Susan G. Daniel was into Genealogical Research before it was Cool!

November 1, 2009, Sam Stockard, The Dail y News Journal

Susan G. Daniel
Susan G. Daniel

Susan G. Daniel was into genealogical research before it was cool. That desire to delve into the past fueled the writing, compilation and editing of numerous books, work that required years of tedious investigation.

Daniel’s efforts have been recognized on the local and state level while also leading to establishment of a Rutherford County Archives.  Most recently, she and Frank Caperton, members of the Rutherford County Historical Society, completed a book, “Pictures and the Stories They Tell,” a compilation of some 800 Rutherford County pictures.

Daniel sat down with The DNJ to discuss her efforts to preserve and record history.

Q: How did you develop such a strong interest in history and historical preservation?

Daniel: I was a history of art major, and I was more interested in the art side of history, but I have always been interested in all facets of history, and in 1968 I was bored to death raising a 1-year-old and I just needed something. We were living in Arlington, Va., at the time, and they had a continuing education program and one of the courses was genealogy … I took the course, and the bug bit. I was lucky because we were in Arlington, and I had access to the Library of Congress, the DAR Library, National Archives, and this is where most of the key research was done. I would spend Saturdays at the Library of Congress, me and a whole bunch of bearded, old fogeys.

That’s what it was like back in those days. People weren’t doing genealogy. It was just on the cutting edge of starting and I kept doing it over the years.

Q: You moved here in ’74. Do you feel like you fell into somewhat of a gold mine of history in this area?

Daniel: Middle Tennessee is marvelous because it didn’t open up until after the Revolutionary War. I think we have something like 103 Revolutionary War soldiers buried in this county, and that doesn’t count a lot of them who came through and left.
… This book (“Cemeteries and Graveyards of Rutherford County, Tennessee) shows a lot of the people who came and left, some stayed, some didn’t. There are over 6,800 names in here of people who were somehow or other connected with Rutherford County, and I enjoyed researching this.

Q: Let’s talk a little bit about the new book. How did that all come about?

Daniel: The country’s bicentennial started gearing up about 1974, and this county also started gearing up to celebrate the country’s bicentennial. Dr. Robert Corlew was named head of the Bicentennial Commission. And the commission … hired Helene Colvin, who is a resident here, and she took pictures, just scads and scads, something like 800 pictures of Rutherford County, of places, of houses, of businesses, people, just about anything and everything. … They were all on slides. I knew about them because I was in the (Historical) Society at the time and knew this was happening, and I was a part of the Bicentennial Celebration. …

Thirty years later, about 2006, 2007, apparently these slides had been made into boxes of Kodak carousels, there were eight of them, and they’d been set for shows for children at elementary schools, and they were set up as houses of Main Street, businesses of Rutherford County, the northern part of Rutherford County, the southern part, different sections, and they had a script the teacher could read. I don’t know when they stopped doing it, but somehow it all got stored at Linebaugh Library, and nobody had talked about it in years. I knew about it and Linebaugh contacted me. They were cleaning out one of their closets and came across the slides and (asked) if I knew anything about it and would I be interested and the society be interested in getting it back. They were not sure they could continue to house them, and that’s when I approached the historical society and I suggested we protect the slides by making them pictures and maybe publishing the pictures in a book, and Steve Cates said, “Yes, let’s do that.” He made the motion and the society went along with it.

Q: It took some doing to turn them into pictures didn’t it?

Daniel: We had to transfer the slides into digitized pictures … so Bill Jakes said he would do this. He had the equipment to do it, but he ran out of time; it was a very tedious job. There were a lot of these slide, so the society hired a young man who was a school teacher, and he was free that summer; I think it was 2007, and he digitized all of them.

Q: Where did you go once you got all the stuff together?

