- Associated Press - Saturday, March 4, 2017

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) - Archives in Lawrence, Limestone and Morgan counties opened at different times, but part of their shared mission is to bridge the past with the future and give residents a road map for how their families arrived in the Tennessee Valley.

Collectively, the three buildings have millions of pages of records, some that date back to before Alabama gained statehood.

“We’re the centers of history,” Morgan County Archivist John Allison said. “Sometimes we confirm family stories, while there are times when people learned what has been passed down through the family may not true.”

“These facilities are so important,” author and historian Peggy Towns said.

The archives have expanded their mission to include more than government records and this is a blessing, Limestone County Archivist Rebekah Davis said.

Two of the prized possessions in the Limestone County Archives, which was established in 1980, are a family bible the Barksdale family donated and a collection of color slides someone loaned which shows daily life at the old segregated Trinity School.

“So little from the African American community was kept, but we have these images,” Davis said.

The family bible dates back to 1810 and records deaths, births and marriages that may not be in official government records, she said.

Davis said they also recently acquired an original photograph taken in 1864 of men constructing a wooden trestle over Sulphur Creek.

“This photo was taken between raids during the Civil War because the first trestle was burned in 1863,” she said. “This is the only known photograph of the trestle under construction and is a prized possession.”

As many answers as the millions of historical documents give, they also generate questions, Lawrence County Archivist Myra Borden said.

In 2004, for example, boxes of historical documents returned to Lawrence County included papers about the first murder investigation in Moulton. But there were other records that included the name of Osborn Locklayer, a free man of color who has puzzled Borden and researchers since Lawrence County established an archive in 1990.

He was one of the first black men to purchase land from the federal government in Lawrence County and he did so without credit.

“I would love to have the time just to research him because I have so many questions,” Borden said. “I want to know how he got his freedom and so much money.”

In the murder probe, store owner Parker Alexander loaded his Horseman’s pistol almost 51 months after Moulton incorporated as the first town in Lawrence County and the one round he fired near his business killed Philip Roddy. The shooting occurred Feb. 27, 1824, and it generated the first murder investigation in Moulton.

Historians talked about the case for years, but couldn’t document its occurrence until 2004 when the loose and brittle papers were donated to the archives.

Allison said this is why archives are important. His office was established in 1995 to manage county government records. But the facility on Bank Street grew to be one of the best archives in the state and has records that date back to when Morgan was called Cotaco County.

Allison became the county archivist in 2006 and has added exhibits about the Depression-era Scottsboro Boys case, Civil War and a wall to honor the county’s veterans.

He also has changeable exhibits, including artifacts from the “house of ill-repute” operated by Catherine M. Lackner, the woman known to many as Miss Kate or Aunt Kate.

She operated a brothel near Bank Street on the Tennessee River and a little more than a decade ago, historians were able to add to her story after divorce papers were found.

Robert Lackner filed for divorce from the River City’s most famous madam on Jan. 17, 1889, records confirm.

The witnesses testified that Miss Kate had an open relationship with riverboat captain Simp McGhee and that women living in her home were “open, notorious prostitutes.”

Lackner got his divorce and custody of the couple’s 7-year-old child. Miss Kate died at her home April 12, 1947, and is buried in Decatur City Cemetery.

“As we uncover history we continue to add to the story,” Allison said.

For as much history as archives have, some is missing, Davis said. She said they have the county’s first deed, which shows Robert Beaty and John Carroll setting aside property in February 1818 to establish the city of Athens. But marriage records from 1818 through 1832 are missing.

“The first 37 pages of the probate book are missing and we don’t know where they are,” Davis said. “They may be out there somewhere, and if they are, we’re here to accept them.”


Information from: The Decatur Daily, https://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/index.shtml

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