African American Resources for Tennessee

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African American Resources

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Introduction

Online Resources

Resources for African-American research fall into two periods: pre- and post-Civil War. A great starting point is Afrigeneas's "African Ancestry in Tennessee."

TVA worker at a phosphate furnace 1942.

Research Strategy

The Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville offers several free online research guides for tracing Tennessee African Americans in their collection:

History

  • Lamon, Lester C. Blacks in Tennessee, 1791-1970. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1981. book 976.8 F2L. This indexed book deals with the African-American experience in Tennessee with chapters arranged by 20- to 50-year time periods.
  • "Negroes in Tennessee" chapter 10 of the online book Tennessee: A Guide to the State. Compiled and Written by the Federal Writers' Project of the Work Projects Administration for the State of Tennessee. American Guide Series. (No Place: New Deal Network, 1996) Original published: Tennessee: State of Tennessee. Department of Conservation, Division of Information, 1939. This chapter provides a concise introduction to African Americans in Tennessee.
  • Patterson, C. Perry. The Negro in Tennessee, 1790-1865. Austin, Texas: The University of Texas, 1922. Free digitized copy.  Written in 1922, this book can be viewed as treating slavery without a degree of compassion and understanding, but it is valuable for its information about the slavery system and laws in Tennessee.
  • Profiles of African Americans in Tennessee, Editors Bobby L.Lovett and Linda T. Winn. Nashville, Tennessee: Annual Local Conference on Afro-American Culture and History, 1996. This online publication contains short biographies of 70 members of the Tennessee General Assembly between 1873-1995.
  • Works Projects Administration. Slave Narratives - A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves.Washington, 1941. Free digital copy.

Resources

Biographies

  • Works Projects Administration. Slave Narratives - A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves: Tennessee Narratives.Washington, 1941. Free digital copy, courtesy: Internet Archive.

Cemeteries

African Americans were generally buried in race-specific cemeteries.

Census Records

The first Tennessee census that included the names and identities of freed slaves was taken in 1870.

Church Records

African Americans typically worshiped apart from white congregations in their own churches.

Emancipation Records

Funeral Homes

Genealogies

Land and Property

Plantation

Oral Histories

Other Records

Maps

Charles A. Reeves Jr. has created a detailed map, based on the 1860 U.S. Federal Census, illustrating the distribution of slaves throughout Tennessee just before the Civil War broke out. It may be purchased for a small fee through his website, which includes a scaled-down image of the map:

  • Tennessee Slave Population As Reported in the 1860 Census

Military Records

For pensions of African Americans who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, see:

Newspapers

Probate Records

Reconstruction Records

Research consists of consulting the same record types as for non-African Americans. In addition, there are some types of records specific to African-American research, such as emancipation records, apprenticeship bonds for freedmen, and the other types of records.

Freedman’s Bank

An excellent source is the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company (visit the African American Freedman's Savings and Trust Company Records page to learn more). This company was created to assist African American soldiers of the Civil War and freed slaves. Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company signature cards or registers from 3 March 1865 to 25 July 1874 may list the name of the depositor, date of entry, age, birthplace, residence, complexion, name of employer or occupation, wife or husband’s name, death information, children’s names, name of father and mother, brothers’ and sisters’ names, remarks, and signature. Early books sometimes contained the name of the former master or mistress and the name of the plantation. Copies of death certificates were sometimes attached to the entries. The collection is organized alphabetically by state, then city where the bank was located, then date the account was established, then account number.

Online collections of Freedman's Bank records:

Freedmen's Bureau

The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands was created by the US government in 1865 until 1872 to assist former slaves in the southern United States. The Bureau created a wide variety of records extremely valuable to genealogists. Such documents include censuses, marriage records, and medical records. These records often include full names, former masters and plantations, and current residences.[1] For 1865 and 1866, the section on abandoned and confiscated lands includes the names of the owners of the plantations or homes that were abandoned, confiscated, or leased. It gives the county and location, a description of the house, the number of acres owned, and the number of cabins of former slaves. These films do not appear to contain the names of former slaves.

