Tennessee Tech archivists reuniting tornado survivors with precious memories

Nashville Tornado

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A group at Tennessee Tech University is connecting tornado survivors with personal belongings they lost in the devastation. The project started just days after an EF4 tornado touched down in Cookeville.

Thousands of precious memories were lost, but Archivist Megan Atkinson is making sure they’re found.

“A lot of these images were found everywhere,” Atkinson said. “Some about 130 miles away from the east, so I’m assuming a lot of people from the west lost photographs too.”

She and her team are numbering, cleaning and organizing pictures and documents.

“When we started it, I thought ‘how many photographs will we possibly get?’ I pictured 100 and what ended up happening was probably closer to 5,000 photographs,” Atkinson said.

More than a thousand have been placed back in the hands of their rightful owner.

“[I’ve received] very positive responses,” Atkinson said. “A lot of people felt like it took a lot of the burden off of them trying to find them.”

Just days after the tornado, the pandemic slowed down their mission. She was forced to work with less volunteers. There are still about 2,000 items waiting to be claimed.

“The most important thing in archives is to make sure people can hang on to their histories and for people to not have these materials in their homes means they’re not hanging onto their histories,” Atkinson said.

All materials are uploaded to a digital archive that is private and only accessible for people looking for materials found. To gain access to the site, email archives@tntech.edu or call 931-372-3958.


See how hope has overcome heartbreak across the area. News 2 brings you special reports Tennessee Stronger: A Year of Recovery all day Wednesday in every newscast and on WKRN.com.

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