L A e l l i IN v h s G Na I t s An Ea OR
above: Pat Steele, Cox's maternal grandfather, circa 1950.
With roots in East Nashville stretching back to the 1700s, Debie Cox has emerged as a
unique authority on our city’s history through her own research and work at Metro Archives By Melanie Meadows
f you pick up a Nashville or Tennessee history book published in the last 10 years, there is a good chance the name Deborah Oeser Cox will turn up in the acknowledgments — a testament to just how valuable the Metro Archives employee has become when it comes to preserving Nashville’s heritage. VIDEO PRODUCTION redboneentertainment.com 615.268.4422
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“The past informs the present,” Cox says. “We often need to look to the past to answer questions that give meaning to our lives today. It’s like putting a puzzle together. You put it all together and it makes sense.” She has helped dozens of people track down important historic records and documents for a multitude of reasons — whether it’s researching a marriage license or discovering the history of their home through the public records. In her own words, Cox is “a historical records researcher of mostly Nashville-area, people, com-
munities, buildings and culture.” She isn’t afraid to challenge even the most enduring Nashville legends and get to the truth of the matter. “Debie is a real asset to our city and to her department,” Tim Walker, executive director of the Nashville Historical and Zoning Commission, says. “She knows the resources at the Metro Archives so thoroughly that you know if she has researched a subject, there’s very little probability you’ll find any additional information. I have great respect for her professionalism and ability, and she’s been a great help to our department over the years.” In a city where it can be difficult to find someone who was simply born here, a resident with Cox’s lineage is a rare treasure — she is a 10th-generation Nashvillian. Her ancestor Abel Gower was killed by Indians here in 1780, which means members of her family have been living in Nashville for more than 230 years. She counts some of Nashville’s early settlers among her ancestors, including pioneers Morris Shane and James Russell, both of whom received 640 acres of land for protecting the new settlement. Cox can even pinpoint her roots to East Nashville, which stretch back to before the Civil War. City directories show her great-great-grandfather
Photo by Stacie Huckeba
left: Cox and her older sister in front of their house on Meridian circa 1955.
William S. Hunt was living in Edgefield around 1855-56. Her grandfather Pat Steele was born at 920 Shelby Ave. in 1892. The house where he was born was damaged in the East Nashville fire of 1916, but his father built a new house there that still stands. Her grandmother was born at 1305 Shelby and her mother was born at 227 Shelby, near where the Titans stadium is now. The youngest of three siblings, Cox grew up in what she calls “Northeast Nashville” on Meridian Street. The area where she grew up is known today as Cleveland Park. Her father Ernest Oeser Jr. worked for a paper mill. Her paternal grandfather was a butcher in the old market house on the public square. His shop, Oeser Meats, is featured on a mural at Opryland Hotel. Cox and her husband Jimmy both attended East High School and were married in the spring of 1969. While they were living on Fatherland Street, their daughter Tammy was born and Cox became a stayat-home mom. In 1983, she lost both of her parents to illness. In early 1984, she and Jimmy welcomed a second daughter, Amanda. Twelve years apart in age, the girls started kindergarten and college on the same day. When Amanda was 3, she was enrolled in a Mother’s Day Out program and Cox headed straight to Metro Archives to research her family history. She had been recording family stories for many years and was ready to dig into the record books. After learning of the need for volunteers, she signed up and started spending two days a week at the archives. “My mama was a storyteller, and she was a great listener,” Cox explains. “She told us stories that came from her parents, grandparents and greatgrandparents. They were all from Nashville. After
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