Tennessee Church Records

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Tennessee Wiki Topics
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Beginning Research
Record Types
Tennessee Background
Cultural Groups
Local Research Resources

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

Before 1900, the largest religious groups in Tennessee were the Baptist, Christian (Disciples of Christ), Methodist, and Presbyterian churches.[1]

Information Found in the Records[edit | edit source]

To effectively use church records, become familiar with their content. Click on these links to learn about a specific record type:

Finding the Records[edit | edit source]

Look for online records.[edit | edit source]

Ancestry.com, Findmypast.com, and MyHeritage.com can be searched free of charge at your local family history center or the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Caution sign.png

Online databases are incomplete. This can lead to two common errors:

  1. Near matches: Researchers might mistakenly accept an entry very similar to their ancestor, thinking it is the only one available. Only use information that matches your ancestor in date, place, relationships, and other details.
  2. Stopping research: Researchers might assume the database proves church records do not exist. Actually the record is still out there, just not in this incomplete collection of records. Keep searching!

Ancestry.com[edit | edit source]

Baptist[edit | edit source]

Lutheran[edit | edit source]

Presbyterian[edit | edit source]

Other Collections[edit | edit source]

Look for digital copies of church records listed in the FamilySearch Catalog.[edit | edit source]

Family History Library
Salt Lake City, Utah
  • The Family History Library (FHL) has a substantial collection of original church records and transcripts on microfilm for churches in the United States.
  • Online church records can be listed in the FamilySearch Catalog under the state, county, or town.
  • If you find a record that has not yet been digitized, see How do I request that a microfilm be digitized?
  • Some records might have viewing restrictions, and can only be viewed at a Family History Center near you, and/or by members of supporting organizations.
  • To find records:
a. Click on the records of United States, Tennessee.
b. Click on Places within United States, Tennessee and a list of counties will appear.
c. Click on your county if it appears.
d. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
e. Click on Places within United States, Tennessee [COUNTY] and a list of towns will appear.
f. Click on your town if it appears, or the location which you believe was the parish which served your town or village.
g. Click on the "Church records" topic. Click on the blue links to specific record titles.
h. Some combination of these icons will appear at the far right of the listing for the record. FHL icons.png. The magnifying glass indicates that the record is indexed. Clicking on the magnifying glass will take you to the index. Clicking on the camera will take you to an online digital copy of the records.

Consult available finding aids.[edit | edit source]

These aids generally provide lists of records that are known to exist and information on their location.

Correspond with or visit the actual churches.[edit | edit source]

Some records are still held in the local churches. Contact the current minister to find out what records are still available.

  • Make an appointment to look at the records. Or ask the minister of the church to make a copy of the record for you.
  • To find church staff available, you might have to visit on Sunday.
  • Ask for small searches at a time, such as one birth record or a specific marriage. Never ask for "everything on a family or surname".
  • A donation ($25-$40) for their time and effort to help you would be appropriate.
  • If the church has a website, you may be able to e-mail a message.
  • See the Letter Writing Guide for Genealogy for help with composing letters.
  • Each denomination page offers an online address directory of local churches for that denomination.

Check the church records collections in archives and libraries.[edit | edit source]

Some church records have been deposited for preservation in government archives or in libraries. Watch for links to digitized, online records offered by the archives. Some archives provide research services for a fee. For others, if you cannot visit in person, you might hire a researcher.

Here you will find archive information unique to the state. Many more archives are kept by denomination. For denominational archives, go to Searching for Church Records by Denomination.

State Libraries[edit | edit source]

Tennessee State Library and Archives
403 Seventh Avenue North
Nashville, TN 37243-1102

Baptist[edit | edit source]

Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives
The Southern Baptist Convention Building
901 Commerce Street #400
Nashville, TN 37203
Telephone: 1-615-244-0344

Disciples of Christ[edit | edit source]

Disciples of Christ Historical Society
1101 Nineteenth Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37212-2196
Telephone: 1-866-834-7563 (toll free)

Lutheran[edit | edit source]

James R. Crumley, Jr. Archives
Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary
4201 North Main Street
Columbia, SC 29203
Telephone: 803-461-3234
Contact form

  • Archives hold records for closed churches. For open churches write directly to the local church.

Methodist[edit | edit source]

Tennessee is served by three Methodist conferences that oversee the missions and business of the church. The conferences have collected records from churches that have closed. Records of existing congregations are generally still in the churches.

The Holston Conference oversees the eastern third of the state, the Tennessee Conference oversees the middle third, and the Memphis Conference oversees the western third.

