as if “beds were suddenly and roughly pulled apart, to which was added the sounds of fighting dogs chained together, making the noise deafening.” The spirit reportedly increased its activity, physically abusing members of the family by striking, and pinching them and pulling their hair. Betsy seemed to be the most susceptible to the torture.

Elizabeth "Betsy" Bell, An Authenticated History of the Famous Bell Witch: The Wonder of the 19th Century, and Unexplained Phenomenon of the Christian Era (1894) by M. V. Ingram, Library Collection.

The Bell Witch focused relentlessly on causing the death of John Bell, Sr., and blasted “Old Jack Bell” with curses, heinous threats, and serious physical torments. As the abuse continued to impact his psyche, Bell took to his bed. On December 19, 1820, John Bell failed to leave his bed and his son, John Jr., went to the cupboard to retrieve the medicine for his care. Instead of the three medicine vials, he found only one. The vial was one-third full of a dark, smoky liquid of unknown origin. The voice of the Witch reportedly gloated, “It’s useless for you to try to relieve Old Jack – I have got him this time; he will never get up from that bed again!” The spirit claimed that she “gave Old Jack a big dose of it last night while he was fast asleep, which fixed him.” The contents of the vial were thrown into the fire and erupted into a blue blaze. John Bell died December 20, 1820. To add insult to injury, the Bell Witch crashed the funeral, disrupted the service and sang bawdy drinking songs. Following the death of John Bell, the Witch’s activity dropped off sharply. 

The Grave of John Bell, An Authenticated History of the Famous Bell Witch: The Wonder of the 19th Century, and Unexplained Phenomenon of the Christian Era (1894) by M. V. Ingram. Library Collection.

The Bell Witch may be the most famous ghost from Tennessee but she was certainly not the only apparition said to have haunted the state. Visitors to the Meriwether Lewis National Monument claim to have encountered strange sightings that some believe to be Lewis’ ghost. Others say that the cemetery at Carnton Plantation (Franklin), the site of the “five bloodiest hours” in the Civil War, is haunted as is Cherry Mansion (Savannah), The Eakin House (Shelbyville), Read House Hotel (Chattanooga), The Orpheum (Memphis), The Hermitage, Belmont and Belle Meade Mansions (Nashville). The list of Tennessee locations associated with ghost sightings appears to be endless.

In a 1979 oral history interview with Elaine Lawless for the Tennessee State Parks Folklife Project [], famed Macon County banjo player Cayce Russell recounted several ghost stories and witch tales. Russell discussed the old folk belief that sudden unknown illnesses could be the result of witchcraft. He further said that when someone had something wrong with them and believed a witch had “laid a spell on them,” they drew a picture on a large cedar tree in his grandfather’s yard, melted a silver dime, made a bullet out of it, and shot the picture in order to lift the spell.

Cayce Russell, June 19, 1979, Tennessee State Parks Folklife Collection.

Russell described Lick Branch Holler as “the most hainted place around” and told several ghost stories native to that area including Macon County’s own version of the headless horseman. “The man with no head on” was often seen in the holler on the Underwood Road. He was reported to be the spirit of a man killed by beheading during the Civil War. The audio files of this interview are some of many featured on the Tennessee State Library and Archives’ Folklife Collection in TeVA (Tennessee Virtual Archive). []

Reports of strange events of nature are also prevalent in Tennessee. On November 12 and 13, 1833, the Leonid meteor shower displayed a dazzling scene in the sky most visible in the deep South, particularly in Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, and Louisiana. Many people, having witnessed nothing so sensational before, believed the sky was falling and dubbed the night of November 12 as “the night the stars fell.” Since that time, numerous songs, books, poems and artworks were produced to commemorate the event. The song, “Stars Fell on Alabama,” has become an anthem to Southerners and, in 2002, the state of Alabama added the slogan to its license plates.

Shooting Star Quilt, undated, Quilts of Tennessee Collection.

On August 17, 1841, a rain of blood was reported on a tobacco farm near Lebanon, Wilson County, Tennessee. On August 24th, Walter B. Morris wrote a letter to his brother, Easton Morris, commenting that by the time his letter reached his brother, his brother would have already received notice “of the falling of flesh & blood as a shower of rain.” Morris recalled that he and a Dr. Edwards visited the place where the rain of blood occurred. While they were there, they met Dr. Gerard Troost, the state geologist, who arrived on the scene to write an article for the American Journal of Science. In his evaluation, Troost theorized that a tornado like wind “might have taken up part of an animal which was in a state of decomposition, and have brought it in contact with an electric cloud.” Under the heading “Rain of Blood,” a diary-like entry from a scrapbook kept by William F. Cooper stated that, if this had happened four hundred years ago, “such an occurrence would have struck terror into the hearts of whole nations.”

"Rain of Blood" Diary Entry, September 5, 1841, Cooper Family Papers, pages 80 and 81 from a "scrapbook" kept by William F. Cooper. The pages describe the rain of blood that reportedly occurred on a tobacco farm near Lebanon, Tennessee, on August 17, 1841.

While the rain of blood later proved to be a hoax, other legends were not so easily refuted. The Cherokee legend of U’tlun’ta or Spear-finger, for example, was described as having the appearance of an old woman, but possessing stone-covered skin. She had a long stony finger that resembled a spearhead. U’tlun’ta was best known for her ravenous appetite for livers, which she took from any person unfortunate enough to cross her. According to legend, U’tlun’ta often changed her appearance to resemble a family member or coaxed children to come near and then used her finger to slice out their livers.

U'tlun'ta - Spear Finger, 2009, Original artwork by James Castro.

Other amazing stories in Tennessee relate to animals and wildlife. For years, divers in the Tennessee River have told stories about seeing catfish big enough to swallow a man whole. The stories have gained so much public appeal that has devoted a section on its website about them. [] Several images in the vast collections at the Tennessee State Library and Archives lend support these amazing fish tales.

Tom Woods with a giant catfish, August 18, 1939, Department of Conservation Photograph Collection.

For more information about the stories in this blog post as well as other spooky accounts, visit the Tennessee State Library and Archives or check out the Tennessee Myth and Legends exhibit on TSLA’s website:

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.