African American Resources for Tennessee

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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:


  • 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.



  • 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.


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


Land and Property


Oral Histories

Other Records


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:


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

Freedmen's Bureau

The Freedmen’s Savings and Trust Company signature cards or registers may list a depositor’s birth date, birthplace, occupation, residences, death information, parents, children, spouses, siblings, or former masters. 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.

Other types of records were kept by The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, otherwise known as the Freedmen’s Bureau. An Internet site has resources for African-American research in Tennessee and other states:

The Freedmen’s Bureau Online. This site includes lists of freedmen, marriage records, labor records, other types of records, and links to related sites.

The Freedmen’s Bureau records do not normally include family information. In the FamilySearch Catalog’s Subject Search, look under:


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:[1]

Free African American Population in Antebellum Tennessee

Year Number
1820 2,727
1860 7,300

Vital Records





Voting Registers

Archives and Libraries



  1. 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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