Tennessee Vital Records
Introduction to Vital RecordsVital Records consist of births, adoptions, marriages, divorces, and deaths recorded on registers, certificates, and documents. United States Vital Records has additional research guidance on researching and using vital records. A copy or an extract of most original records can be purchased from the Tennessee Vital Records State Department of Health or the County Clerk's office of the county where the event occurred. See also Tennessee Statewide Indexes and Collections at the Family History Library.
Vital Records Reference Dates
Tennessee's civil records start the following years:
The following is a list of online resources useful for locating Tennessee Vital Records which consist of births, adoptions, marriages, divorces, and deaths. Most online resources for Tennessee Vital Records are indexes. After locating a person in an index, always consult the original record to confirm the information in the index.
- Tennessee Deaths 1914-1955. Abstracted and indexed death certificates. If you don't find an expected record, try browsing for the surname only, and with various spellings of the surname. If there are too many results, try limiting your search to a specific county. -Free
- Tennessee Marriages 1780-2002 Various marriage records with images. May include bonds, licenses, returns and registers. Not all years for all counties. Use variant spellings or wildcard search for surnames. ($)
- FamilySearch Marriages IGI Extracted marriage records for many counties to about 1890. Not all years for all counties. -Free
- Index to Tennessee Wills and Administrations, 1779-1861
- Index to Tennessee Death Records 1914-1931- Free
- Tennessee Marriages 1796-1950 This is a pilot program and still under construction. At this time, it is best to search from the home page; indicate a surname, marriage "event" and a county name. Browse through the surname results. You may need to supply any variant spellings of the name in separate searches. These records are part of the Tennessee Vital Records Index.-Free
- Statewide Tennessee death index 1949-2005 Remember to use married surnames for women. -Free
- Tennessee deaths and burials 1874-1955 Pilot program still in development. Best results by browsing for a surname only in a specific county. These records are part of the Tennessee Vital Records Index and a separate index from RecordSearch's Tennessee Deaths 1914-1955 listed above. -Free
- Order Tennessee Certificates - ($)
No births were recorded by government agencies prior to 1874. See Substitute Records below.
1874 to 1908 Some counties have early birth records kept at the county courthouse which are microfilmed. Locate these records through the Family History Library Catalog under TENNESSEEE [COUNTY] VITAL RECORDS.
Four cities recorded births and as indicated in the chart below. These records are available from the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Most of these records are also available at Family History Library.
|Birth Records Pre-1908|
Chattanooga from 1879 FHL has 1911-1915 FHL CollectionFilm 1303215
Knoxville from 1881 FHL 181249Film 1276584
Nashville from 1881 FHL CollectionFilm 1276576
1908 to 1912
Most counties kept birth records beginning in 1908. During the month of July, the clerk of the Board of School Directors was required to collect and report the births and deaths that had occurred in his district during the previous year. Their reports were sent to the Secretary of the County Board of Health (County Clerk) and from there to the State Board of Health.
Tennessee State Board of Health. Births (Enumerator Record Series), 1908–1912.  The index is in soundex. The record usually lists the child’s name, birth date and county, certificate number, and name of mother.
1913 During 1913, the state legislature failed to pass a statute requiring the gathering of birth and death information. However, Davidson County and Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville cities all collected birth and death infomation during 1913.
1914 to present
Beginning 1 January 1914, statewide registration of vital statistics began but was not generally complied with until 1927. Tennessee birth records are closed for 75 years. Births more than 100 years old are maintained by the Tennessee State Library and Archives.
Three types of birth records are available from the Tennessee Department of Heath. All births 1914 to present can be ordered in long form. Births after 1949-present can also be orderd in short form. The short form is a computer-generated copy of the birth certificate. Both types of certificates are certified. Certifed records are available only to the person named on the record and to certain family members.
In addition, a "verification of birth facts" is available for genealogical research. Most genelogical information found in a Tennessee birth certificate can be provided to any requestor of a "verification of birth facts". This is a hand-written transcript of the birth record.
