A link to my past found in the lost county of Tennessee...

My great-grandfather (the boy second from the left) and his family.
Through some genealogical research, I recently discovered that my paternal great-grandfather was born in Norman, Tennessee, located in James County -- both of which are no longer on the Tennessee map. James County has a unique and interesting history. According to the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, James County was the first county in the United States to be consolidated with another -- the only such instance in Tennessee history.

James County was organized in 1871, covering 285-square miles of territory carved from the eastern portion of Hamilton County and the western third of Bradley County. Political strife and bankruptcy plagued James County from its inception. The county's residents were mostly poor rural farmers who could not support James County's tax base, leading eventually to its dissolution in 1919, just forty-eight short years after its creation. Most of the records of James County were destroyed in two separate courthouse fires in 1890 and 1913, but what remains is held at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library.


Map of James County, circa 1902.
Thirteen towns and communities were scattered across James County, including the town of Norman where my great-grandfather was born. According to World War I enlistment records located at the Tennessee State Library and Archives, my great-grandfather enlisted in the Army at the age of 26, and served as a cook in the U.S. Army's Company B 105th Engineer Combat Battalion. At some point between his birth and the war, his family moved to Jasper, in Marion County, Tennessee where my great-grandfather worked for his father as a "Public Ferryman" on the Tennessee River.

Unfortunately, I never knew my great-grandfather, so much of what I am able to learn comes from my family's stories, and the archival records of my past. Fortunately, the Tennessee State Library and Archives has many of these records, and has already filled in many gaps in my knowledge of my ancestors. As you can imagine, I'm really excited to find out about this link to my own past, and I look forward to continuing my genealogical journey, sharing these new discoveries with you along the way.


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Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.