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Starting Your Tennessee Genealogy Research

If you research North Carolina or Virginia ancestors, you will not find it unusual to track your ancestors to Tennessee.  Do you know the best resources and sites to research your Tennessee ancestors?

Starting Your Tennessee Genealogy Research
Original Photo Source: Library of Congress


First Things First

Just as you would with any other new location you are researching, learn about the county and state where your ancestors lived. Research the county and state lines and any boundary changes that may have occurred during the pertinent time period. Refer to this interactive map of Tennessee’s evolving county borders.

TN Map 1826
Source: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division


Tennessee State Library and Archives

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a natural place to start your Tennessee genealogy research. You will find a variety of resource guides and online digital collections. Examples include Searching for Your Ancestors at the Tennessee State Library and Archives, Early NC/Tennessee Land Grants, and African American Genealogical Resources.  Be sure and check the Family Bible project and the historic Tennessee map collection, too.  Take time to explore the Tennessee State Library and Archive’s website as you begin researching your Tennessee ancestors.

Another great resource for Tennessee residents is the genealogy tab at the  Tennessee Electronic Library.  You will need to provide Tennessee zip code and phone number to gain access.

Tennessee Records in the State Archives of North Carolina

Initially, part of today’s Tennessee’s eastern counties were part of North Carolina.  In 1784, North Carolina ceded part of their western lands to the federal government, but set aside land for land grants to Revolutionary War veterans. Land grants for these counties can be found in the State Archives of North Carolina. 

Once Tennessee became the 16th state, the county records for those previously North Carolina counties stayed with the county seats. A few early records for these counties were retained in North Carolina.  Refer to the Records relating to Tennessee in the North Carolina State Archives document for a listing of these records.

For a more detailed explanation of the formation of modern day Tennessee including the State of Franklin, go to the Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Umbrella Rock - Lookout Mountain
Lookout Mountain, TN Source: Library of Congress


Tennessee Genealogy Databases around the Web

Sometimes in genealogy research, the researcher needs to think outside the box. In other words, get creative in the search for records and resources to further your research and break down those brick walls.   Examples of good resources for the Tennessee genealogist include:

This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but a starting point for the researcher with Tennessee ancestors.

You can also start your Tennessee research by watching these webinars by J. Mark Lowe in the Legacy Family Tree Webinars library:

What are YOUR  favorite Tennessee genealogy resources? Tell us in the comments!

Lisa Lisson is a genealogist, blogger and Etsy-prenuer who writes about her never-ending pursuit of ancestors, the “how” of genealogy research and the importance of sharing genealogy research with our families. Specializing in North Carolina and southern Virginia research, she also provides genealogical research services to clients. In researching her own family history, Lisa discovered a passion for oral history and its role in genealogy research. You can find Lisa online at Lisa





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I use the Tennessee State Marriages, 1780-2002 extensively, along with all the censuses, along with Find A Grave in Tennessee.

Excellent resources, Pam. Thanks for the additions!

Thank you so much for these helpful hints.

Tennessee has also encouraged each county to develop an archive for local county records. The locations vary from a room in the county courthouse to being affiliated with a local historical society or library. Some are in other county buildings but are self-sustaining. The information varies due to diligence in retaining early records, and of course we suffer from the "burned courthouse" syndrome. For those researching Tennessee families I would recommend first determining which county your family was in at the time of the event, then contacting that county archives for information. Most county web pages will have a link to their archives, or contact the research librarian at the local library.

the city of Memphis has excellent on line archives including death records from the 1900's... just google Shelby County records online...

My father's family has been in Memphis, Shelby County since c. 1848. My favorite resource is the Tom Leatherwood County Register site at I have found hundreds of original family BMD documents online, as well as directories, etc. I wish every county in America had such a wonderful resource. Mary Butler Arnold

I found that the Genealogy Section of the Public Library in Winchester, Franklin Co, TN was very helpful for finding information about local early settlers.

The Gordon Browning Museum and Genealogical Library has is a great place for research. Located in McKenzie, Tennessee. They hold many of the original court records for Carroll County in their Archives.

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