- County and Town Histories, which also contain biographies (Goodspeed).
- A History of Tennessee and Tennesseans (Vol. 1-8) by Will T. Hale
- Tennessee and Tennesseans by Bethania McLemore Oldham
- Sketches of Prominent Tennesseans by William S. Speer
- Notable Men of Tennessee by John Allison
Volume 1: https://archive.org/details/bub_gb_Fag-AAAAYAAJ/page/n5
Volume 2: https://archive.org/details/bub_gb_6I9LAAAAYAAJ/page/n5
Here are some digital books with biographies of prominent Tennesseans that you can access on the internet:
City Directories are a gold mine of information for genealogists. Not only are they a great substitute for the 1890 census, but they help fill in the gap between censuses. You can learn about the part of town where your ancestor lived and who the neighbors were. Information about their occupation and employer is often included; there may even by ads or other information in the directory about their employer. The directories can provide clues to when your ancestor arrived in the area, when they died, and other family members. They are useful for finding female ancestors since wives’ names, widows, and single employed women are listed. For one research project, Memphis City Directories helped us confirm that the Joseph Marshall in the 1870 census was actually the James C Marshall we were looking for. The neighbors in the census and the directory were the same, and there was not a directory listing for a Joseph Marshall.
City directories were published in Tennessee as early as 1849. Copies can be found in many local libraries. Ancestry has a robust collection, as does TSLA. A listing of the TSLA holdings can be found at https://sos.tn.gov/products/tsla/city-directories-tennessee-state-library-and-archives. They will even research and make copies for you!
Newspapers provide a wealth of genealogical information that other sources might not provide. Obituaries can contain the married names of females as well as names of family members and their relationships. Local newspapers often include birth, marriage, and death announcements. If your ancestor was a business owner you may find advertisements and other related articles in a newspaper. In the past, small town newspapers reported on many trivial aspects of their reader’s lives, which can add interest to your ancestor’s story.
Birth, marriage, and death notices might be recorded in your ancestor’s hometown as well as their current residence. Also check newspapers in surrounding towns and counties for news relating to your ancestors. If your ancestor's hometown did not publish their own paper, be sure to search for newspapers printed in the nearest town as they will often include regional news.
There are several online databases where digitized copies of newspapers can be found:
Newspapers.com (available at the Germantown Regional History and Genealogy Center library)
One website, The Ancestor Hunt, deserves special mention. It has a vast listing of links, frequently updated, to online historical newspapers from the United States and all over the world. Other features are lessons on how to perform searches in the newspaper databases and articles relating to newspaper research.
The Tennessee State Library and Archives provides access to The Tennessean (1812 – 2002) to Tennessee residents through TEL. TSLA also has a collection of Tennessee newspapers on microfilm. A list of newspapers available by county can be found here:
Local libraries and history societies are also a good source for newspapers.
Has your ancestor disappeared from the Tennessee records usually searched? You may be lucky enough to discover that he committed a crime between 1831 and 1870 and was incarcerated in the Tennessee State Penitentiary in Davidson County, Tennessee. The penitentiary records on individual convicts are a treasure trove describing the appearance of the convict, where he had lived, where his relatives lived at the time, the crime he had committed and his sentence. A searchable index to the Inmates of the Tennessee State Penitentiary 1851-1870 is available on the Genealogy Index Search Site.
These records have been published in "Tennessee Convicts, Early Records of the State Penitentiary Volume 1 (1831 - 1850)" compiled by Charles A. and Tomye M. Sherrill and in "Volume 2 (1851 - 1870)" compiled by Charles A. Sherrill.
The following is excerpted from the entry on "James Barker":
'...was received into the Penitentiary the 18 March, 1832. He is 17 years old, 5'5" high, weight 116 lbs., blue eyes, fair hair and skin. He has a large scar on the left knee, on the cap... The big toe and the next toe to it, on both feet have grown together about half way from the foot to their ends." It continues on to list where his parents and married sister live, his crime of grand larceny, his sentence and eventual release date - delayed due to "bad conduct".'
Wouldn't you love to have information this detailed on other, more law abiding, ancestors?
Probate is the process where an individual’s estate is distributed to his or her heirs, whether or not there is a will. As a result of this, various records are created such as wills, bonds, petitions, accounts, inventories, administrations, orders, decrees, and distributions. These records are valuable to genealogists since they provide a death date, information on residency, and most importantly, demonstrate relationships in a family.
If your ancestors owned land, which is common in rural areas, you will want to search for probate records. Probate records do exist for women, although they are not as numerous as the records for men. If a woman was single, widowed, or divorced, it is likely that she owned property that would have gone through the probate process when she died. When you cannot locate a probate record for your direct ancestor, try looking for probate records for that ancestor’s relatives.
A list of Tennessee wills has been published in the book “Index to Tennessee Wills and Administrations, 1779-1861” by Byron and Barbara Sistler. A copy of this book is available at the Germantown Regional History and Genealogy Center library. In addition, the Tennessee State Library and Archives will check the index by e-mail free of charge (https://sos.tn.gov/products/tsla/how-do-i-find-probate-records). Probate records dated after 1861 can be found in the records of each county. Contact the county courthouse clerk’s office for information on obtaining copies of probate records. At Ancestry.com there is a database titled “Tennessee Wills and Probate Records, 1779-2008.” This database is also available to Tennessee residents through TEL. There are also probate records available at FamilySearch.org in the following databases “Tennessee Probate Court Books, 1795-1927” and “Tennessee Probate Court Files, 1795-1927." However, these databases are only able to be browsed as images, they are not indexed. For assistance in locating the records using these two databases, it would be a good idea to have information on your ancestor’s probate record from the “Index to Tennessee Wills and Administrations” book mention above.
