A Window to the Past
Lodl keeps up with county's records for future generations
By Sam Stockard, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Rutherford County Archives holds the community's history through the preservation of county government records that enable people to do everything from legal work to genealogy research.
Located on Rice Street off West Burton near the Murfreesboro Athletic Club, the facility sees about 15 walk-in visitors each day, in addition to phone and e-mail requests, but often the searches for information are time-consuming and that number increases as more people find out about the facility.
Director John Lodl sat down with The Daily News Journal to talk about the facility's mission and projects since it opened three and a half years ago.
Q: What types of records do you have here at the archives that would interest the general public?
Lodl:We're here to protect the rights of the general public by keeping up with the permanent records of county government. We can help the general public when they need their court records; we have the marriage records, the wills. So a lot of what we do is legal, contemporary issues. ... We keep up with county government records, so anything generated by the county office that's permanent comes here. So on a daily basis, we're helping people with their property records. We're helping them if they need court records for retirement or Social Security, things like that. Then the other half of what we do is historical research because our records go back to 1804 when the county formed. So we do a lot of genealogy, family history, local history.
Q: Do a number of people come here working on genealogy projects?
Lodl:Every day, in person, in the building, via the phone, via e-mail. Every day we're working on genealogy, local history, because we're the keeper of the records.
Q: You say they go back to 1804. Does that include slaves and all sorts of information?
Lodl:The records record history, so when it was times of enslavement, we have those records. When it was times of antebellum plantations, Old South, we have those records. We can document the civil rights movement through our records. So we definitely keep up with the social history of Rutherford County and Murfreesboro. It's very fascinating.
Q: You all recently received the Shacklett's Photography collection. What does that include?
Lodl: You're talking about the history of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County, from the Civil War when cameras came into existence to today in pictures. I mean, it's the entire history of this county in pictures. It's a beautiful collection. It's going to take us a little while to get it up and accessible to the public, but that's our main goal; that's why we took it in. Within a year or two, we hope the public will be able to come here and see these pictures.
Q: You've got a number of them up already.
Lodl: We've got a number of them up. We're working daily to get the rest of them ready to be viewed and, when completed, it's going to be beautiful. It's a gold mine of photographs. It documents us.
Q: How many pictures are there?
Lodl:That's a good question. We're talking tens of thousands. There's 60 boxes ... full of negatives. There's about 2,000 in a box.
Q: How big is your budget and how many people do you have working?
Lodl:We're one of the smaller budgets in county government. It's all public record. We operate on a little more than $100,000 a year. I'm the only county employee, the only full-time staff here, as director. I have two graduate students from MTSU who work part time, 20 hours a week each. And then, from time to time, we have interns or seasonal employees on payroll. Aside from that, we have volunteers. I have a handful of dedicated volunteers who come in. One guy, Don Detwiler, works Monday, Wednesday and Friday all day. He's retired military, loves doing computer entry and research, so we put him to work. He has his own office back there. Most people come in and work a couple of hours a day or a couple of hours a week. We always need volunteers, people to help. And we have the Shacklett's project going on, and we have a lot of other projects going on.
Q: What are some of the other projects?
Lodl:We always have some type of re-filing, getting things into archival acid-free folders and boxes. That's ongoing. We get into older records, we have to do cleaning and hydrating of old records, so we're doing that every day in the lab. So it's a lot of hands-on dirty work, and then we have a lot of computer work. We have to be able to find these records when somebody comes into the building and needs them, so we're constantly indexing our collections and making them accessible on the Internet through our county website.
Q: How much of your records are available online?
Lodl: Very little, but we can assist people either in person or over the Internet to get the records that we do have. So everything is accessible; a lot of it we do old school, make copies on the copy machine and mail to them if they're not here in town.
Q: Why do you feel, other than a legal standpoint and getting records people have to have to do legal things, that an archives is necessary?
Lodl:A lot of people don't realize what an archives is for. We've been in this building three and a half years. One of the main things is to streamline the function of county government. We are able to work with every county department for the benefit of the general public, our county citizens, to free up office space, to streamline records management, to dispose of records that aren't permanent, to save tax dollars. And once people come here, we're one-stop shopping. They can get everything from a court record to a will, to property tax records to marriage licenses, the older ones, right here, instead of having to go to all these different county offices to find those older records. And, today, if you go to the County Clerk's office or the Register of Deeds, they're busy with today, not records from 10 to 20 years ago. It takes them a lot of time to find them, but we can pull them up quickly the way we have our stuff organized.
Q: I understand there's a place over behind Central Middle where there are a bunch of records that could wind up over here. What does that entail?
Lodl: You would think that in 2010 we would know where all the old county records are, and we still to this day find things. We recently found a cache of old Board of Education records in a garage behind Central Middle. I'm very happy to say we are working with the school board. We were able to pull all of those records out into our building and we're working through those to find the permanent ones that we need to keep so we can get those properly archived and get rid of the non-permanent records. ... Two Christmases ago, we went down in the basement of the Judicial Building and found some 1800s documents sitting down in the basement. We were able to pull those out and we're working on those. That's another example of one of our projects. And, you never know what's going to walk in the door. We're always interested in what's in the community. People are welcome to come here if they have family heirlooms, especially photographs or old documents. We can help assess them ... find out the historic significance.
Q: I understand that someone has the snake that was found in a woman's stomach and that there are also some medical affidavits that go with it. Would you be accepting that if it's made available to you?
Lodl: We're not here to take in artifacts, unfortunately, so (it needs to be) a document's two-dimensional, a photo's two-dimensional. I wish we had a county museum to take in artifacts. There are so many wonderful artifacts in this community. Unfortunately, we only have the two house museums (Sam Davis Home and Oaklands mansion) and Cannonsburgh. ... It's the Faithful Taylor story, that was the woman's name in roughly 1880 and supposedly that snake is in a jar, I think at Vanderbilt. ... We found that woman in the census records. I think it's a true story. She is in the 1880 census living down in Christiana.
Q: You've been here a little more than three years. Do you think the archives is a relatively unknown entity?
Lodl: I think so, but every day more people find out about us from a historical perspective and from a more contemporary legal perspective. We're getting so busy here, and we're here to serve.
About John Lodl