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Courthouse employees organize, preserve Unicoi County Chancery Court archives

The discovery of a chancery court manual used by James M. Gouge, a former attorney and clerk and master of Unicoi County, would not have happened without a recently completed archive restoration and organization project.
Unicoi County Clerk and Master Teresa Simerly said she was excited when she discovered Gouge’s fourth edition “Gibson’s Suits In Chancery” reference book.
“We found it while we were cleaning and organizing some of these old files – the oldest files in the county,” said Simerly, who is also the county archivist. “I want to hang on to it because it’s a piece of history.”
The book is special to Simerly because it pertains to her everyday decision-making regarding chancery court procedures.
“One of the reasons I like this version is because it has some of the history of chancery court in it,” Simerly said. “It’s been updated many times and we’re in version eight or nine now. I use it quite frequently.”
In short, Simerly said chancery court is a court pertaining to equity.
According to the “Gibson’s Suits In Chancery” reference book, chancery court is a “system of jurisprudence called Equity” and was “originally largely derived from the civil law of the Romans.”
Before the efficiency of computer processing, Simerly said she would carry out all office functions by hand.
Inside the office now, the implementation of technological advances are met with nuances of historical artifacts from the county court’s past.
The documentation of the first years in Unicoi County Chancery Court was all boxed up before Simerly initiated the organization and restoration project.
“They were all in these old envelopes that were filthy because they were stored near the old coal furnace in the old courthouse,” Simerly said.
“They weren’t in any order and I am not sure how they were kept, but we did a project and got them all in numerical sequence. We made an index and we placed documents in nice, new and clean folders so we could use them.”
Simerly said she was able to use some of her education in restoration and archiving during the project.
“I mainly did the indexing part and getting names together for the labels,” Simerly said. “We had boxes everywhere. We had to wear rubber gloves and it was very dirty, but we’re proud of ourselves.”
Simerly said the payoff for their hard work came when a surveyor requested a document in the files.
“He was able to use it to determine his boundary lines,” Simerly said. “It was pretty exciting that within two weeks of finishing it, we were actually able to see the fruits from it.”
A map book was also discovered in the archives, Simerly said and the map book led the surveyor to documents in the chancery court archives.
“When we cleaned these files out we found an old map book, which we didn’t realize we had” Simerly said.
“It has thrilled [Debbie Tittle] our register of deeds. Once I found it and told her about it, she’s been able to send some people up sometimes to look through that.”
Simerly said the surveyor stopped by one day to look at the map book and began to inquire about certain names that were on the new index she made.

For the remainder of this article please see the March 5, 2013 edition of The Erwin Record.