Click on image to enlarge
|Types of Information||1908 - 1912||1914 - present|
|Name of Child||x||x|
|Date & Place of Birth||x||x|
Delayed Birth Records
In 1935, Tennessee began issuing delayed birth certificates. An applicant for a delayed birth certificate was required to supply documents and letters supporting their claim to a delayed birth certificate. The Tennesse State Library and Archives will search delayed births for the years 1869-1909. Delayed birth requests are accepted by mail only. Delayed births after 1910 are held by the Office of Vital Records, Department of Health.
County marriage records are the earliest and most complete vital records for Tennessee. The records which have survived usually begin within a few years of each county’s organization. Marriage records from the earliest dates to the present are kept by the county clerk for each county. Since 1 January 1949, duplicates have been sent to the Office of Vital Statistics.
The Family History Library has microfilm copies of most of the existing county marriage records from the county organization date to the early 1900's. Access these records through the FHL catalog Tennessee>County Name. Many early Tennessee marriages to about 1890 are extracted and found in the International Genealogical Index. This index is accessed at FamilySearch. For a breakdown of the Tennessee marriages indexed in the International Genealogical Index, visit Hugh Wallis's IGI Batch Numbers for Tennessee, USA.
About 20 Tennessee counties did not begin officially recording marriages in registers until a state law passed mandating the practice in 1838. Many of the loose marriage licenses and bonds created before that time have been lost. Soderberg and Creekmore quote the Acts of Tennessee (1838, ch. 118, sec. 2) as follows:
- It was not until 1838 that the clerks were required "to keep a well bound book, in which they shall register the names of the parties, and the date of issuance of each marriage license."
The following counties, though many had been in existence for more than a decade, did not begin registering marriages until that time: Anderson, Benton, Campbell, Cannon, Carroll, Claiborne, Fayette, Franklin, Henry, Johnson, Lauderdale, Lincoln, Madison, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe, Smith, Stewart, Tipton, and Weakley. A useful substitute for counties where marriages were not officially recorded, or where courthouses burned is:
- Lucas, Silas Emmett. Marriages from Early Tennessee Newspapers 1794-1851. Easley, S.C.: Southern Historical Press, 1978. (FHL CollectionFHL Book 976.8 V2L).
In the 1930s, W.P.A. workers indexed many Tennessee county marriage records. Edythe Whitley Rucker notes that when she went back to these courthouses several decades later to make new indexes, some of the records the W.P.A. found had gone missing for various counties. Sometimes this is due to theft, for an example, see Dick Eastman's articles:
- 90-year-old Woman Defies Judge Over Davy Crockett Marriage License (2010/01/03)
- Davy Crockett's Marriage License Returned to Jefferson County, Tennessee (2010/04/20)
Therefore, it is crucial to search W.P.A. indexes for your county's marriages, in addition to more modern published indexes and online indexes, or you may overlook marriages that have disappeared.
RecordSearch at FamilySearch now includes indexed Tennessee marriages. This is a pilot site and still under construction. At this time, it is best to browse through results from the RecordSearch home page titled "Discover Your Ancestors." Indicate a surname, marriage "event" and a county name. Browse through the results for that surname. You may need to supply any variant spellings of the surname in separate searches.
Beginning in 1945, Tennessee required registration of marriages with the state. These records have been indexed and are at the Office of Vital Statistics. The Family History Library does not have copies of these records.Reels of microfilm containing marriage records can be borrowed on inter-library loan from the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Counties continue to keep their own records of marriages. Many of these later marriages are available on microfilm at the Tennesse State Library and Archives or the county courthouse. See individual Tennessee counties in the wiki for the availability of county marriage records.
Many county marriage records are indexed with images at Ancestry's Tennessee State Marriages, 1780-2002. $ Be aware that this index is not complete for all counties. In particular, most Davidson county marriages are not included.
