Elm Street (Nashville) Methodist Records and History/ Bersheba Springs Photos Added to TN Conference Archives

Several registers of membership for the now closed Elm Street Methodist Church in Nashville were recently returned to the Tennessee Conference and deposited in its archives. They have yet to be processed, but will be available for research soon.

In addition, the archives received digital copies of both the history of the founding of that congregation, written by one of the original members of that church, and some digital copies of photographs of Bersheba Springs Hotel and grounds during the days after it was acquired for the Conference by the United Methodist Men. These last are currently available for on site research only as they may be included in a publication on Bersheba Springs.


Tn Conf. Archivist


Heritage Events: Research and Present vs. Celebrate, Share and Record

People on occasion contact me hoping to get information to present as part of a Heritage Celebration at their church and are disappointed if I cannot give them the information they request. Unfortunately, we only have records at the archives if someone has donated them to us in the first place. Such donations have often not occurred.

What I usually suggest they do is have a Heritage Celebration where they invite folks to bring in records, photographs, memorabilia, and the like. Ask people to tell stories of their memories of the church. Record those stories. Start an archive. Start a history project or Web site. Get the youth involved (older folks often love to tell their stories to younger ones and are pleased that the young ones are interested.) In other words, rather than present the church’s history to the congregation, have the congregation (and invited locals who are not members but might have something to contribute or celebrate) present the history to be recorded.

Heritage events do not have to be programs where a learned researcher presents the history of the church to its membership or community. They can be celebrations of the past that eventually brought everyone to the place they are today. Testimonies. Witnesses. And if recorded, those testimonies can be shared with and added to by future generations. So if you don’t have a history recorded– celebrate, share and record.

Of course, the Tennessee Conference Archives will always be happy to take copies of any such materials related to our Conference or its constituent churches, organizations, etc. that might be produced in such a venture.

Jim Havron currently serves as archivist of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church. His education and experience is in history with additional focus on public history, archives and museums, and with research and practice focusing on religious history, oral history, user advocacy and where the craft of history meets technology. He can be reached at archivist@tnumc.org

Researching Your Church Family Tree #2: In Search of the Local Pastor List

I frequently receive requests (and since I’ve been at this particular job for a very short time, for something to be considered “frequent” says something) for a list of all the pastors of a specific church or charge. This request is frequently part of an individual’s desire to write a church history or a congregation planning a special event. A few of those who have contacted me have done so because, as new Church Historians, they wisely feel that they should have such a list handy. Unfortunately for these researchers, such lists are not always available at our archives. Just as in the case of individual church histories, family trees, or for that matter any compiled history, a repository or library generally has such things only if another researcher has compiled one. We do, of course, have many of the resources needed to do the research for such a project, but many of these resources have yet to find their way to the Archives and Library.

Should you be interested in compiling such a list, here are a few tips on doing the necessary research. Some are specific to Methodist archives, but most apply or can be adapted to other institutions. The list is by no means exhaustive, and there may be more tips forthcoming on this blog at a later date. I hope readers will comment with their own tips as well. Also, as with all things historical, don’t assume that because someone else wrote something down and published it, their research is necessarily accurate.

