Genealogical Society Funding Helps Unlock Land Record Secrets

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Land records dating back to the Revolutionary War era can tell researchers much about Tennessee's early history - as a part of North Carolina, later as a territory and finally as the country's 16th state. The trouble is that time hasn't treated those important documents particularly well, and many require extensive restoration work before they are ready to be made available to the public.

Thanks to funding from the Middle Tennessee Genealogical Society, the pace of that work has been accelerated this summer. The society has provided money to pay the salary of a summer intern at the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) who is assisting the full-time staff there with efforts to restore those records

"Some of the records are from the colonial and territorial period, and those are especially fragile," said State Librarian and Archivist Chuck Sherrill. "To make them accessible requires quite a bit of work in the conservation lab."

Carol Roberts, head conservationist at TSLA, said the work includes dusting documents with sponges, applying a magnesium bicarbonate solution to de-acidify the paper and ink and using Japanese tissue paper and wheat paste to mend and patch tears and holes.

Roberts said the goal isn't to return documents to their original condition, but to stabilize them and prevent further deterioration.

A single page of a document in very poor condition might require several hours of lab work.

"You do have to have pretty decent patience," Roberts said. "Some (documents) are puzzles that have to be pieced together. Each one is unique."

Kat Trammell, the intern hired to help with the restoration work, said the experience has been very rewarding.

"I've always been interested in conservation work," Trammell said. " I really enjoy the physical process, getting to handle something with so much history behind it."

 As a recent college graduate with a major in studio art, Trammell said she's fascinated by the surveyors' diagrams found on the documents. Also, she enjoys it "when you recognize a famous name and say, 'hey, there's a county named after that guy.'"