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“Whoever has helped notably in the great march of human progress deserves credit therefor in the popular estimation. Abilities, character and achievement make men prominent. Learning and money may be helpful, but they are not enough; without character they may the sooner sink one into oblivion.”
This seems to me as good as any definition. By whatever scale of prominence men have chosen to use, historians has provided us with tales, biographies, and accounts of men deemed important in their own right. Histories are written of events from those that changed the world to the deeds of men known only in their own communities. Either way, research can help uncover these men and their deeds. Family historians should take note that many of these histories contain vital genealogical data about not only individuals of prominence, but also their families, their acquaintances, and those with whom they interact, fixing these individual in time and place.
Sketches of Prominent Tennesseans, by William S. Speer, is a prime example of a selective history of men considered prominent with in their state. By whatever right the Honorable William Speer thought these men important, he has immortalized their names through the written word. First published in 1888, Speer selected 259 men from 19th century Tennessee for his historical record.
“I had a native ambition to rise from obscurity and make myself useful in the world, to shine and be distinguished.” ~ The Hon. Neil S. Brown, one of the 259 prominent 19th-century Tennesseans profiled in this extraordinary book.
It is this kind of unique first-hand biographical information that makes Sketches of Prominent Tennesseans unequaled in the canon of Tennessee genealogical literature. Not only did compiler William S. Speer have the unparalleled opportunity to interview a number of the featured Tennesseans himself, he also was able to garner–and include in this book–thousands and thousands of names of their family members, friends, and colleagues.
Republished in 2008, this type of book is a treasure to both those interested in Tennessean history as well as to genealogists. As would be hoped, these sketches include many details about the lives of these men and their families. Speer offers, often extraordinary, insight into the personal, professional, and sometimes even physical characteristics that made each of these men a success. A complete list of names, or even surnames, would be too lengthy to list here. However, below is a list of surnames of those men highlighted in this book.
Pick up a copy of Sketches of Prominent Tennesseans from Family Roots Publishing; Price: $44.10.
Surnames featured in the book: