Genealogical Research Allows Filson Artifacts to Come Alive!

The following post is written by Wendy Brimhall, summer intern at the Filson.


Have you ever visited an antique shop or a museum exhibit and while looking at the artifacts wanted to know more about the people who originally owned them? For example, when and where did they live? What did they do for a living? Were they involved in any important historical events?

When artifacts are donated to the Filson, the donor will often supply genealogical or biographical information concerning the original owners of the artifact. However, sometimes the information provided is very little (i.e. name and place). As part of my internship here, I have the wonderful opportunity to see what additional tidbits I can find on the person or the family that was not included in the provenance record. To do this, I search a variety of sources including: censuses, probate records, newspaper articles, military records, vital records, etc.

Recently, I finished researching a couple named William and Martha Baldridge Owens, whose trunk is housed at the Filson. The provenance record states that the couple was married “August 17, 1847, at the bride’s home near Gallatin, Tennessee”, and that the trunk went with them to Niagara Falls on their honeymoon. The provenance record stated that William was from Russellville, Kentucky, and was the overseer of his uncle, Samuel Owens’s property, and that the associated papers were also donated to the Filson. Other than that, little was known about William and Martha.

Daguerreotype of William Owens, Jr., taken in 1860 [Owens-Hume Family Photograph Collection, 998PC13.4]

Through my research, I was able to find several pieces of information and records concerning William, Martha, and their children. However, for sake of time and space, I will only mention a couple. First, I found the marriage license and return for William and Martha Baldridge Owens. The record verifies the marriage information given by the donors (granddaughters of the couple).[1]

Marriage return for William Owens and Martha Baldridge.

Second, I discovered that William and Martha had a daughter named, Cora Owens Pope Hume, who kept a diary during the Civil War, from 1863-1866. Cora was only a teenager at the time  and she was loyal to the South. I found a newspaper article in the Louisville Courier-Journal titled, “War Between The States Seen With 13-Year-Old Eyes in Diary of Louisvillian Still Living,” dated 20 September 1936, which discussed the diary and some of its contents.[2] It was interesting to discover that the Filson also has the diary in its collection.

Ambrotype of Cora Owens Hume, about 8 years old in Hickman, Kentucky, 1856. [Owens-Hume Family Photograph Collection 000PC7.1]

Here are a few excerpts dated 15 April 1865, from the diary transcript.

“I wrote to Mama this morning, but before I wrote two pages – the news flew through the house that Lincoln was killed last night at a theatre and Seward was stabbed. Some of the teachers and scholars are crying and others raving about the outrageous act. The excitement is intense. All of the flags in town are at half mast and draped in black, but they are just beginning to turn the stars down for they did not know that was the proper way for a mourning flag until Miss Shedd’s brother told them. He is in the army and, I suppose, has seen them so there.”[3]

Later on 15 April 1865

“At dinner Mr. Parsons said that if there was a man or a woman in this nation that rejoices at the death of Pres. Lincoln, they are murderers themselves. After dinner he asked me how I thought that the South would receive the news. I told him that the whole South would rejoice. He said that they lost their best friend, in Pres. Lincoln, and that they would have no friends in the North now except those who are in the conspiracy. for the whole north would be aroused to vengance. Oh! How I do abominate such people !!! I paid no attention to him, for he knows nothing about our people.”[4]

Cora Owens Hume journals, 1863-1866, 3 Vols. (Mss. A H921)

As you can see, genealogical research connected the trunk to the diary and made them both come alive. Next August, 2018, the Filson will feature a museum exhibit on past, present, and future genealogy. Museum artifacts and accompanying genealogical research will be on display.  We hope to see you next August!


Wendy Brimhall is an intern at the Filson from Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah), studying Family History – Genealogy. Besides doing family history research, Wendy loves to quilt, fiddle, watch old movies, and be up in the mountains.  


[1] Database with images,, “Tennessee, State Marriages, 1780-2002,” entry for William Owens and Martha Baldridge (17 August 1847), citing Sumner County, Tennessee, Tennessee State Marriages, 1780-2002, Nashville, Tennessee, Tennessee State Library and Archives.

[2], The Courier-Journal, “War Between The States Seen With 13-Year-Old Eyes in Diary of Louisvillian Still Living,” 20 September 1936, p. 63.

[3] Cora Owens Hume, Mrs. William Garvin Hume, Journal, 1863-1866, 3 Vols., Transcript, Mss./A/H921, vol. 2, 28 July 1864 - 27 August 1865, p. 89, 15 April 1865.

[4] Cora Owens Hume, Mrs. William Garvin Hume, Journal, 1863-1866, 3 Vols., Transcript, Mss./A/H921, vol. 2, 28 July 1864 - 27 August 1865, p. 91, 15 April 1865.

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