Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Search and order Tennessee Supreme Court Cases now online

The Tennessee State Library & Archives recently launched a new online ordering system for Supreme Court cases. The new system will allow researchers to request case files in hard copy or digital scans. It will also give such information as individual case details, page counts, and copy fees. It is our hope that the online system will create an easier and more direct way for researchers to order Supreme Court records, as well as lessen the amount of wait time in processing research requests.

Once stored in the attic of the the Tennessee State Capitol building, the Supreme Court records came to the Library & Archives in dire need of restoration. Curled and brittle, covered in coal dust from the furnace pipes that fed into the Capitol’s storage space, the records were all but unusable. Our archival technical staff has worked tirelessly toward the preservation of these records for more than a decade. Staff members have meticulously cleaned off the dust and grime, carefully flattened and recorded the contents for more than 50,000 cases.

The archivists will continue this project indefinitely, as there are well over 10,000 boxes of material in storage. However, what has already been done constitutes an extraordinary achievement. The result of the archivists' work is an impressive, usable state record collection and a searchable online database for researchers.

This is an example of a case before cleaning and processing.

Library & Archives staff members have worked on the Tennessee Supreme Court project for well over a decade.

Supreme Court records provide a wealth of information of benefit to professional and amateur historians. The stories that unfold in the pages of each case are windows to personal and community life and family relationships from the past.

One can find cases concerning land issues, debt, slavery, estate disputes, criminal cases, and much more. Cases currently housed at the Library & Archives range from the beginning of the 19th Century to around 1950. They vary in size, from brief records to complete transcripts of all proceedings - sometimes involving hundreds of pages.

Some of these cases include exhibits, such as textiles, photographs, and maps. While textiles cannot be copied, photographs and maps can and often represent valuable pieces of information for researchers and genealogists.

From the East Tennessee Division Supreme Court Case Files--Fords v. Fords (1846). In his will, Lloyd Ford freed his slaves and left them his property, and his children contested the will. The Tennessee Supreme court ruled in favor of the slaves. This was a landmark case describing slaves’ basic civil rights.

From the Middle Tennessee Division Supreme Court Case Files--Mrs. Sue M. Jarnigan v. Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railroad Company (1919). Jarnigan sued the railroad company for damages. The case includes exhibit items: photographs of the wrecked train, damage and inspection reports, blue prints, and books on rules and regulation of train inspection.

From the West Tennessee Division Supreme Court Case Files--State v. Edward H. Crump et al (1916). This case involved charges of neglect of duty and corruption regarding illegal sale and distribution of liquor, gambling, and prostitution against Crump, Mayor of Memphis; R.A. Utley, Vice-Mayour and Commissioner of Dept. of Fire and Police; and W.M. Stanton, City Court Judge. Exhibits include account statements, receipts, political cartoon, correspondence of Attorney General A.Z. Estes, and lists liquor law violators.

If you are interested in researching Supreme Court cases, check out our online index:

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

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