Thursday, February 21, 2013

1962 Vital Records now available…

The Tennessee State Library and Archives recently received death, marriage and divorce records from the year 1962 to add to its research collections. These records, confidential for 50 years, were just released by the Department of Vital Statistics. Birth records from 1912, confidential for 100 years, have also been released.

1962 Certificate of Death
Tennessee did not begin collecting birth and death records until 1908. The law lapsed in 1913, but it was reinstated in 1914. By state law, birth records are confidential for one hundred years, death records for fifty years.

Death records usually include the name of the deceased, date and place of death, age at the time of death, cause of death, occupation, name of spouse and, beginning in 1914, name and birthplace of parents, along with the date and place of burial.

Information on a death certificate is dependent upon how much firsthand knowledge the informant or next-of-kin knew about the deceased.

Vital records are an important resource for those conducting genealogical research, or for individuals who need vital records for documentation purposes. If you are looking for a vital record for a loved one, please contact our Public Services staff for information about how to search these records.

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

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love letters from the Library & Archives...

Today is Valentine's Day, which begins anew a tradition of sending cards, gifts, and tokens of affection to those most dear to us. Here at the Tennessee State Library and Archives, we could not let the day pass without sharing some of the love letters found in our collections.

Among the fascinating disparate historical documents amassed by Mary Daniel Moore during her years as State Librarian and Archivist are the love letters collected by Miss Tranquilla Reed. Tranquilla was the daughter of a minister and apparently had many suitors, including one who called himself "Hopeful" in the following letter:

Dear Miss Tranquilla:

A Valentine's Day card to Tranquilla Reed.
Manuscript Files (M-7), I-B-2, Ac. No. 99-091-33.
Digital image, Tennessee State Library & Archives.
Although my hopes of connubial bliss have almost departed and I begin to feel like one who was by fate doomed to perpetual celibacy, yet as the day of St. Valentine approaches, mysterious emotions are awakened in my heart, and my mind is transported back to the halcyon days of yore; when sunshine and happiness illuminated my pathway, and when first I felt the piercing darts of Cupid's fatal arrow, and something now seems to whisper; do not despair; a better day awaits you. And thus I am encouraged once more to go in search of some congenial mate, to sooth my sorrows, and share my joys. And amidst the many fair faces with whom I have met in pleasures paths, and passed gleeful hours, I know of none whose many charms, so completely win my heart as thine. Thy tranquil modesty, and dovelike innocence; though still and gentle, like the morning zephyrs, speak in accents loud and long, and proclaim thee queen of all.

Then may I come with pure devotion of my heart, and ever worship at thy shrine? Oh! could thy pure heart, but feel and beat in unison with mine; then all clouds and sorrows, would be dispersed, and our future pathway would be one of brightest joys; and my most sanguine hope of happiness complete.

As ever your devoted and anxious friend.


Another suitor writing under the pseudonym "John J. Jumpalong" wrote to Tranquilla on April 1, 1858 to ask her hand in marriage:

Letter from John J. Jumpalong to Miss Tranquilla Reed.
Pulaski, April 1, 1858.
Digital image, Tennessee State Library & Archives.
To Miss Tranquilla Reed

Dear Miss--The fallen sons and daughters of Adam have a high and glorious destiny. Man was formed in the image of the Superior Being an heir of Eternal Life and woman was formed out the same flesh to be a helpmate of man and a joint heir of Eternal Life. Happy is the man who has a good wife. You are now old enough to begin to think of forming a marriage connection and I trust it will not be presumption in me to aspire to your hand.

I was raised by respectable and wealthy parents who tried to bestow good educations upon their children. I am tolerably good looking, have an amiable disposition have enough of this world's pelf [a synonym for money or riches] to live comfortable and am twenty three years old. I am living by myself and lack but one thing to render me happy and contented that is a good wife.

I think you would suit me. I have not come to this conclusion hastily it was after mature reflection I have a whole heart to bestow. I love none but you. I say will you be mine. Certainly reflect upon what I have written and give me an answer at an early day.

Your Devoted Love

John J. Jumpalong

Tranquilla was approximately 16 years of age at the time that she began receiving these letters. She would eventually marry at the age of 26 to a man named Sumner Kirkpatrick, on December 17, 1868 in Giles County, Tennessee. It is unknown from these letters whether or not Sumner Kirkpatrick was the actual author of the love letters. Nonetheless, these notes of affection remained a treasured possession throughout Tranquilla's life.

Another poignant example can be found in the Confederate Widow's Pension application of Nannie J. Kingsley. Within this pension file submitted to the Tennessee Board of Pension Examiners are eight Civil War letters written by Roswell E. Kingsley to his wife Nannie Kingley as proof of her husband's service as Captain of Company G of the 4th Georgia Cavalry. Nannie Kingsley made this application for a Widow’s Pension in 1914 from Greene County.

Nannie's husband enlisted in October 1862, and served ten months in the Confederate army, but by October 1863 he had been "dropped" from the muster rolls of his company. According to his family, he was home on sick leave at the time of the surrender, but no official paperwork substantiates this claim. Nannie Kingsley could find no witness who served with Roswell who could testify to his physical condition or the circumstances under which he left the army.

Nannie, in her desperation to secure a pension, sent in her personal Civil War letters from her husband—including this love letter. She also sent along a marriage certificate, a military returns form, a morning report, a pass, and a drawing of a camp. The letters, however, make the file stand out. Captain Kingsley writes:


You asked what I thought of you in your last letter, Well I will tell you I think you have the purest heart that women ever possessed and that to me you are by ten thousand fold the dearest being on this whole earth, I love you but too fondly I think of but too often oh darling I like to have forgotten inone [in one] of the darkest hours of the late retreat, while in the line of battle waiting for the enemy I got off my horse and set down by a tree and leaned against it, and in a moment I was in sleep when I had the most delightful dream I ever had, I thought I was with you and in the greatest enjoyment of our naturs [natures] are capable of experiencing all was peace, when in an instant I was awakened by the loud shrill crack of our guns and the enemy was upon us. This is literly [literally] true, But you wont [won't] write why is it?

