Holding History in My Hands

In my last post, I mentioned the University of Tennessee Special Collections Library. The Tennesseana Collection contains more than 52,000 rare books and more than 4,000,000 manuscripts. The library describes these documents as “private papers, literary manuscripts, business records, political files, and historical records mostly relating to Tennessee and the Southeast.” Although this collection is primarily a historical collection, genealogy researchers may find the historical documents useful in their research. I’ve learned how important history is to genealogy. Adam Mitchell’s life — and the lives of his descendants — would not have been the same without the Revolutionary War.

My visit to the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection of the Knox County Public Library was a high point in a research journey with lots of exciting adventures and discoveries. I have not yet been able to verify this, but I believe Calvin M. McClung may be in some way related to William McClung who witnessed the will of Rev. James Witherspoon (the husband of Margaret “Peggy” Mitchell, one of Adam’s Daughters).

The collection includes more than 65,000 books (mostly rare), thousands of newspapers (mostly pre-1920), more than 3,000 printed genealogies and 41 genealogical collections, 2,000 maps, and 100,000 photographic negatives. The 600 manuscript collections comprise ledgers, account books, private papers, and documents of all kinds.

But I wasn’t interested in thousands of books or maps or printed genealogies. I was primarily interested in one manuscript collection: the Sevier Family Papers.
 
John Sevier was the Governor of the state of Franklin, a state created out of the western part of North Carolina in 1784. The state existed for only four years and eventually became part of the state of Tennessee. John Sevier was a good friend of Mr. Mac (John McMachen) and Adam Mitchell. He was involved in much of the family dealings that will be a part of the story in Adam’s Daughter’s.

I actually got to hold in my hand papers written by John Sevier in 1793, and I left with copies of important documents. The library staff helped me tremendously in my research so I have a far better understanding of the John Sevier’s place in history and his relationship to my ancestors.

The library recommends you call ahead and explain your research needs to make your visit more productive. You will have to complete an application to use the special materials and follow the library’s rules for the security and protection of valuable documents. You may not be able to touch all documents, but even looking at a fragile original document in a glass case is exciting.

As I sat holding an original document written by John Sevier in 1793 … I held history in my hands.

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