You can find early Tennessee published marriage records through:
- Early East Tennessee Marriages. This source indexes pre-1861 marriages from 20 counties, listing the bride and groom and the date and county of the marriage. There is a separate index for brides and grooms. Free Lookups Available!
- Early Middle Tennessee Marriages. This source indexes pre-1861 marriages from 27 counties, listing the bride and groom and the date and county of the marriage. There is a separate index for brides and grooms.
- Early West Tennessee Marriages. This source indexes pre-1861 marriages from 15 counties, listing the bride and groom and the date and county of the marriage. There is a separate index for brides and grooms.
- Marriage Records. Contains marriage records for several Tennessee counties from the late 1700's to 1926, as well as marriage records from Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio. Dates vary with the county.
- Marriage Records: Early–1850. Contains marriage records for Tennessee, as well as marriage records from Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia.
|Types of Information||early - 1945||1945 - present|
|Name of Bride/Groom||x|
|Date of Marriage||x|
|Location of Marriage||x|
|Date of Birth||
|Place of Birth||
|Residence at Time of Marriage||
No deaths were recorded by government agencies before 1872. See Substitute Records below.
1872 to 1908
Some counties have early death records kept at the county courthouse which are microfilmed. Locate these records through the Family History Library Catalog under TENNESSEEE [COUNTY] VITAL RECORDS.
Four cities collected death information and maintained these records on the city level. These records are available at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. The Family History Library collection also includes these records.
|Death Records Pre-1908|
Chattanooga from 1872 FHL Collection Film 1303220
Knoxville from 1881 FHL Collection Film 1276602
Nashville from 1881 FHL Collection Film 1303216
1908 to 1912
Most counties kept death records beginning in 1908. During the month of July, the clerk of the Board of School Directors was required to collect and report the births and deaths that had occurred in his district during the previous year. Their reports were sent to the Secretary of the County Board of Health (County Clerk) and from there to the State Board of Health. Death records for 1908–1912 do not list the names of parents. This register is at the Tennessee State Library and Archives.
Tennessee State Board of Health. Deaths (Enumerator Record Series), 1908–1912 (FHL Collection Film 338140.) These records are arranged by enumerator record number. An index to these early death records is found at the Tennessee State Library and Archives listing 98,000 deaths. An index to the deaths is also found in filmed record collection. Copies of certificates can be orderd from the State Library and Archives or accessed in the Family History Library collection.
Click on image to enlarge
1914 to Present
Tennessee began registration of deaths after 1914. Originally, deaths were reported by the local undertaker. If a family buried their dead without the use of an undertaker, often the death was not recorded in state records. Some deaths were unreported as late as 1936. Also check vital records on the county level. Occasionally deaths recorded at the county level were not returned to the state. Certificates more than 50 years old are housed at the Tennessee State Library and Archives.
Certificates newer than 50 years can be ordered from the Tennessee Department of Health.
The Family History Library collection includes death certificates 1914-1950 FHL 1299605 and 1951-1958 FHL 2372443. If you cannot access the free online indexes described in the following paragraph, you may use the yearly indexes included in this film collection. Some years are indexed by soundex. Convert the surname to its soundex equivalent; search the index first by surname, then by given name. Note the certificate number. Then, locate the appropriate film for the death year and certificate number.
The Tennesse State Library and Archives has a free online statewide index to deaths 1914-1931. In addition, Tennessee Deaths 1914-1955 are abstracted and indexed at RecordSearch. In the near future, free access to images will be linked to this index. The Shelby County Clerk website has an online statewide death index 1949-2005. This index includes certificate numbers. Note the certificate number on this index, then locate the appropriate FHL (pre-1958) or TSLA (pre-1960) film for the death year and certificate number. If the record you find is after 1960, you will need to contact the Tennesse Department of Health for copies.
