Need access to Tennessee Supreme Court Records

+5 votes
We have a copy of a will wherein the father Audley Harrison provides for all of his many children with the exception of, Nancy, who he disinherits for "what she has done". (we do not know what she allegedly did.) Nancy later married Archibald Hennessee. This all occurs just prior to the Civil War.

The will was contested due to allegations of fraud by the executor of the will.  The case went all the way to the Tennessee Supreme Court where it can be found online in a Google book:  Reports of cases Argued And Determined in the Supreme Court of Tennessee for the Middle Division, for the year 1870-71 Volume II

January 4, 1871
Smith v. Harrison et al., and Harrison et al. v. Smith et als. (starts on page 230)

On page 247 the judge writing the decision writes, "If it be true, as intimated in the proof, that Audley Harrison, after his second marriage, did not get along very harmoniously with the children of his first marriage, then the will is a marvel of parental leniency, as only one of them is entirely disinherited; and the reason of the old man's long-cherished purpose as to her is abundantly shown.  This is Nancy Hennessee."

Unfortunately, this is the only reference and I was unable to learn what great wrong Nancy did.

What I need is for someone who can contact the TN Supreme Court offices, find out if the written records submitted to the court upon which it based it's decision are available and how I should go about, if possible, obtaining these records.


Rick Young
in Genealogy Help by Rick Young G2G Crew (880 points)

1 Answer

+4 votes
You have all the pertinent information necessary to contact the Supreme court clerk's office.  You have the names of all the parties in the filings, the date the decision was handed down, and the Division it was heard in.  If contacting them directly is not appealing (yes, pun intended), contact the Dean's office at one of the State University Law Schools, and request assistance in researching a law case.  Usually, for a small fee, students will take on this kind of thing for pocket money.

Have you tried starting at the lower courts that heard the case?  Start with the County Court that originally probated the will, then follow the challenges, decisions, appeals, all the way thru the process.

Try asking the local Historical Society what happened to the papers of the Attorneys for each side who were involved in the case?  Were they single person offices, in partnership with others?  Did any of their decendents also become lawyers? (most often, Sonsor grandsons who later practiced inherited their father's case files along with the Law Books, and other goods from their father's practice).  Sometimes, here in the south, the personal papers are donated to the County (whether it's the County Judge [like a mayor for the whole county], the library, etc.), or, if they were a prominent attorney, the state law library will become the beneficiary.

If you're lucky enough to find any of the case-file owners, there will be numerous pieces of information that is NEVER included in the court filings, but necessary to/for the attorney.

As for tracking down "What Nancy had done," start with the county Historical Society, as they regularly keep track of rumors, gossip, local stories, and suppositions about the residents.  Here where I live, they actually keep journals just for the rumors, gossip, etc.  especially about the more prominent families of the town/county. Since your particular case made it all the way to the State Supreme Court, be guarenteed that the tongues of the county were wagging, and there is certainly some mention of whatever scandal Nancy's behavior caused. (unless it was an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, in which case, her ABSENCE from the normal social life of the county may be just as telling.)

 While "just the facts" made it into the local paper (probably a weekly), that big a case may well have made it into the State-wide daily paper as well.  Some ambitious newspaper reporter may have written some background info on the case to try and impress his boss.

Contact the research Librarian at both the County Library and the closest University and ask if they can review the newspapers of the appropriate time frames.

If you've been able to determine what church/es the family attended, the ministers also kept records about their congregation.

Good Luck, and Happy Hunting!
by Kathy Cason G2G Crew (480 points)

The East Tennessee Historical Society has excellent resources I would look there as well.



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