As one of Tennessee’s major cities, Memphis began keeping vital records earlier than some other parts of the state. Memphis began recording births in 1874, deaths in 1848, and marriages as early as 1820.
One of the best resources for early vital records for Shelby County is the Shelby County Register of Deeds website. This site contains indexes and/or images for births 1874-1917, deaths 1848-1967, and marriages 1820-2014. The site also contains a state-wide index to Tennessee death records for the years 1949-2014 and many other databases of interest to a genealogist.
The Memphis and Shelby County Room on the fourth floor of the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library has many valuable resources for genealogists, including microfilmed copies of local newspapers, a surname index, and funeral home books.
Memphis published the first City Directory in Tennessee in 1849. City directories from 1855-1960 are available at Ancestry.com. City directories from 1849-1943 are available on the Register of Deeds site. Hardcopies of the directories from 1850-2017 are available at Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) and some are also available at the Memphis Public Library.
In addition to the resources listed above, more information about Memphis/Shelby County history and genealogy research can be found through the West Tennessee Historical Society, the Shelby County TSLA Fact Sheet, and the Shelby County FamilySearch wiki.