Holston Conference
P.O. Box 850
Alcoa, TN 37701
Telephone: 1-866-690-4080
Fax: 1-865-690-3162

The Kelly Library of Emory and Henry College houses the archives of the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church:
Kelly Library
Emory and Henry College
P.O. Box 948
30480 Ambrister Drive
Emory VA 24327
Telephone: 1-540-944-6668 

Tennessee Conference
520 Commerce Street, Suite 205
Nashville, TN 37203
Telephone: 1-615-263-0518 (call to make an appointment)
The John Abernathy Smith Heritage Center
520 Commerce Street, Suite 205
Nashville, TN, 37203
Phone: 615-601-1581

Memphis Conference United Methodist Archives
Luther L. Gobbel Library
Lambuth University
705 Lambuth Boulevard
Jackson, TN 38301
Telephone: 1-901-425-3270

Lambuth University Library houses an excellent collection of original Methodist newspapers, such as The Nashville Christian Advocate. Death notices and obituaries for prominent Methodists from all over the region appeared in these newspapers. FHL has acquired abstracts and indexes:

For a general history of early Methodism in Tennessee, see:

Presbyterian[edit | edit source]

Records for the Cumberland Presbyterian Church are sent to:

The Historical Foundation of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America
The Historical Library and Archives
8207 Traditional Place
Cordova, TN 38016
Telephone: 1-901-276-8602
Fax: 1-901-272-3913
E-mail: archives@cumberland.org

These archives collect papers of ministers; and session, trustee, and women’s missionary society records. These records may contain baptisms, marriages, and communions of members. The staff at the archives does not do research; however, you can do research in person for a small fee.

The Presbyterian Church in Tennessee is coordinated by the Louisville Presbyterian Seminary. The library of the seminary does not collect records of any congregation, but it does have ministerial directories with information on many ministers. The staff of the library can direct you to congregations in the state where records are. Direct your inquiries to:

Louisville Presbyterian Seminary
1044 Alta Vista Road
Louisville, KY 40205
Telephone: 1-502-895-3411; 1-800-264-1839 (toll free)
Fax: 1-502-895-1096

For a history of early Tennessee Presbyterians, see:

  • McDonnold, Benjamin Wilburn. History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Second Edition, Nashville, Tennessee: Board of Publication of Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1888. FHL film 369750; book 976 K2m.

A collection of genealogical abstracts of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, and Tennessee is:

Roman Catholic[edit | edit source]

Contact the local parish for records information and research requests. Contact the diocese archives for information on the location of records for closed or merged parishes.

Archdiocese of Louisville
P.O. Box 1073
Louisville, KY 40201-1073
Telephone: 1-502-585-3291

Diocese of Knoxville
805 Northshore Drive Southwest
Knoxville, TN 37919
Telephone: 865-584-3307
Fax: 865-584-7538

The Diocese of Knoxville serves East Tennessee (Anderson, Bledsoe, Blount, Bradley, Campbell, Carter, Claiborne, Cocke, Cumberland, Fentress, Greene, Hamblen, Hamilton, Hancock, Jefferson, Johnson, Knox, Loudon, McMinn, Marion, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Pickett, Polk, Rhea, Roane, Scott, Sequatchie, Sevier, SullivanUnicoi, Union, Washington counties).[3]

Diocese of Nashville
The Catholic Center
2400 Twenty-first Avenue, South
Nashville, TN 37212-5387
Telephone: 1-615-383-6393
Fax: 1-615-292-8411

The Diocese of Nashville serves Middle Tennessee (Bedford, Cannon, Cheatham, Clay, Coffee, Davidson, DeKalb, Dickson, Franklin, Giles, Grundy, Hickman, Houston, Humphreys, Jackson, Lawrence, Lewis, Lincoln, Macon, Maury, Montgomery, Moore, Overton, Perry, Putnam, Robertson, Rutherford, Smith, Stewart, Sumner, Trousdale, Van Buren, Wayne, White, Williamson, Wilson counties).[3]

Diocese of Memphis
The Catholic Center
5825 Shelby Oaks Drive
Memphis, TN 38134-7316
Telephone: 1-901-373-1200
Fax: 1-901-373-1269

The Diocese of Memphis serves West Tennessee (Benton, Carroll, Chester, Crockett, Decatur, Dyer, Fayette, Gibson, Hardeman, Hardin, Haywood, Henderson, Henry, Lake, Lauderdale, McNairy, Madison, Obion, Shelby, Tipton, Weakley counties).[3]

Correspond with genealogical or historical societies.[edit | edit source]

Some church records have been given to historical societies. Also, historical societies may be able to tell you where the records are being held. To find a society near you, consult these lists:

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Next, go to the Wiki article for your ancestors' denomination.[edit | edit source]

There are frequently additional, nationwide or regional archives and online collections for each denomination. Find the article for your ancestors' denomination and follow the instructions there to access these sources.

Wiki Articles for Records of Major Religious Denominations

Carefully compare any record you find to known facts about the ancestor[edit | edit source]

You will possibly find many different people with the same name as your ancestor, especially when a family stayed in a locality for several generations, and several children were named after the grandparents or aunts and uncles. Be prepared to find the correct church records by organizing in advance as many of these exact details about the ancestor as possible:

  • name, including middle name and maiden name
  • names of all spouses, including middle and maiden name
  • exact or closely estimated dates of birth, marriage, and death
  • names and approximate birthdates of children
  • all known places of residence
  • occupations
  • military service details

Dark thin font green pin Version 4.pngCarefully evaluate the church records you find to make sure you have really found records for your ancestor and not just a "near match". If one or more of the details do not line up, be careful about accepting the entry as your ancestor. There are guiding principles for deciding how to resolve discrepancies between records that are seemingly close. For more instruction in evaluating evidence, read the Wiki article, Evaluate the Evidence.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. William Chamberlin Hunt and United States Bureau of the Census, Religious Bodies: 1906 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1910), Vol. 1:354-357. Digital version at Google Books.
  2. FHL Book 976.8 D3m v. 1-4
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 List of the Catholic Dioceses in the United States of America.