Daniel: Frank Caperton came forward. He’s a member of the society and he also keeps our website for us. Frank said he would like to take it over … so we started working on it, and we began to see it needed to be expanded because we had these pictures of 1974. Then we started finding pictures of the same houses, some of them even earlier than that. He started taking pictures himself of the same places but what had changed. There’s things like the Polk Hotel that was torn down in ’76, but Helen has a picture of it that she had taken. It’s things like that. There are a lot of houses that are gone that were in place at that time; the Faircloth house is a perfect example.

Q: What was your role? Did you do quite a bit of the research on the book?

Daniel: Frank and I both did the research on things. He would find pictures or information about a family that was connected to a house or a business, and I did the research on that, but my thing was mostly editing. He would do a page, then he would send it to me and I would edit it, correcting grammar or wrong dates, basically just editing. I also did a lot of encouraging, because it would get shelved for a while, because he was busy doing other things, and I’d just keep saying, “Let’s keep going.

I want to get it out.” We tried to get it finished last year, but it just didn’t come together.

But this year, we aimed to get it out by October so people could buy it for Christmas presents. I really think it’s a good book.

Q: So there are quite a few things in there that no longer exist?

Daniel: Oh yes. There’s a whole section of Old Jefferson (near Smyrna) and the houses that were at Old Jefferson. … for instance, the Old Jefferson Hotel. Most of those came from Toby Francis; Toby grew up in Old Jefferson. The interesting thing is the water didn’t cover Old Jefferson at all. They tore all these beautiful places down, and they could have left them all (when Percy Priest Lake was formed). There’s a picture right there of Old Jefferson, and it’s high and dry. … Ernie Johns is the county historian and he has been more important in all of these publications than even me.

He’s encouraged and supported in every way possible, everything I’ve done, so I really count him as my alter ego in some ways (laughing).

Q: You received the Tennessee Historical Commission’s Certificate of Merit in 2007. How did that make you feel?

Daniel: Small. There are a lot of very famous people who’ve received the same honor and I have Ernie Johns to thank for that. He proposed me and wrote it up for the Tennessee Commission. He also was the one who proposed me for the Lifetime Achievement Award for Community Service, which I just got … and he deserves it more than I do in some ways.

Q: Didn’t you play a fairly big role in trying to get the county records into a county archives. What did that entail?

Daniel: 1977, ’78, I was doing research for someone and came across more than a thousand original wills, written in the handwriting of the time, not a clerk’s handwriting. These were handwritten wills with the actual signatures, actual pieces of paper. Most of them were in very poor condition. They had been folded up and had been placed in these 10-cent store envelopes that were not acid-free, and the acids they used in the envelopes were eating away at these old, old records. Our county goes back to 1803, and in some cases those wills had been written before that time, but they weren’t filed or probated until after we became a county. Sonny Elam was the county clerk at the time, and I said, “Sonny, we need to do something about these.” He said, “You have my good wishes, whatever you want to do.”

… We have the wills back here. We have copies the public uses, so nobody handles the old wills unless there’s an absolute reason for handling the originals. That led me to finding all kinds of stuff being stored hither and yon, everywhere … this was the transition period when they were building the Judicial Building, and I was asked in, I think John Mankin was (mayor) of the county at that time, and he suggested I be part of the committee … and (I ) suggested that we have an archives because we were one of the oldest counties in the state and we had good records and even though those nasty people from the North during the Civil War defaced a lot of our records, left a lot of graffiti on them, we still had them.

That was the miracle, for a lot of the counties in Middle Tennessee don’t have their records from that period. So I began pushing for an archives … and they decided we would have one for the new Judicial Building. Well, that fell by the wayside as it was completed. They did give us a place to put things in the Courthouse. Long story short, we’ve been pushing for an archives since the late ’70s, and at every turn I kept pushing for it and kept it in everybody’s mind. … We finally got our archives (in August 2006), and the county hired John Lodl for archivist, and he is ideal for the position. He’s well-trained and knows what he’s doing, yet he’s a very easy-going person to get along with and I think he gets along with just about everybody. These officeholders can be difficult at times, yet he manages to smooth things through.

