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A Case for Loose Records

While researching my paternal Alexander family history, my husband and I made many worthwhile trips to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.


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While researching my paternal Alexander family history, my husband and I made many worthwhile trips to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. During one of those visits, we browsed the periodical section and came across a publication titled Sumner County, Tennessee • Index to the Loose Records: 1786 to 1930. A "loose record" is defined as an original document that was not entered into a book, while a document that was entered into an official record book by the clerk of a court became the official record. To our astonishment, that index contained 11 references to members of my family • one will, three estates, and seven lawsuits! The original records were located at the Sumner County, Tenn. Archives in Gallatin, Tenn. I felt a surge of adrenaline when my husband asked, "Why don't we make that our summer vacation?" I need not tell you my response!

Upon our arrival, we were met with the most gracious Southern hospitality we could ever have imagined! I was soon handed the thin, "yellowish" and crumbling paper on which my great-great-great-grandfather, Matthew Alexander, had written his will in 1823. There are no words to explain that experience, but there were tears streaming down my face as I touched his signature. The clerk quickly retrieved it, the archivist patched it up, and they made a photocopy of it for me.

Then we went to the court records, which had recently been microfilmed. My first view was " Final Decree 1837 •- Thomas Anderson Administrator of David Alexander Deceased, Joseph, Edwin, James, Elizabeth, Mary, and Amanda Alexander • heirs of David Alexander by their guardian William McElwrath • and Stephen, Edwin and James Alexander and Prudence and Margaret Snoddy • Devisees of Matthew Alexander • Defendants."

I soon learned that before Matthew died in 1823, he was the administrator of an estate for which Alexander Graham was an heir. Alexander Graham claimed Matthew Alexander had "cheated" him in the property settlement and filed a claim against Matthew. Court depositions provided much information about Matthew and his family. Here are some of my discoveries: (1) Although Matthew made out his will in Sumner County, Tenn., he died in Lauderdale County, Ala.; (2) Matthew willed one Negro woman named Esther to his wife, Elizabeth. After Elizabeth died, her daughter, Prudence, purchased Esther at the estate sale; (3) Matthew and Elizabeth had one daughter, Elizabeth, who died leaving a daughter, Margaret, who moved to Texas with her widowed Aunt Prudence; (4) Matthew gave all his living children land or money; (5) One of several male slaves named Boy George was sold at auction after Matthew died; and (6 My great-great-grandfather James and his family moved to Gallatin County, Ill., before going to Missouri.

Although I have only scratched the surface, I hope what I have written will encourage you to make use of loose records. They can provide you with a wealth of information.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2004.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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