Tennessee Tech archiving thousands of photos, documents lost in deadly tornadoes to reunite with owners

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COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) -Tennessee Tech University has compiled thousands of photos and other documents lost in the deadly tornadoes that hit Middle Tennessee on March 3 with the goal of reuniting them with their rightful owners.

Archives and Special Collections personnel at Tennessee Tech University have accumulated approximately 3,500 photographs, greeting cards, journals, letters, drawings and children’s artwork collected for digital processing in hopes of creating a long-term place where people affected by the tornado can search for their missing property.

“The Archives’ goals were to clean and house the personal belongings according to archival best practices and digitize the photographs and other materials into an easy to browse and search online location to minimize the need for families to look in physical and social media location until they could be claimed,” said Megan Atkinson, university archivist. “The Archives’ intent was also to minimize the strain on the affected families, many of whom were already overwhelmed from needing to focus on applying for FEMA aid, working with insurance and finding new homes rather than tracking down disparate family belongings.”

Atkinson said initially she thought the Archives would receive about 500 photographs. On Friday, March 20, approximately 1,000 to 1,500 more were picked up. They’ve processed 2,200 photos so far and have already reunited some with their owners. 1,500 still need a lot of work, the release said.

Volunteers at the Putnam County Community Center sorted the items that were dropped off, making the project viable before the items were sent to the Archives.

“My biggest concern with this project was reuniting people to their photographs in a helpful way,” said Atkinson. “What I saw happening on Facebook and other areas was something that worked for now, but not later. The archives is that later part. Our purpose is to catalog materials, preserve them and make them accessible to people. If we can do this successfully, we should be able to help those looking for photographs in Putnam County, but also the surrounding damaged areas.”

She has received photos found as far as Jefferson City and Knoxville.

“Our biggest goal is to get the word out that the site exists for these families so that they can reunite themselves with their memories,” she said. “When a photograph is claimed, it is taken off the site.”

To gain access to the site, email archives@tntech.edu or call 931-372-3958.

Tennessee Technological University is located in Cookeville, the seat of Putnam County where 18 of the 25 fatalities were recorded during the tornadoes.

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