New Archives Director takes over January 1

By LaShawn Baxter, Lawrence County Advocate

Longtime Director of the Lawrence County Archives Kathy Niedergeses will retire at the end of the month and a new director is in place to take over her duties.

Niedergeses volunteered to help with county records in 1988 and became the Archives Director when the county government formed the office in 1989.

“I was always interested in history and family history,” says Niedergeses. “I started out serving on the records commission so when the job came open I knew this was my dream job and it would be a job I loved.”

Niedergeses faced a monumental task. “The records were a jumbled mess, piled in boxes all over the floor.” They had been stored in the basement of the courthouse and were moved to the basement of the Lawrenceburg post office, their first official home.

Viola Carpenter, Jeanette Held and other local history lovers and volunteers assisted in the move. Niedergeses then had to sort the records by category and time period and clean them. “I worked by myself for a long time.” The boxes contained marriage records, chancery court records, and county court records that included wills, deeds, estate settlements and more.

Columbia State Community College History Professor Barry Gidcomb and his students volunteered to clean records. “I was really glad to have their help,” said Niedergeses.
Once the records were cleaned and sorted, Niedergeses then had to index them, organize them into file folders and boxes, and type them into an index.

She started out with a typewriter before state archives grant funds provided the office’s first computer. Grant funding has provided needed items through the years including supplies, shelving, map and microfilm cabinets, microfilm reader, and more.

In addition to day-to-day tasks, Niedergeses also experienced two more relocations. In 2006, the Archives temporarily moved to the Lawrence County Public Library. In 2008, the office moved to its current location at the former First Farmers and Merchants Bank building on Highway 43 in Leoma.

Special volunteers through the years have made a huge difference to researchers. Retired Educator Nancy Crowder scanned every available newspaper and typed up every single obituary. Her late husband Jim, also a retired teacher and coach, indexed them. The obituaries are an invaluable archives resource. Up until recently the Crowder’s were active Genealogical Society members as well.

Nancy Crowder also compiled two books of marriage records. “I really appreciate Nancy and Jim and all the hard work they performed as volunteers,” said Niedergeses.

In the end, it seems it will be the people she will miss most. Niedergeses says she has seen researchers from all across the U.S. as well as a couple of foreign countries. “Over the years, I have met so many people, each with an interesting story, and have made a lot of friends. This I will really miss.
People are so appreciative when you help them find something.”

“So much has changed over the years,” says Niedergeses. “Some records are on the Internet now. Until this, researchers had to rely mostly on documents found at the archives.” Localized records and experience in record searches are valuable however, and Niedergeses says she will be around to help others. She will also perform her own research and that for articles she will pen for the Lawrence County Genealogical Society’s journal. The Society, began in 1997, is still active and puts out a quarterly journal. It has helped the archives through the years with printers, scanners and other needed items. Anyone interested in joining can contact Niedergeses at 762-6338.

Niedergeses will remain the official Lawrence County Historian and continue to serve on the Public Records Commission.

Taking her place as Archives Director on January 1, 2019 will be Ashley Armstrong. Armstrong has performed genealogy for 18 years. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology from the University of Alabama. She is currently working on her thesis – a heritage development plan for historical residential and commercial areas of Sheffield, Alabama – that will complete her Master of Arts with a major in Public History from Middle Tennessee State University.

“I focused on state and local history and the management of historical organizations at MTSU and was a graduate research assistant at the MTSU Center for Historic Preservation,” shares Armstrong. “I interned for the Muscle Shoals National Heritage area, developing field trip curriculum for local sites, including the Helen Keller Birthplace.”

Armstrong says she is originally from Alabama, “but my father’s family is from Hardin and Wayne counties and my McDougal ancestors were here in southern Lawrence County in the early 1800s. This part of Tennessee is my home and helping to preserve its history has been my dream job for many years.”

Her primary goals for the Archives, says Armstrong, are “to continue Kathy Niedergeses’ excellent work by maintaining the high standards set by the state for preserving and providing public access to county records, and to work closely with all the local historical organizations to help them in their work to preserve Lawrence County’s heritage.”


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