The Tennessee State Library and Archives is now addressing one of the ripple effects of the Gatlinburg wildfires: the loss of vital records and family papers.
Among those who lost everything in the November fires were Robert and Sara Jo Myrick. They found that even their fireproof cabinet succumbed when it fell through a floor and broke. Documents like their marriage certificate were lost.
But because the Myricks were married more than 50 years ago, a copy had also made its way to the state archives.
“That marriage certificate had gone up in smoke and so they contacted us and we were able to locate that document and get it to them immediately, said Chuck Sherrill, head librarian and archivist.
While the institution may be known for its historical material, Sherrill said that marriage, birth and death certificates are always being gathered — by law.
“Many Tennesseans don’t realize that that’s going on, until something happens that they really need one of the records that we have preserved,” he said. “Preservation and access are the main tenets of the work we do here … making sure things last and making sure people can get them when they need them.”
The state also visits county courthouses to preserve property records. That was crucial two years ago when the Van Buren County archives building itself burned to the ground.
According to records kept by the archives, more than 50 counties have experienced such disasters, including fires, tornadoes and one earthquake.
More than a dozen counties lack a formal archives program.