When I think of genealogical and historical research in Blount County, so many people come to mind. First is my friend and co-worker, the late Dean Stone, whose archives of photos and research were shared in his Daily Times column, “Bits of Stone,” and in the six-volume series published by The Daily Times, “Snapshots of Blount County History.” Dean often was called upon when information was needed, and if he didn’t know the answer — most often, he did — he knew where to send you to find it.
I would be leaving out too many people if I tried to name everyone who stands as high in my regard as Dean Stone, but I’d like to say a special word of thanks to one lady who, like Dean, deserves to be recognized for her work in history and genealogy: Lorene Bean Smith.
Lorene passed away in May after a valiant battle with cancer. She was the official Blount County historian, receiving that designation in January 2008 following the death of her predecessor, Jane Kizer Thomas, in November 2007.
I was privileged to write the story announcing Lorene’s appointment as county historian, catching her at her home-away-from-home, the genealogy department of the Blount County Public Library, doing the interview as she took a break from researching newspaper archives.
Always gracious, Lorene was quick to give credit to Jane and to Jane’s predecessor, the late Inez Burns, who died in 2004. Inez authored the book, “History of Blount County, Tennessee: From War Trail to Landing Strip, 1795-1955,” considered by many to be the definitive history of the county.
“Inez had everything in her head, and I don’t think there will ever be another Inez Burns,” Lorene told me. “And then Jane just did so much. … This has been kind of hard for me because they were both good friends.”
Lorene’s parents were the late Carl and Neva Kerr Bean, who moved to Blount County from Knox County in the early 1900s. Her Kerr ancestors were from the Greenback area. Lorene attended Maryville College before her marriage to A.J. “Jeff” Smith in 1951.
Lorene was employed at the Blount County Public Library for 20 years, beginning her work in 1973 at the A.K. Harper Memorial Library. She had many duties, only one of which was working in the genealogy department. When she started, there were two shelves of genealogy books and a few loose papers.
“Because I was interested in genealogy, the library let me start ordering some books, having the old books rebound,” Lorene said. “Later, I started sorting these loose papers and starting these family files.” She said what she enjoyed most was getting people started in genealogy. One of her tips: Start with yourself and work backward.
Lorene wrote a regular column, “Digging for Ancestors,” for The Daily Times for 12 years, publishing queries from people looking for their Blount County roots. She mentioned one success story, a man from Ohio who was seeking a sister —one of his six siblings who had been scattered among relatives after their mother died. After the query was published, a local person contacted him with information, and he later thanked Lorene and The Daily Times for making the reunion of all the siblings possible.
Lorene also worked on a book with Dr. Elgin Kintner, “Blount County Remembered,” which includes the photographs of W.O. Garner from the turn of the 20th century. Lorene was working at the library one day when a woman from California called and asked if the library would like 100 pounds of glass negatives showing scenes from Blount County. The woman was the great-granddaughter of W.O. Garner, and the negatives were of scenes Lorene had never seen before. Thanks to her and Dr. Kintner, many of the images are now available for us all to see.
This is just a microcosm of Lorene’s contributions to Blount County and to all who seek to know more about themselves, their ancestors and the place they called home. Without her, there would be no genealogy section in the Blount County Public Library. She also was a founding member of the Blount County Genealogical and Historical Society.
We are indebted to Lorene, to Jane, to Inez, to Dean and to all those who work so tirelessly to uncover the secrets of the past, including Ken Cornett, who was appointed Blount County historian on June 21. Thanks to each one, we can find out more about where we come from — because if we don’t know where we come from, how will we know where we need to go?