You may also want to search Tennessee Death Records Index 1874-1955, which includes abstracted information from death certificates. This is a pilot program which does not allow searches for variant name spellings at this time. Browsing all results for a surname within a specific county often yields the best results. Always search for variant name spellings if you do not find your expected record. Both death indexes at RecordSearch should be consulted when searching for a death record. Some information is shared between the indexes, but not all information is exactly the same.
| Types of Information
|| 1914 - present|
| Name of Deceased
|Date of Death||x||
|Place of Death||x||x|
|Date of Birth/Age||
|Place of Birth||x|
|Place of Burial||sometimes||x|
|Occupation of Deceased||x|
- 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 FHL Collection 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.
Prior to 1834, divorces are found in legislative papers. The Index to Names in Acts of Tennessee 1796-1850 provided by the Tennessee State Library and Archives will search for any person found in the legislative papers. The state constitution of 1834 then gave inidividual county circuit and chancery courts the power to grant divorces. Circuit courts handled divorce proceedings which did not involve a dispute over the division of property. Divorces that did involve property disuputes were handled by the Chancery court. The Tennessee State Library and Archives suggests that you read their document Courts Where Tennessee Court Cases Were Tried to aid in determining which court records are most likely to hold the records you desire.
The Tennessee State Library and Archives has a state-wide divorce index for July 1, 1945 - December 31, 1959. See their website for instructions to order divorce records prior to 1960.
Divorce records for the past fifty years are available online at the Tennessee Office of Vital Records or by mail. For divorces prior to 1994, the husband's name is required to search the records. After 1994, a seach can be done using either the wife's maiden name, or the husband's name.
- Bamman, Gale Williams. Tennessee Divorces, 1797 to 1858: Taken from 750 Legislative Petitions and Acts. Nashville, Tennessee: G.W. Bamman, 1985. FHL 976.8 P2bThis book contains abstracts of divorce decrees in alphabetical order by the name of the person requesting the divorce. It indexes every name.
To find divorce records in the Family History Library collection, perform a Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under the following topics:
TENNESSEE - COURT RECORDS
TENNESSEE - VITAL RECORDS
TENNESSEE, [COUNTY] - COURT RECORDS
TENNESSEE, [COUNTY] - DIVORCE RECORDS
TENNESSEE, [COUNTY] - VITAL RECORDS
Tennessee adoption law requires that the original birth record and all other legal documents related to the adoption are sealed and are not accessible except under certain procedures specified by state law. The Department of Children's Services is able to provide access to adoption records, sealed adoption records, sealed records, post adoption records, or records from any other information source that were created on or after March 16, 1951. The adoption record includes sealed adoption records, post-adoption records, court records, adoption agency and Department of Health Vital records. Eligible adoptees must be 21 to access their records.
For more information call the office of Post Adoption Services at 615-532-5637.
- Information listed on vital records is given by an informant. Learn the relationship of the informant to the subject(s) of the record. The closer the relationship of the informant to the subject(s) and whether or not the informant was present at the time of the event can help determine the accuracy of the information found on the record.
- If you are unable to locate vital records recorded by governments, search for church records of christening, marriage, death or burial. A family Bible may have been used to record births, marriages and deaths.
- Most information from Tennessee births, deaths, marriages, and divorces can be provided to any requestor as a handwritten transcript, called a verification.
- Search for Vital Records in the Family History Library Catalog by using a Place Search and then choosing Vital Records. Search for Tennessee to locate records filed by the State and then search the name of the county to locate records kept by the county.
The Tennessee Library and Archives Internet site listed in the Archives and Libraries describes in more detail many of the state’s vital records. See United States vital records wiki pages for more detailed information on the value and content of vital records.
The Tennessee State Library and Archives offers a free online research guide:
See the heading "Record Loss" in each individual county.
For further information on researching in burned counties, see the following:
- Arlene Eakle, When the Records are Gone in Tennessee Genealogy Blog
- Burned Counties Research in FamilySearch Wiki
- Michael John Neill, Burned Counties in Family History Circle
These links will take you to wiki pages describing alternate sources for birth, marriage and death records.
