Tennessee Courthouse records change extensively from county to county in both level of quality and volume. You will find different kinds of court records that are most likely to possess information related for your genealogical research below.
Tennessee Court Records
Tennessee court records can be hard to decipher. Most indexes are not complete. Instead of entries listed by name, they could be listed by. “A” for adoptions or “I” for “in regards to.” Mortgaged estates might not be listed under the name of the estate holder. Instead, they might be found under the name of the bank holding the lien or mortgage, such as “F” for First Bank and Trust. Other examples found have been “C” for commissioners/commission, “J” for jury, and “W” for will. “S” f has been used when property was sold by the sheriff or when the state was a party to the proceeding, such as in state land grants. Tennessee is also inconsistent in which courts certain activities were recorded. Probate records could be filed in chancery or circuit court if the case was contested. Some minor civil and equity cases were heard by superior courts of law in larger counties. Property disputes fall under chancery court, and criminal cases, divorces, and adoptions are held in circuit courts. Some early proceedings could have been held in a court of common pleas or court of quarter sessions. Each county maintains its own original court records, including minute and order books, boxes of loose papers, case files, and folders. Thoroughly examine each source for related entries. You can also obtain microfilmed copies from the Tennessee State Library and Archives and the Family History Library. The Works Progress Administration transcribed approximately 1,000 volumes of Tennessee county records. The Tennessee State Library and Archives maintains these on microfilm. There is also a card index that is organized by county. This compilation includes minutes from county, circuit, and chancery courts, wills, and estate settlements. However, you should always review the original records, as WPA transcriptions are often filled with errors. Several counties have their records allocated in more than one facility. The county also holds naturalization records prior to 1906, and some are published in compilations. See Also Research In Court Records.
- Tennessee Court Record Books (amazon.com)
Tennessee Land Records
A small percentage of the land granted in Tennessee was free land. This land was given in exchange for service to North Carolina. The Public Services Section of the Tennessee State Library and Archives has a card index and microfilmed records of early land records, including grants issued by Tennessee and North Carolina.
The archives contain bound official copies of all Tennessee land grants. These include Tennessee general grants dated from 1806 to 1927 and North Carolina grants in Tennessee from 1783 to 1800, including North Carolina state grants, which are also available in the North Carolina State Archives (see North Carolina).
From 1807 through 1838, the district land offices issued grants. The grants in East Tennessee start in 1807. The Hiwassee District grants begin in November 1820. Middle Tennessee District, grants date from 1824. West Tennessee District records start in 1826. Mountain District grants date from 1828. The Ocoee District grants begin in 1838. You can learn more about these from a pamphlet that is available from the repository: “Land Grants in the Tennessee State Library and Archives.”
The northern section of what is Middle Tennessee today encompassed The North Carolina Military Reservation, which was founded in 1783. The reservation began in the area surrounding the Cumberland River and extended north to the Kentucky border. Just below this reservation, a Congressional Reservation was established in April 1806 that stretched westward to the north-flowing section of the Tennessee River. You can find information on North Carolina Revolutionary service land grants in middle Tennessee in several published volumes. Some land grants were made south of Walker’s Line in Tennessee. The Kentucky Land Office in Frankfort maintains the original records with an index. These are also available through the Family History Library on microfilm.
There were three steps to obtain a land grant:
The first step was an entry that included the name, date, number of acres, and location—usually including the name of a watercourse—and entry number.
The second step was a survey, which was done if improvements had been made. This survey was required to be complete within five years of the entry. If the land was transferred before a survey was completed, this will be indicated in the entry book. Prior to the grant process, the survey could be transferred to someone else. The “sworn chain carriers” (SCC) are also listed in the entry book. The survey could be transferred to another prior to the grant process.
The grant was the third and final step. The entry and survey were the basis for the land grant application, along with a small amount per acre. Each grant has its own number that differs from the entry and survey numbers and is recorded at both the state and county levels. Some of the original records can be found at each county, and the Tennessee State Library and Archives has some county land entries and survey abstracts on microfilm. Each county courthouse maintains land records dating from the county’s organization. These are usually found with the register of deeds. These records include transfer of real estate or personal property, mortgages, leases, surveys, and entries. You can also order county records on microfilm from the Tennessee State Library and Archives by submitting the name, date, county, and type of record.
Records for the twentieth century public assistance program, Board of Aid, are in some land books, along with early wills and other transactions. There are also many publications that contain land records. See Also Guide to U.S. Land Records Research
Tennessee Probate Records
Probate cases fall under the authority of the county court. In each county clerk’s office, you can locate wills, administrations, and all probate records. Contested wills may have been handles by the circuit court or chancery court, and the records of these proceedings would be found at those offices. There are separate probate courts in Shelby and Davidson counties. The Works Progress Administration transcribed many early court records and lists of wills. The county clerk’s office usually has copies. You can also obtain copies from the TSLA. Most are available through the FHL on microfilm. Franklin County began a project to preserve and microfilm probate files in 1979, and Shelby County followed with its own project in 1981. Since then, other counties have started projects as well. The Tennessee State Library and Archives has copies on microfilm. Guardianship and minor civil and criminal case also heard in county court. Unless early records have been destroyed, court records date from the organization. You can find references to probate-related actions, such as dower, year’s support, and appointments in the court orders, which are usually not indexed. Early wills can sometimes be maintained in different locations. For example, in Scott County, wills were recorded in County Court Minute Books until 1929. Some early wills are kept in deed records. Some counties kept different books for Estate Settlements and Orphans’ Court actions and bonds.
See Also Guide to U.S. Probate Records Research
- Tennessee Probate Court Books, 1795-1927 (familysearch.org) This collection includes waypoints and images of probate court records from Tennessee counties. The records were kept in bound volumes.
- Tennessee Probate Court Files, 1795-1927 (familysearch.org) This collection includes probate records from Tennessee counties. These records were kept either as loose papers or in files, rather than bound volumes.
- Tennessee Probate Record Books (amazon.com)
Tennessee Tax Records
The 1796 Constitution stated that taxes were levied on “every freeman of the age of twenty-one years and upward possessing a freehold in the county wherein he may vote, and being an inhabitant of this State, and every freeman being an inhabitant of any one county in the State six months immediately preceding the day of the election, shall be entitled to vote…” When the federal census records were lost, many early surviving tax records were published. The original tax records are maintained in county courthouses. Copies are also available in the TSLA, along with card indexes for records prior to 1835. They are organized by county, date, and district. the McClung Historical Collection at the Lawson McGhee Library (see Archives, Libraries, and Societies) has early original tax lists for Washington County, 1778 and 1787; Greene County, 1783; Carter and Sullivan counties, 1796; and Grainger County, 1799. Early copies are also on microfilm at the Indiana State Library, the FHL, and the Allen County Public Library (see Indiana). The TSLA maintains nine reels of the 1891 tax lists of make inhabitant voters, organized alphabetically within each district in each county. The TSLA also has microfilm copies of tax records from trustees’ offices.
See Also Guide to U.S. Tax Records Research
- Tennessee Tax Record Books (amazon.com)
Tennessee County & City Government Links
Tennessee contains 95 counties. Each county is the local level of government within its borders. The links in the table below link to county and city government offices and is limited to government-maintained websites. If you know of a Tennessee county that has an official government web site but is not linked, or if the link is in error, please contact us so we may edit our database. Tennessee State Government is located in Nashville.