Tennessee Probate Records
Probate is the “court procedure by which a will is proved to be valid or invalid” and encompasses “all matters and proceedings pertaining to the administration of estates, guardianships, etc.” Various types of records are created throughout the probate process. These may include, wills, bonds, petitions, accounts, inventories, administrations, orders, decrees, and distributions. These documents are extremely valuable to genealogists and should not be neglected. In many instances, they are the only known source of relevant information such as the decedent’s date of death, names of his or her spouse, children, parents, siblings, in-laws, neighbors, associates, relatives, and their places of residence. They may also include information about adoption or guardianship of minor children and dependents. For further information about the probate process, types of probate records, analyzing probate records, and to access a glossary of probate terms, see United States Probate Records.
Probate records of Tennessee are kept by the county clerk. In Shelby, Knox, and Davidson counties probate courts were established. You can obtain copies of the original records by contacting the clerk’s office in each county courthouse. Some county archives have the materials also.
Copies of some county probate records are at the Tennessee State Library and Archives and microfilm reels of these records can be ordered.
- The Family History Library located in Salt Lake City, Utah has pre-1871 Tennessee probate records available on microfilm. For collection details see the Family History Library Catalog. Use the "Place Search" option to search for a specific Tennessee county. Then look for topics labeled "Probate Records" or "Guardianship." Some Tennessee probate records have been published and indexed in genealogical periodicals that are in the Family History Library.
Statewide Record Collections
- Meier, Oveda. Tennessee Ancestors: The Brave and the Dead, Probate and Death Records of Early Middle Tennessee, 1780–1805. Salt Lake City, Utah: O. Meier, 1990. (Family History Library book 976.8 P2m; film 1697372.) This source contains abstracts of probate, Bible, and court records, county histories, and military death records for Davidson and Sumner counties. It includes a surname index.
- Sistler, Byron. Index to Tennessee Wills and Administrations, 1779–1861. Nashville, Tennessee: Byron Sistler and Associates, 1990. (Family History Library book 976.8 P22s; fiche 6101646 [set of 5.)] Records are arranged alphabetically by the name of the deceased. They show the year and county of the probate and the location of the record. A key to symbols for the counties and locations appears at the front of the book. Free Lookups Available!
Additional probate record information and sources can be found in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
TENNESSEE - PROBATE RECORDS TENNESSEE, [COUNTY] - PROBATE RECORDS
- Henry Campbell Black, Black's Law Dictionary, 5th ed. (St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing Co., 1979), 1081, "probate."