- Church Records: Depending on the denomination, church records may contain information about birth, marriage and death.
- Cemetery Records: Cemetery records are a rich source of birth and death information. These records may also reveal family relationships.
- Census Records: Census records are a valuable source for birth and marriage information. You may also determine approximate time of death when the individual disappear from the census. This is a good place to begin a search.
- Newspapers: Besides obituaries, local newspapers may contain birth and marriage announcements and death notices. Also check newspaper social columns for additional information.
- Periodicals: Local genealogical and historical societies often publish periodicals which may contain abstracted early birth, marriage and death information.
- Military Records: Military pension records can give birth, marriage and death information, In addtion, soldiers' homes records can included this same information.
- Probate Records: If no death record exists, probate records may be helpful in estimating when an individual has died. Probate records in the 20th Century often contain the exact death date.
- History: Local histories, family histories and biographies can all be sources of birth, marriage and death information. Often this information is found in county-level records or in surname searches of the Family History Library catalog.
More Online Tennessee Vital Records Links
- Tennessee Databases listed on Rootsweb.org - Free
- USGenWeb.org Tennessee Site - Free
- Search for Tennessee Collections on FamilySearch Record Search under Canada, USA, and Mexico - Free
- The Vital Records Search and Information Directory for Tennessee - Free/$
- German Roots Links for Tennessee Birth & Marriage and Death Records - Free/$ Includes all records, not just those for ethnic Germans
- Progenealogists Links for the United States. Press Ctrl + F on the keyboard to search for Tennessee or TN - Free/$
- FHL Favorites for Tennessee
- Search the Tennessee Birth, Marriage & Death Records at Ancestry.com - $
Family History Library Vital Records Collections
To find vital records, consult the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
- TENNESSEE - VITAL RECORDS
- TENNESSEE, [COUNTY] - VITAL RECORDS
- TENNESSEE, [COUNTY], [TOWN] - VITAL RECORDS
Tennessee Vital Records Index
This is a collection of Family History Library records which are abstracted, indexed and titled the Tennessee Vital Records Index. For over 30 years, volunteer indexers extracted this information from microfilm copies of the original records. In 1998, a few of the entries were published on 7 CDs by the Family History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the "North America Vital Records Index." This index is an index of the births, marriages, and deaths throughout Kentucky. The index is not necessarily complete for any particular place or region.
These records are availble online for free at FamilySearch Historical Records Collection.
- Nashville, Tennessee: Tennessee State Library and Archives, 1980. FHL Collection Film 338134
- Gale Williams Bamman, C.G., "Research in Tennessee," National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 81, No. 2 (June 1993):105. FHL Collection FHL US/CAN Book 973 B2ng v. 81 (1993)]
- Soderberg, Gertrude L. and Pollyanna Creekmore. Tennessee Marriage Records, Volume 3, Greene County, Volume 1, 1783-1818: Being Transcriptions from the Original Bonds and Licenses at the County Courthouse, Greeneville. (Knoxville, Tenn.: Clinchdale Press, 1965), Introduction. FHL CollectionBook 976.891 V2s.
- Sistler, Byron. Early East Tennessee Marriages. Nashville, Tennessee: Byron Sistler and Assoc., 1987. Family History Library FHL Collection Book 976.8 V2s, FHL Film 1597922, items 3–4
- Sistler, Byron. Early Middle Tennessee Marriages. Nashville, Tennessee: Byron Sistler and Associates, 1988. FHL CollectionFHL book 976.8 V2sby, Film 1597922
- Sistler, Byron. Early West Tennessee Marriages. Nashville, Tennessee: Byron Sistler Associates, 1989. FHL Collection Book 976.8 V2sb, Film 6100916
- Orem, Utah: Automated Archives, 1994. (FHL CD_ROM no. 9 part 2.) Does not circulate to Family History Centers.
- Orem, Utah: Automated Archives, 1992. (FHL CD_ROM no. 9 part 229.) Does not circulate to Family History Centers.