As with birth records, Tennessee did not start requiring statewide death certificates until 1908. The Tennessee Vital Records Office holds death records for 50 years. Death records from 1969 to the present can be obtained from the Tennessee Department of Health, Office of Vital Records. Restrictions and fees apply, so be sure to check the web site. TSLA has statewide Tennessee death records for the years 1908-1912 and 1914-1968. No death records were recorded at the state level in 1913. Copies of available records can be ordered from TSLA, with instructions found on this web page: Ordering Death Records. The Ancestry.com database “Tennessee, Death Records, 1908-1958“ contains images of death records. This database is also available to Tennessee residents through TEL, and the FamilySearch database “Tennessee Deaths, 1914-1966” also contains images.
Other places to look for death records include newspapers, bible records, funeral home records and cemetery records. Many county historical societies have published books listing local cemeteries and transcribing tombstone inscriptions.
Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville all started recording deaths earlier than 1908. Later blogs will discuss records available for these cities.
Marriage records in Tennessee are primarily a county level record. Some Tennessee counties recorded and kept information on marriages in the early years of statehood, but not all. Beginning in 1838, counties were required to record marriages in bound record books. Information typically includes the date, the names of the bride and groom, the minister or justice of the peace, and, sometimes, the bondsman.
Many county historical societies have published books with extracts of local marriage records. Another invaluable resource is 35,000 Tennessee Marriage Records and Bonds: 1783 – 1870. This three volume reference, edited by the Rev. Silar Emmett Lucas, Jr. and Mrs. Ella Lee Sheffield, was published in 1991. And, of course, newspapers are another great source.
The Tennessee Vital Records Office holds marriage records for 50 years. Marriage records from 1969 to the present can be obtained from the Tennessee Department of Health, Office of Vital Records. Restrictions and fees apply, so be sure to check the web site. For a fee, TSLA can lookup many marriage records. See the page Ordering Marriage Records for more information on this service.
Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville marriage records will be discussed in later blogs.
Tennessee first began keeping statewide birth records in 1908, though some larger cities began before then. Someone born before that time needed proof of birth if they wanted to apply for a Social Security card or a passport or for legal matters. This proof of birth is provided by a delayed birth certificate which they or their representative could apply for. To obtain a delayed birth certificate, the applicant had to supply supporting evidence as to their birth; thus this certificate can provide even more information to a genealogist than a standard birth certificate:
When looking at these images online, remember to examine the next page. The example below is the first page (front of the document), but the next page (back of the document) also has important information.
Ancestry.com, Tennessee Delayed Birth Records
Tennessee did not start keeping birth records until 1908, although some of the larger cities did keep earlier birth records: Nashville (beginning in 1881); Knoxville (beginning in 1881); Chattanooga (beginning in 1879); and Memphis (beginning in 1874). Later blogs will discuss records available for these cities.
The Tennessee Vital Records Office keeps birth records for 100 years; after that they are available for public access through the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Thus, TSLA has statewide Tennessee birth records for the years 1908-1912 and 1914-1918. No birth records were recorded at the state level in 1913; also, initial adoption was spotty. Copies of available records can be ordered from TSLA, with instructions found on this web page – Ordering Birth Certificates. Birth records from 1919 to the present can be obtained from the Tennessee Department of Health, Office of Vital Records. Restrictions and fees apply, so be sure to check the web site.
Other places to look for birth information are the Tennessee Births and Christenings, 1828-1939 index available at Family Search, as well as newspapers and bible records.
Tax lists are another great census substitute, especially for the early years of Tennessee statehood. White males, age 21 and older, paid an annual poll tax for the privilege of voting. Thus, tax lists provide proof of residence and establish a minimum age. They are also useful in identifying spelling variants of surnames. Some tax lists include information on acreage or other assets, providing information on the person’s financial circumstances. Some tax lists also indicate if the individual owned slaves.
Tax lists are compiled by civil districts, so they can be used to track the movements of an individual both within a county and between counties. Cathy L’Altrelli has an article in Ansearchin News, Vol 66 No 1 2019, entitled “Asbells, Intermarried Families & Neighbors: Migration from Lawrence Co., TN in the 1830’s”, that is an excellent example of using tax lists to trace family migration. James L. Douthat has also published a series 1836 Tennessee Civil Districts and Tax Lists, by county, that includes the 1835 law establishing the civil districts, a description of the layout of the districts in the county (along with a map), and tax lists by districts for the years 1836 – 1839, where available.
Ancestry.com has a database containing many of the Tennessee tax lists: “Tennessee, Early Tax List Records, 1783-1895.” This database is also available to Tennessee residents through TEL
Tennessee Genealogical Society
Germantown Regional History
and Genealogy Center
7779 Poplar Pike
Germantown, TN 38138