Your husband

R. E. Kingsley
R. E. Kingsley letter to Nannie J. Kingsley, Greene County, n.d. Confederate Widow's Pension #5576.
Digital image, Tennessee State Library & Archives.

This letter did very little to help Nannie Kingsley secure her widow's pension. Though his family said his health and emotional state had been compromised by the war, he overcame these difficulties to live a full life. He fathered seven sons and one daughter. Roswell died in Greeneville, TN in 1876. Nannie's remaining years were spent between her 23-acre farm in Greene County, Tennessee and her daughter's home in Florida. In the end, it was this fact that sunk her application by March of 1915.

There are countless other love letters, cards, and tokens of affection found within the stacks at the Tennessee State Library and Archives just waiting to be discovered. We hope you will make a date to explore our collections, either online or in person, and make a deep and lasting connection with the past.

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

Friday, February 8, 2013

February is African American History Month

African American History Month, also known as Black History Month, was created by Dr. Carter G. Woodson. Born in 1875 to parents who were former slaves, Dr. Woodson was disturbed to find that history books largely ignored the black American population—and when blacks did figure into the picture, it was generally in ways that reflected the inferior social position they were assigned at the time.

In 1926, Woodson launched "Negro History Week" as an initiative to bring national attention to the contributions of black people throughout American history. Woodson chose the second week of February for "Negro History Week" because it marks the birthdays of two men who greatly impacted the American black population, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. For these and many other efforts, Woodson has been acknowledged as the "father of black history."

Here in Tennessee, Gov. Frank Goad Clement signed a proclamation designating February 13-20 as "Negro History Week," and by 1976, the federal government expanded the celebration to include the entire month of February. Today, communities across this country recognize African American History Month as a time to reflect on the important and historically significant contributions African American citizens have made to our nation. At the Tennessee State Library and Archives, we honor their achievements through the historical records that we keep, preserve, and share with the public.

One tale of bravery found within the collections at TSLA is that of Sgt. Dick Johnson of the 3rd U.S. Colored Cavalry (USCC). In his book, David Preston Sherfy: Kinsman and Cavalryman, George W. Holley recounts an incident that occurred on February 6, 1865, when Sgt. Johnson was assigned to care for David Preston Sherfy following an accident where Sherfy, also a Sergeant in the 3rd USCC, fell from his horse and broke his leg during an expedition to Southeast Arkansas and Northeast Louisiana.

This hand-colored carte de visite of African American Sgt. Dick Johnson,
3rd US Colored Cavalry (USCC), detailed to David Preston Sherfy
is part of the TSLA's "Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee" collection.
Digital image, Tennessee State Library & Archives.

During the raid into Confederate territory, swamps in the area were nearly impassible. Many of the horses mired down in the mud and had great difficulty getting through the swollen streams. As Sherfy's brigade waited for stragglers and the rest of the command to catch up, he fell from his horse while crossing a swollen stream.

After being rescued from the muddy banks, Sherfy was put on a horse and continued with his command. His leg was later set by a surgeon, but he refused to stay at a wayside house, fearing for his life if he were captured by Confederate forces. Sgt. Johnson was detailed to look after Sherfy. It was said of the men of the 3rd U.S. Colored Cavalry that they "ranked as one of the finest cavalry regiments in The Army of The Tennessee," and "displayed the highest degree of discipline, courage and aggressiveness in battle, while never violating the laws of honorable warfare."

Another story of inspiration can be found in the life lived by Sampson W. Keeble, who became the first African American legislator elected to serve in the Tennessee General Assembly. A barber, businessman, and civic leader, Sampson Keeble was elected to serve as Republican representative of Davidson County to the 38th Tennessee General Assembly, riding a political wave of popularity into office following President Ulysses S. Grant's victory in the Presidential Election of 1872.

This bust in the likeness of Sampson W. Keeble is located in a place of prominence within the Tennessee State Capitol Building in Nashville, Tennessee.
Digital image, Tennessee State Library & Archives.

During his term in the legislature, Keeble introduced bills to amend Nashville’s charter in order to allow blacks to operate businesses downtown, to provide protection for wage earners (several of the later black legislators followed his lead in this area, introducing related bills), and to appropriate state funds for the Tennessee Manual Labor University. Although none of Keeble's bills received enough votes to be considered by the General Assembly, his legacy and importance to Tennessee's history is not forgotten. A bust of Sampson W. Keeble is displayed prominently in the Tennessee State Capitol Building reminding us all of his life and achievements.

Sampson Keeble was among fourteen black men, most of them former slaves, who were elected to the Tennessee General Assembly following the passage of the Thirteenth (1865), Fourteenth (1868) and Fifteenth (1870) Amendments, giving African American men their freedom, citizenship, and the right to vote. You can learn more about the achievements of these men on our online exhibit, "This Honorable Body: African American Legislators in 19th Century Tennessee," which includes biographies, timelines on African American History and Civil Rights, and a wealth of teaching resources for educators. An update to this site is in the works, so we encourage you to check back for updates to this important online resource.

As we pause to reflect on these and other important contributions by African Americans to our collective past, we also recognize that without the records and artifacts left behind by our ancestors, these stories may never be told or remembered. To learn more about the collections related to African American history held at the Tennessee State Library and Archives, we encourage you to visit the following links on our website, and make a trip to our facility to see these important records first hand.

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