A Brief History of the Grainger County Archives

The following is a bit of a chronology of the Grainger County Archives, which exists today after thousands of hours’ of work by dedicated volunteers.

July, 1996

Written by Billie McNamara

Within the past few years, all the earliest records were moved to a vault in the basement of the county’s courthouse for safekeeping. Unfortunately, the vault flooded. When that happened, the county saved what appeared salvageable and threw away the rest. The salvaged records were moved to an abandoned school building for temporary storage — that has turned into long-term storage because the county can not afford to refurbish the vault, clean and conserve the records, and return them to safekeeping.

Click here to see a few photos from the 1996 visit.

Through a joint venture between the Tennessee State Library and Archives and the Genealogical Society of Utah (LDS), Tennessee’s earliest loose records can be filmed. I am working with the GSU as a local point of contact to try to convince the county records custodians in East Tennessee to let the filming crew have access to the records. That is how I got to witness this nightmare. When I recently helped survey the Grainger County records, I was saddened beyond measure. We could find no loose records (court cases papers, marriage licenses, etc.) from before about 1880. Most of the old, leather-bound volumes are also gone. Thank goodness the State Library and Archives microfilmed most of them about 20 years ago.

Fall, 2004

Written by James Cook

Several years back many valuable records relating to Grainger County were removed from the small storage room in the basement of the Grainger County Courthouse. This store room had flooded and many records were damaged. The county decided to move all old records to the "historic" Rutledge High School, built in 1931 and located about 3 blocks west of downtown Rutledge on Highway 11-W at 7580 Rutledge Pike.

A long and arduous task has been underway since 2002 to prepare computerized indexes and to organize and prepare the various records for microfilming. Some of the records have been so fragile the workers have had to hydrate them in order to be able to even unfold them.

Microfilming has been delayed because the county is now in the process of installing an elevator in the old school building to meet mandated access requirements in order to utilize the upper floors of the building. This will take another 4-5 months (roughly April 2005). Even though this setback has delayed the process somewhat and the working conditions are far from ideal with all the dust and noise (the workrooms are right beside the location for the new elevator) more records will be ready for filming when the time comes. Once the elevator has been installed, the Genealogical Society of Utah is scheduled to come in and begin the filming.

Contrary to the opinions expressed by some, the building is not "falling down" but is basically sound. There has been a new roof put on the building, and the volunteers have put up shelving to help with the project. The records are now in a climate-controlled environment and safely stored. The building is occupied by the Grainger County School Superintendent, School Administration staff and various other agencies. Once the refurbishing is completed, the building will be able to accommodate additional offices, including the Grainger County Archives.

The Inventory of old records includes, but is not necessarily limited to:

  • Marriage bonds and licenses beginning in 1796
  • Estate and guardianship settlement files, including wills, beginning in 1775
  • Various county officials’ reports–monthly and/or quarterly
  • County court proceedings records
  • County court administrative records
  • County court case files
  • Circuit court case files
  • Chancery court case files
  • Poor farm information
  • Justice of the peace certificates
  • School records–heads of household only [1830s-1840s]
  • Releases from road work
  • Petitions
  • Revenue reports
  • Various bonds and oaths
  • Affidavits for dog, fox and wolf pelts
  • Various and sundry non-standard county documents and items that were accumulated by various county officials. There are so many "odds and ends" that GSU has agreed to film them as various loose records.
  • There are many records books, the majority of which have already been filmed. We have found a couple of old record books that have not been filmed, but which will be as time permits.

Our Volunteers: The current volunteers are James Cook, Stevvi Cook, Archie Dalton, Mary Lynn Gilmore and Carolyn Yates. Past volunteers are Carol Hill and Nadine Stansberry. Archie Dalton, a capable and enthusiastic new volunteer, is the newest team member who has stepped forward and is assisting the efforts to preserve the old records. We all owe a large debt of gratitude to these unselfish people who are helping to preserve the records and make them available to the rest of us. The Tennessee State Library and Archives assisted in the rescue of the old records in 2002 and have provided assistance and guidance throughout the project.

More volunteers are still needed. With three people working three days a week and one more person working one day per week, the work continues to go very, very slowly. The current work schedule is Mon-Tue 9:30 am to 3:30 pm and Wednesday 9:30 am to 12:30 pm. If you live in the area and would be willing to help on a consistent basis with this project with your time, please contact us. Random drop-in help would not be useful, but more volunteers that would commit to a regular schedule and are willing to be trained and stick with us would be of great help.

October, 2004

Written by James Cook

All 1400 of the estate and guardian settlement loose records have now been indexed, proofed, filed, boxed and sealed and are ready to be filmed. All loose marriage bonds and licenses are currently being indexed on computer and organized for filming. During this process some new records have been found which appear to have never been published. Note that there are still many records missing, but this project is attempting to save and preserve as many as possible. So far roughly 9,000 marriage records have been indexed, and it is estimated that roughly 10,000 remain to be input.

The goal is for the marriage records to be ready for filming, along with the estate and guardianship settlement records, as soon as the elevator work is complete. As soon as these records are done, the project will move on to the Circuit and Chancery Court loose records. Then the various other loose records will be prepared for filming.