  • This may seem obvious, but I have discovered that many do not do this. Start locally! Check your local church resources. There may be an old church history that will give you what you want, up to a point. If your church has old Conference Journals, the appointments will be in there. (Always remember that appointments can be changed in mid year.) There are memoirs of pastors in the later ones as well. Any charge conference records or records of committees where the pastor might have served or made reports might mention a name you have not yet found. Baptism, marriage and funeral records may also list the pastor.
  • Talk to older people and get their stories. Many times folks have trouble with exact dates, but will at least recall the names. Many of these members have wonderful memories. They may also have family records or pictures that include a pastor (baby book, certificate of marriage or baptism, Sunday school graduation certificate, etc.) They may have some old records of the church if they served on a committee in the past and these could augment the church’s collection. Don’t forget the home bound. They are great potential resources and often glad for the chance to visit and remember.
  • Community and state sources are good places to look. If you can establish that a member died or was married in a specific time, you may wish to look for a public record of the event that may include a pastor’s name. This is particularly true of marriage records. Just be careful; many folks had marriages or funerals performed by clergy who were not their local pastors.
  • Genealogical sources, on-line bulletin boards, social networks, etc. are also good places to look for information on pastors. Network with other researchers who might have information you do not.
  • If your church maintained a parsonage, old city directories, tax records, even maps, might help determine the resident of such a parsonage. Census records can sometimes help here, though they were only recorded every ten years and it is sometimes hard to pinpoint specific locations with them. If a church owned real property subject to taxation, the pastor might be mentioned
  • Although records of the individual churches legally belong to the church or conference, many have found their way into local historical societies, libraries or archives. Look there as well. Sometimes the institutions microfilmed such records with the permission of the church, making it possible to search many records more quickly than if they were in paper files.
  • Don’t forget local or church newspapers. Particularly in small towns and in the “old days.” Appointments to local churches and church events were often covered in newspapers.
  • Don’t forget other denominations or confessions. In some places and at some times, a church newspaper served much the same role as a community newspaper. (I have some copies of my great-grandfather’s paper, the Cumberland Presbyterian Banner, published at just such a time. He sometimes wrote about general community news and listed the subject of the sermon and Sunday School lesson for the local Baptist and Methodist churches on occasion.)
  • Always note the source of your information. I have seen several inaccurate lists of appointments. I received a memorial roll from an official of the church that is supposed to be itself official, but has some obvious errors in it. If you have conflicts or errors, noting your sources may help to resolve them.
  • Remember that there were divisions in the church at times in our history, and a congregation may have belonged to a different branch of the now United Methodist Church. Those records may or may not be readily available to the Conference archives. We will, of course, do all we can to help put folks in touch with the appropriate source for your research.

Remember, this is research and takes time. You are putting together a historical jigsaw puzzle. There will be gaps in the record, but do your best. If you can’t find it, note where you looked. Someone else may later be able to fill in the gaps. If you find a “piece” but don’t know where it fits, note that as well. That piece may connect with one found at a later time. And as always, the Archives and Library of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church will always be happy to accept copies of research relating to the Conference, its predecessors or constituent parts.


Jim Havron currently serves as archivist of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church. His education and experience is in history with additional focus on public history, archives and museums, and  with research and practice focusing on religious history, oral history, user advocacy and where the craft of history meets technology. He can be reached at archivist@tnumc.org

It’s a Record, Right?

I’ve discovered that many folks have interesting stories about challenges they have encountered as part of acquiring and processing collections. I have several of my own, the most recent adventure being captured by the camera.


Part of the mission of the archives of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church is the collection of records of churches of the conference that are no longer in existence. Unfortunately, some of these churches closed in the years before the establishment of the current archives and many of the records departed to whereabouts unknown. The Commission on Archives and History for the Tennessee Conference is always on the lookout for “lost” records that may have found their way to other temporary homes. Finding them is sometimes just a small part of the battle.


Carroll Street U.M.C., in Nashville, closed some years ago, and many of its records are among the prodigals. I have had several research questions about Carroll Street,  so awhile back I decided to ask the incumbent archivist, Von Unruh, about missing records. He told me there was very little that had been placed in the repository. He did tell me that he knew of one record, in the form of a marble plaque bearing names of members of the congregation, that was in private hands. Arrangements were made to transfer the plaque to the Tennessee Conference Archives in downtown Nashville. (See photos.) The plaque was large enough that three grown men could not fully lift it off the ground. Thanks to the assistance of Sandy Swift, a courier who loves a challenge and a good cause, the job was accomplished. Several hundred pounds of church “record” are now firmly in place in the collection of the conference. The best means of processing and providing access have yet to be determined.

