Archivists create digital records of historic memorabilia

Published 10:22 am Friday, December 5, 2014

Photo by Brandon Hicks Dawn Peters of the Watauga Historical Association, at left, goes over documents with Wayne Moore, an archivist with the Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Photo by Brandon Hicks
Dawn Peters of the Watauga Historical Association, at left, goes over documents with Wayne Moore, an archivist with the Tennessee State Library and Archives.

It has been 150 years since a war divided this nation, in many cases pitting neighbor against neighbor, and the Tennessee State Library and Archives is working on a multiyear project to preserve artifacts from that storied time in American history.
As part of the project, the TSLA is sending teams of professional archivists and conservators to communities across the state to meet with residents and record and digitally preserve the manuscripts, documents, photograph and artifacts.
“This project has been going on for five years,” Ron Westphal, curator of science and technology at the Tennessee State Museum, said. “We are documenting county by county these artifacts, documents and letters.”
On Thursday, the archivists and conservators set up at the Elizabethton/Carter County Public Library to meet with Carter County residents and document local pieces of history.
Several residents attended the event, bringing along with them letters, documents, buttons, bullets, photographs and weapons all pertaining to the Civil War. One man, Westphal said, even brought in a rifle, pistol and sword that had once belonged to an ancestor who had served in the war.
Archivists and conservators worked on Thursday scanning documents, letters and photographs as well as taking their own photographs of items like weapons, bullets and portraits too large for the scanners. Along with digitally documenting the artifact, a description of the item is listed along with where the item was archived and any other available information.
“Those are put into a virtual exhibit on the internet through the TSLA website,” Westphal said. “It will probably be a couple of three months before all of this processed and put online.”
Once the items are process into the exhibit, Westphal said anyone can access the website and look through the artifacts and can search through them by county. Of the 95 counties in Tennessee, 72 have already been visited by state library officials and their items added to the website.
One of the many Carter County residents to bring in artifacts on Thursday was David Ferguson, who brought in many photographs, letters and other documents.
Many of the items were from his family, Ferguson said. “I had a lot of photos of people I couldn’t identify,” he said, adding he believed they were members of the Tennessee Cavalry during the Civil War.
Helping to preserve part of his family’s history was important to Ferguson, and he said he appreciated the opportunity the state provided to preserve these items.
“That is one of the reasons that brought me down here,” he said. “I took the day off work today so I could come down here.”
William Little, who is originally from Chattanooga but now lives in Mount Carmel, said he missed the state’s visit to his home county so he brought his large collection of artifacts to the Carter County event to make sure they were preserved.
“I have been collecting for 40 years,” Little said, adding he has a passion for Civil War history. His “third great grandfather” was a Baptist minister and was drafted into military service during the war against his will, Little said.
Some of the items in his collection have been handed down through his family, some were purchased from other collections and some are artifacts that he has personally recovered from various sites using his metal detector. Among the items brought in by Little were photographs, buttons, bullets and even a service medal.
Items eligible for digitization under the program include anything pertaining to the Civil War such as letters, photographs, diaries, weapons, military passes, military discharges, pension papers, hand-drawn maps, sketches and uniforms.
The digital exhibit can be viewed online at For more information on the project, call 615-253-3470, send an email to or visit the website.

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