As the loose records are flattened, cleaned, organized and filed, they are placed in acid-free folders and boxes. Damaged marriage bonds and licenses and a very few other old documents, are placed in Mylar sleeves for protection. Indexes of each type of loose records are being prepared utilizing a database program called Access. The loose records that are being organized and indexed are being sealed until the filming has been completed, the film processed and distributed. The microfilming will be done by GSU and the resulting films will be available at and distributed by the LDS Family History Library and Family History Centers. Most of this work should be completed by the middle of next year, if there are no more surprises. The microfilm will then be available at the Grainger County Archives for viewing by the public utilizing microfilm readers and copies of documents can be made.

Both the county and the state governments have been very supportive of the efforts being put forth by the volunteers involved. As one can imagine, this process is very, very time consuming, especially in what is not the best of working conditions.

Efforts began in earnest about 30 months ago when the records were rescued from less than desirable storage and placed in climate-controlled rooms on shelves. We can now finally see that progress is being made. Starting from scratch, under these circumstances, making progress sometimes takes a while. There have been set-backs that have been overcome, and the elevator installation was a surprise.

December, 2004

Written by James Cook

We are still plugging along on the Grainger county old records project. The end is not in sight, but we continue to make progress regardless of the contruction noise, dust, the cold and the interruptions.Over the last several weeks much of each floor has been open to the weather as the elevator construction requires entrances to each floor. Although we have a cozy workroom and a new heat pump, it still is cold with nothing but an interior entrance door between us and the outside weather. We dress warmly.

Archivists from both Claiborne County and Hawkins County are preparing to do the same thing that we are now doing regarding their old loose records. Personnel from both counties have visited over the last few months.

The construction crew has almost completed the outer walls and various levels of the elevator "shaft" building. This week they removed 2 large windows and installed a maintenance door from the elevator building into our east room and an entrance door to the elevator into the room next door. Thanksgiving week we had covered, with plastic, all the shelving containing old bound records books and the remainder of the later settlements, court cases, etc., to protect them from the dust, etc. the elevator building will extend above the roof of the old rhs building. So it does not appear that they can get the roof on this year. Still too much to do. New steel entrance doors have just been installed this week on the second floor level at the new stairway and handicapped entrance ramp.

Stevvi has now input over 10,300 old marriage records, 1796 – 1870. And she and I have proofed all but about 800 as of Wednesday, December 15th. We will finish that come Monday and Tuesday (no work on Wednesday). Mary Lynn has input about 6,200 records for the 1900 – 1950 time frame, which are being proofed by another part-part time worker.

Mary Lynn is now unfolding, flattening and making folders for several boxes of additional circuit court cases that I found last year and the first of this year. I’m now doing the same for additional county court cases (many are "court of pleas and quarter sessions" cases) that I also "found". Many, many fascinating items are included in county court. Early this year the GSU supervisor agreed to film all these old, neat, odd and miscellanous loose records items.

We hope to have all loose records for marriages indexed, boxed and sealed for filming by the end of February. We keep hearing that others have volunteered to help but no one has shown up yet. We continue to find things that help to make the work enjoyable and fascinating — like genealogy, this becomes addictive.

May, 2005

Written by James Cook

All old loose records marriage bonds and licenses that we have been able to locate, have now been indexed, filed in acid free folders and boxes and sealed for microfilming. there were a total of 18,400 records. many of the old ones from the 1700’s and the first half of the 1800s still have to be sleeved in acid free mylar to protect them since they are in fragile condition. this will be done once microfilming is completed.

All loose records for circuit court cases have now been unfolded, flattened, labeled, filed in folders and indexed. We are still in the process of proofing the index, arranging them by year and alphabetically and storing in acid free files and boxes. There are approximately 3,200 case files of records. The first 30-35 years of circuit court loose records were either destroyed in a fire in the 1940’s, by a flood in a storage room, lost or stolen. Many, many interesting documents (like maps, deeds, old business letterheads, petitions to the circuit court judge, divorces, etc.) are included within the various circuit court cases.

County Court records and Chancery Court records will be the next groups that will be organized, indexed and prepared for microfilming. The County Court records include numerous odd loose records that will be very interesting to many researchers.

In February, the archives "inherited" the genealogical materials from the Rutledge Public Library. These materials include approximately 350 rolls of microfilm, a microfilm reader/printer and various donated books and family history materials. In order to receive these materials, we agreed to allow the public access to them, which has been done. The materials are housed in the west workroom of the archives on the second floor of the old high school.

The refurbishing work scheduled at this time on the old high school is almost complete. Many windows have been replaced but many remain to be done as weather permits. The elevator contractor began installing the elevator car and necessary mechanical changes the last week of April and is progressing in a timely manner. The contractor has estimated that it will take another three weeks to complete the installation and the certification inspection required by the state so this should be accomplished by around the end of May.

Once the elevator installation is completed and the replacement windows are installed in both archives work rooms, the microfilming of the records can begin. Filming will begin even before all loose records are prepared. This will require two different sessions of filming. A tentative target date to begin the first session of filming is around the first of June.

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