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County Archives seeks return of records

Donna Briggs and Ned Irwin work with some of the Archives’ records.


If something is missing, you try to recover it. The Washington County Archives is currently seeking to recover any Washington County records that, for whatever reason, are no longer in its custody.

The effort is being led by County Archivist Ned Irwin and authorized by the Washington County Public Records Commission and County Mayor Joe Grandy.

“The focus for the past year has been on recovering county records in various public repositories,” Irwin said.

Records have been returned from Special Collections at the University of Tennessee, the McClung Collection in Knoxville, and Appalachian State University. In total, nearly 12,000 county documents were recovered and returned to the Washington County Archives so far in 2019.

“Now the focus is shifting to recovering records that are in private hands,” Irwin said. “We know there are records out there, but unlike the public repositories, we do not always know who has them. We hear stories about what people have, and I am hopeful that spreading the word about amnesty will encourage people to return them. It is important for individuals to understand that under Tennessee law public records are always public records and being in someone’s private possession does not change this ownership.”

Irwin and Donna Briggs, archives associate, have worked closely with Allyson Wilkinson, county staff attorney, in the records recovery effort.

“The legal insight she brings to this effort has been invaluable,” he said.

The records returned so far are especially important for documenting the early history of Washington County and include records from the state of Franklin, slave documents, early Superior Court and Circuit Court cases, the Civil War, etc. Many topics are covered in these records regarding the social, cultural, civic, economic, and political history of the county, the region, and Tennessee.

And, as Irwin explained, “we are finding these documents join many related documents already in the collection.” 

Irwin and Briggs spend their day focused on preserving the government records of Washington County’s past for the benefit of future generations. The stories these documents tell connect this area to the history of the United States.

“We recently recovered a document signed by Andrew Jackson. It was like a homecoming to bring it back to Washington County where he signed it,” Briggs said, explaining that Jackson practiced law and served as a judge here before he became President of the United States.

Irwin noted that there has already been one anonymous donor return early county records.

“The individual just walked into the archives one day with these historic documents. The person had felt for some time that it was the right thing to do to return them where they belonged and finally brought them to us. I hope this example will encourage others to do the same.”

Anyone that may have county records or be aware of such records is asked to contact Ned Irwin at (423) 753-0393 or email him at [email protected] Records can be returned anonymously. No questions will be asked. “We just want the records back home where they belong,” Irwin said.