Kingsport & Capstone: Archives and Identity

Here’s an update on the Spoden Collection and my Capstone and defense. I have completed the entries for thirty boxes in the Box and Folder Inventory section of the Finding Aid. That means there are thirty-nine left. The bigger, fuller boxes are ahead of me, which is rather intimidating, but the inventory provides a good break from writing and the writing provides a good break from the finding aid, so it is all good. My defense paper is finished, also. It just requires a bit of tweaking, at this point.

Many of the sources I am quoting from in my defense paper are researchers who traced their family’s history through archival sources. In the process of searching their family’s roots, they also traced a path leading to the discovery of their own identities. The results of these searches help these genealogists to feel connected to the past and their own place in
history, as well. Below are some of my favorite quotations that I am using.

Muriel C. Spoden spent countless hours writing to and visiting county archives throughout Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. “One of the values of a family history is to learn that others in our own family have gone through heartbreaks and joys; that there is no such thing as a “new” tragedy; and that we all get our fortitude and gentleness from those who went before us.” Spoden Family History, 1991.

John F. Baker, Jr. began researching his family’s history and survival of slavery when he was in junior high. Fortunately, the Washington Family that owned the plantation where his ancestors were enslaved kept amazing records. John was able to borrow some records from the family’s descendants and access the rest at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. “One of the most positive results of my journey has been seeing the increased interest among African Americans in learning about our own histories. . . The ability to discover much more about our history and ourselves is growing. Young African Americans react very favorably to this new sense of positive identity; I am always especially pleased when this happens.” The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation, 357.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. began researching his family’s history at age ten. Since then, he has traced the lines of many other Americans. He not only speaks to the positive results of genealogy’s power to inform one’s identity, but the negative aspects of not knowing one’s history. “For many African Americans, not knowing our own history – not knowing our
individual histories, the narratives of our own ancestors who triumphed, by surviving and propagating against tremendous odds – continues to serve as a profound limitation on what we can achieve, on the history each of us can make.” In Search of Our Roots: How 19 Extraordinary African Americans Reclaimed their Past, 8.

Brittany A. Chapman began intensive research on her great-great-grandmother for her master’s thesis on Victorian era women. She performed much of her investigation at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, UT and also in private collections. “Studying the life of an ancestor in depth has provided a real sense of belonging, and given me a greater sense of roots and identity. I gain strength from her
strength, I learn from her lessons, and I benefit from her conviction. . . She has helped me to see that the actions of one person can make a difference, and the story of one well-lived life can make a difference. ” Interview with this author, 2012.

Brianne Wright and I are always pleased by the creative ways the Kingsport Archives patrons access collections to find out more about the lives of loved ones who have passed on. “What uniform did my Dad wear to work? What did this neighborhood look like when my grandparents lived there? Who owned the land before my great-grandfather bought his farm?”  Archives and the search for personal and family identity: a great partnership. Everyone can be an archiventurist!

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