Tennessee Minorities

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Records and histories of minorities and ethnic groups may provide clues to immigrant origins, migration information, and previous research. Research on minorities for the most part consists of consulting the same types of records for non-minorities.

The purpose of this section is to identify a few of those sources that influence minority research in Tennessee. See the “Minorities” section of the United States Research Outline for sources and suggestions for searching minorities.

Melungeons

The Melungeons are believed to be of a mixed ancestry living in Appalachia: the mountains of eastern Tennessee and Kentucky; West Virginia; and western North Carolina and Virginia. The Melungeons are of apparent Mediterranean descent who intermarried with the local American Indian tribes. Many believe that they are descended from Portuguese sailors. The Melungeons are believed to have settled the area as early as 1567. Often the Melungeons were confused with other races, such as African Americans, resulting in loss of civil rights and property. For further information about the Melungeons, see:

Ball, Bonnie S. The Melungeons: Their Origin and Kin. [Berryville, Virginia: Virginia Book], 1977, 1969. (Family History Library book 973 F2bLL.) The record contains a brief history, a bibliography, and the names of Melungeons in Tennessee.

A Melungeon Homepage [Internet site] contains queries, research helps, historical background, and legislation affecting Melungeons: 

www.melungeon.org/     www.melungeons.com/

People of African Descent

Resources for African-American research fall into two periods: pre- and post-Civil War.

Pre-Civil War. 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” sections of this outline.

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 973 F23tm; fiche 6002568 [set of 5]; title number 956235.) Includes information taken from church, court, slavery, and vital records, as well from the Kenneth Stamp collection of Southern plantation records.

Slaves were gradually emancipated by Tennessee law beginning in 1865.

Post-Civil War. 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.

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:

Freedmen’s Savings and Trust Company (Washington, D.C.). Registers of Signatures of Depositors in Branches of the Freedmen’s Savings and Trust Company, 1865–1874. National Archives Microfilm Publications, M0816. Washington, D.C.: National Archives, 1969. (Family History Library film 928590.)

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.
www.freedmensbureau.com/tennessee/index.htm

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

FREEDMEN - TENNESSEE

Other Minority Records

See the “Minorities” section of the United States Research Outline for additional resources. Other records and histories of ethnic, racial and religious groups in Tennessee are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:

TENNESSEE - MINORITIES

TENNESSEE, [COUNTY] - MINORITIES

TENNESSEE - SLAVERY AND BONDAGE

TENNESSEE - VITAL RECORDS

TENNESSEE, [COUNTY] - VITAL RECORDS

TENNESSEE, [COUNTY], [TOWN]- MINORITIES

Or see the Subject Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:

AFRO-AMERICANS - TENNESSEE

MELUNGEON - TENNESSEE