Q: I think you told me at one time there were a bunch of county records that were stored somewhere underneath the street on the Public Square?

Daniel: Yes. Going back, the County Court moved into the old bank building on the corner of the square next to the Judicial Building and they were storing records in the old bank vault and they were also storing the records down under the bank building, which went into the street, and if you go down those stairs into the dungeon under the bank building, there’s a water main (or) sewer that goes through there, and it was all dark down there … and there were a tremendous amount of the county records being stored in the dirt down there.

Q: Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

Daniel: I think the history of Rutherford County is important. These people who originally came here really had some gumption to survive. They ran into Indians. … There were people here all during the 1790s; Capt. William Lytle (founder of Murfreesboro) came in the 1790s and his family. They ran into Indians, there are stories that there was a death from Indian slaughter every 10 days in this Middle Tennessee area for a long time. Just think of Middle Tennessee and the difficulties they faced. Ticks … and the underbrush, imagine going through the cedar underbrush which is so typical in our county. And there’s a lot of rock, they had to move rock, and there are some beautiful stone fences throughout Rutherford County. … I think they were probably built by slaves. … They were well-kept places and they were proud of them, and this picture book shows some beautiful places that go way back. It was difficult living here, and I think the women particularly were very strong, and they had a lot of children year after year after year, and some of the men went through three or four wives because of the difficulty of child birth.

There’s a tie, there’s a feeling of immortality when you research these people and go from generation to generation, and I wish people would care enough about their forbears and what they meant to them. I mean you wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for your forbears. I didn’t come from here, but I came here just like these people did 200 years ago. I came to find a home and so I feel like I connect with the early people as much as anybody else, even though I’m a newcomer.

— Sam Stockard, 615-278-5165

Additional Facts

Susan G. Daniel

Who: Rutherford County Historical Society, publications editor, author and county genealogist
Background: Born in Texas, raised in Lynchburg, Va., moved to Murfreesboro in 1974
Education: E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg, Va., Class of 1957; bachelor’s degree in history of art and minor in French from Western Maryland (now McDaniel College); secretarial degree from Phillips Business College; Records Management and Classification Course, U.S. State Department; Foreign Service Institute Language Classes in French, U.S. State Department
Career: U.S. State Department, full-time mother, law firm clerk and office manager; retired 2001
Family: Husband, D.C. “Jim” Daniel (member of Rutherford County Commission); adult children, Doug, Jenny and Tom
Church: First Presbyterian

Author and Editor:
– “A Family of Families,” a comprehensive genealogy of more than 55 of her families, 1979
– “Rutherford County, Tennessee Pioneers born before 1800,” compiler, 2003
– “Rutherford County, Tennessee Cemeteries and Graveyards,” compiler, 2005
– “Rutherford County, TN 1810 Census and 1809-1813 Tax Records,” compiler, 2006
– “North Carolina Revolutionary Land Grants for Rutherford County,” co-authored with Ernest Johns, 2007
– “Rutherford County, TN Land Grants,” co-authored with Ernest Johns, 2007
– “Rutherford County, TN Deaths & Estate Settlements, Volume I (1804-1849),” by Don Detwiler, edited, 2008
– “Rutherford County, TN Deaths & Estate Settlements, Volume II (1850-1861),” by Don Detwiler, edited, 2008
– “Pictures and the Stories They Tell,” compiled by Frank Caperton and Susan Daniel, 2009

FYI: “Pictures and the Stories They Tell: An Assorted Blend of Photographs and Stories of Rutherford County, Tennessee” is available through the Rutherford County Historical Society. Cost is $60 plus $8 for postage and handling. Make checks payable to Rutherford County Historical Society, P.O. Box 906, Murfreesboro, TN, 37133-0906. Call, write, or e-mail Susan G. Daniel to place an order at 615-849-3823 or [email protected].

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