DeKalb County Historian Tommy Webb’s personal files, which include information concerning the history of DeKalb County he has been collecting for more than 70 years, were transferred to the Tennessee State Library and Archives last week.
Webb, 83, said he has been collecting historical documents since he was a teenager, and while he has made copies of his collection for Justin
Potter Library in Smithville, he has donated the originals to the state archives.
"I am donating to the Tennessee State Library and Archives all the historical material that I have collected about DeKalb County over the past 70 years. I'll be 83 in July. I started when I was around 12 or 13 years old. I have what amounts to two four-drawer filing cabinets full of material about DeKalb County and its families, churches, schools, civil war battles, and everything else about DeKalb County.”
State Librarian and Archivist Charles Sherrill, who came personally to pick up Webb’s collection, said it is not a common occurence to have such an impressive collection donated.
“A collection like this, accumulated over a lifetime, carefully tended, and representing many people who came from this part of the state, is a rich treasure for researchers, historians and genealogists. In the 60 years that the state archives has been in its building, we have brought in maybe seven or eight collections like this, so it's a rare opportunity to find a collection of this depth and breadth,” Sherrill said.
Webb said while the original copies are going to Nashville, he has kept a copy of each document, and he will still man his post in the genealogy room at the local library.
“We have copies at the library of all this material. The originals are going to the state library and archives. They wanted the originals and that's what they're getting, but we have copies of everything at Justin Potter Library, so we're not really letting anything go. I am at Justin Potter Library from 9 a.m.-noon every day except Sunday to answer any questions people may have.”
Justin Potter Library Director Kathy Hendrixson said she felt the archives should be a source of pride for the county.
“I think it's important for the library and for the county, because this is a great honor. How many people do you know who have their papers and their life's work put in the state library and archives? I think it's a big deal. Mr. Webb is just a treasure. He's at the library from 9 a.m.-noon every day, and hardly a day goes by that we don't have two or three people who come in with questions. He knows so many things about local history, and a lot of it is off the top of his head. It's not something he has to go to a file for,”she said.
Sherrill said one of the main goals is the preservation of Webb’s collection.
“I had known of Mr. Webb for a long time even before I became state librarian, but after I took the job he wrote me a letter and asked me to come down and take a look at his collection and to discuss with him what might be the best options for preserving it and making it available, he said. “We did that about four years ago, and he recently contacted me again and said he thought it was time to make the transfer. The originals will always be preserved. One of the services we have to offer is careful temperature and humidity controls so that the paper will be preserved in acid free folders and boxes. We will also microfilm the collection. A lot of people today say why would you still microfilm now that we have digitalization. But microfilm is the preservation media. We know that microfilm will still be here and still be readable without specialized equipment 500 years from now. We will also be able to make digital copies from the microfilm. Digital is the access medium. Digital files degrade over time. We know that we can create a digital copy and make it available on the Internet, but we will always have that microfilm backup to go to in order to make a new copy when its needed.”
Hendrixson said Webb is a source of pride for the local library.
“We are so proud of Mr. Webb and his accomplishments, and we are thankful for him and all the things he does for the county, especially for the library. We are really pleased that Chuck Sherrell from the Tennessee State Library and Archives has come to collect these for the archives. It's an honor for us and for Mr. Webb. We're just so proud of him,” said Hendrixson.
Webb said he has been fascinated with local history since he was a young man.
“My mother and daddy, but particularly my mother, always talked about her family and who we were kin to and how we were related. She knew a good bit of the family history, so I had heard her talk and decided I'd like to find out more. It became an absolute obsession. I didn't watch TV. I didn't care a thing about TV. I'd much rather dig into the history of DeKalb County. I might add, I found out a lot about family history. I was interested in mine first, and when I found what mine was like I thought Lord have mercy, I wonder what everybody else's is like, so I dug into everybody else's. I found out that they are all about alike. They all have some really fine people that you're proud of and you hope everybody knows you're kin to them. And they all have some that are just awful and you hope nobody knows you're kin to them but you are,” Webb shared.