Tennessee had two branches of this bank at:

  • Memphis 1865–1874 - Accounts 1–6298
  • Nashville 1871–1874 - Accounts 4174–6189

The signature registers for these branches are microfilmed:

  • Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company (Washington, D.C.). Registers of Signatures of Depositors, 1871–1874. National Archives Microfilm Publications, M0816. Washington, D.C.: National Archives, 1969. FHL fikm928590

To find Freedmen's Bureau records:

Other FamilySearch collections not included:

Other websites include:

Visit the African American Freedmen's Bureau Records page to learn more about utilizing these records.

School Records

Slavery Records

Records consist of slave importation declarations, plantation records, Tennessee hiring practices, census records, white family records, church and cemetery records, military records, vital records, and numerous Tennessee court records.

African-American vital records were usually recorded in separate books for many years. Slaves are sometimes mentioned in deeds, wills, tax records, or court order books. A few parish registers list slaves who attended church with their masters.

See the Land and Property, Probate Records, Taxation, Court Records, and Church Records wiki articles for Tennessee.

Occasionally slaves are mentioned in records of the plantations where they served. A collection of plantation records is:

  • Stamp, Kenneth M. Records of Ante-Bellum Southern Plantations from the Revolution through the Civil War. Frederick, Maryland: University Publications of America, 1989–1992. The records of several plantations were microfilmed in several series. They are indexed with Family History Library film numbers in Family History Library Bibliography of African American Sources: As of 1994, mentioned below.

An index to records at the Family History Library containing the names of African Americans is:

  • Taylor, Marie. Family History Library Bibliography of African American Sources: As of 1994. Salt Lake City, Utah: Family History Library, United States Reference, 2000. (Family History Library book [1]; [this link allows access to a digital image].) Includes information taken from church, court, slavery, and vital records, as well from the Kenneth Stamp collection of Southern plantation records.

A list of slaves that were impressed to work on the railroads is in:

  • Bamman, Gale Williams. "African-Americans Impressed for Service on the Nashville and North Western Railroad, October 1863." National Genealogical Society Quarterly, September 1992, 204-210. Includes: name, age, height, complexion, name of owner, county, town, and other remarks.

Slaves were gradually emancipated by Tennessee law beginning in 1865.

Not all black residents of Tennessee were slaves before the Civil War. The following is a list of free black heads of household living in Tennessee counties at the time the 1820 U.S. Federal Census was taken (census records do not survive for all counties that year):

Gale Williams Bamman, CG located the following statistics in a book by Historian Ira Berlin:[2]

Free African American Population in Antebellum Tennessee

Year Number
1820 2,727
1860 7,300

Vital Records

Birth

Marriage

The Freedmen's Bureau (1865-1872) was created by the US government to assist former slaves in the southern United States. One of their responsibilities was to record the marriages (past and present) of the former slaves. These records can be found in the collections below and include the lists of marriages that occurred previously, marriage certificates, and marriage licenses. The information contained on the records may include the name of the husband and wife/groom and bride, age, occupation, residence, year or date of marriage, by whom, number of children, and remarks.

Death

Divorce

Voting Registers

Archives and Libraries

National Civil Rights Museum
450 Mulberry St.
Memphis, TN 38103
Phone: (901) 521-9699

Bessie Smith Cultural Center
200 E. Martin Luther King Boulevard
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Email: info@bessiesmithcc.org
Phone: (423) 266-8658

Societies

References

  1. "African American Records: Freedmen's Bureau," "African American Heritage," National Archives, accessed 11 May 2018.
  2. Gale Williams Bamman, "Research in Tennessee," National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 81, No. 2 (Jun. 1993): 105. FHL US/CAN Book 973 B2ng v. 81 (1993), citing Ira Berlin, Slaves without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South (New York: Pantheon Books, 1974), 136-137.


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