Jim Havron, current archivist, TN Conf. UMC



Unloading memorial tablet
Unloading memorial tablet
Continuing to unload tablet
Continuing to unload tablet
What do we do with it?
What do we do with it?
Moving Marble Memorial Tablet
Moving Marble Memorial Tablet



That Their Wishes May Be Carried Out: Donor Forms and Other Paperwork In Church Collections

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I suspect that many people in the church today do not understand the importance of paperwork such as deeds of gift, releases and transfers of copyright forms. For some reason we think such things are unnecessary in a church environment. In truth, such things are nothing more than good stewardship. Such paperwork ensures that donations are available for research or other use and that such use cannot be curtailed by some person with a different agenda than the church and donor. These records also help identify the origins of items in a collection, becoming additional sources of information for researchers. Forms help communicate the thoughts, feelings and intent of both donors and the church at the time of the donation. Forms that document items in a collection can save a lot of unnecessary trouble, and can help keep well meaning folk from making mistakes they may live to regret. Examples forthcoming.

I am not, at present, able give names in these instances, but since they are just samples of things that happen frequently in the archives/museum/history world, just let them serve as illustrations of possible scenarios. Each of these has happened, but it is enough for the reader to imagine that they might have happened. Accept them as you will or will not, but they are all cases of which I am personally familiar.

1) A supporter of a historical institution gave a portrait of her ancestor to the institution on the condition that it be displayed in a public area. Later, a relative of hers claimed that the portrait had only been loaned to the institution and that it rightfully belonged to him, as he was her heir. (It was valuable, and this is the world of Ebay and auctions.) The institution fortunately had a donation form signed by the donor and could prove ownership. The wishes of the donor were carried out and the portrait remained. Ebay’s loss was the institution’s gain.

2) A series of portraits was donated to an institution. They somehow ended up in private hands and surfaced some years later in other institutions. The original institution had no donor forms. The portraits were never returned to the place that the original donors had intended for them to reside. The wishes of the donors could not be carried out.

3) A woman told the story of her faith conversion to an oral history interviewer. She bared her soul, telling of her battles with addiction and depression. The interview was very important to her because she wanted others to hear her testimony and perhaps learn from it. Hers was a strong witness and she hoped that perhaps it would even be part of a published work. She was, however, terminally ill. After her death, a sibling claimed that the interviewer did not have a right to make the story available to the public, either for publication or research. The sibling was embarrassed by the story. There was a problem with the release, so the interviewer will not use this powerful witness in the manner that was intended. Her wishes were not carried out

4) There are boxes and shelves of documents, photographs, audio tapes and objects in almost every historical institution where I have worked. In some cases the items have little meaning because no one knows what they are or where they came from. If we don’t know the source of items in our historical collections, we might miss some of their historical value. Additionally, we may not be able to use them as the donor wished because we do not have copyright or proof of ownership. In this world of litigation, we must be careful if we cannot prove our rights. The wishes of the donors may not be carried out.

5) An organization accepted an item from a donor who did not want to sign a donor agreement. It was later found that there was an argument in the family of the donor about where this item should be placed. The donor did not want to let anyone in the family know he was the one who had given it away. Apart from the fact that the receiving organization has become part of a family quarrel to which it should not be party, it cannot prove ownership of the item and could lose it to a family member or someone else at any time. What right does this organization have to the item? There is a difference of opinion among its members, but I would argue none. If a donor is unwilling to make an open gift of something, or in the case of an anonymous gift at least provide documentation of the gift in case it should later be needed, I feel it should be graciously refused.

These are just some of the reasons for obtaining and maintaining proper releases and donor agreements when accepting gifts of any kind. It is a matter of stewardship, as I said. A small amount of effort will make sure that the gift of an individual is used to its fullest value. The trick, of course, is persuading members of a church of that necessity. Maybe it would be best to start with discussing their wishes in regards to their gifts, then discussing how best to ensure that those wishes are carried out. It just might include paperwork.

Jim Havron