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Census Records for Tennessee

The loss of several federal census records for Tennessee make research challenging. The years lost include 1790, 1800, parts of 1810 and 1820, and all of 1890. Statistical data only remains from the territorial censuses of 1791 and 1795. The 1795 territorial census was used to validate the required population for statehood and show that the number of residents had more than doubled in four years. There is a publication that can help with earlier enumerations: Lucy Kate McGhee, Partial Census of 1787 to 1791 of Tennessee as Taken from the North Carolina Land Grants (Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1990).

The gaps in census records can sometimes be filled by petitions from settlers. Some are published in state historical and genealogical society journals. You can also fill in some of the information from compilations of early Tennessee tax lists. Rutherford county records for 1810 are also still available.

The records for the 1820 census remain for only twenty-six of Tennessee’s counties: Bedford, Davidson, Dickson, Franklin, Giles, Hardin, Hickman, Humphreys, Jackson, Lawrence, Lincoln, Maury, Montgomery, Overton, Perry, Robertson, Rutherford, Shelby, Smith, Stewart, Sumner, Warren, Wayne, White, Williamson, and Wilson. A full and complete census for Tennessee is not available until 1830.

Microfilm for existing census records is maintained by the Tennessee State Library and Archives. The internet has full indexes available, as well as AISI statewide indexes. Some counties have published indexes for 1870, 1880, 1900, and 1910. Byron Sistler and Associates in Nashville has published abstract entries for the entire state for 1850 and 1860.

Another source of information such as the amount of improved and unimproved land of each farmer or tenant farmer, types and value of crops produced, value of livestock, value of manufactures, and other related data can be found in a study conducted by Frank L. Owsley, Professor of History at Vanderbilt University. “Owsley Charts: Master Charts Compiled from the Unpublished Census, 1850–1860” was a study of land tenure, slavery, and agricultural economy during the late antebellum period, and it is based on data from the 1850 and 1860 federal censuses. Twenty-two counties were examined: Davidson, DeKalb, Dickson, Dyer, Fayette, Fentress, Franklin, Gibson, Grainger, Greene, Hardin, Hawkins, Haywood, Henry, Johnson, Lincoln, Maury, Montgomery, Robertson, Stewart, Sumner, and Wilson. The Tennessee State Library and Archives, Vanderbilt University, and the FHL all contain microfilm of the publication. Duke University in Chapel Hill, North Carolina maintains original industry and agriculture schedules.

Mortality schedules for 1870 have been lost. Sometimes data related to genealogy was kept by Tennessee public schools. One example is the Meigs County, Tennessee, Scholastic Population for 1838. This has data from households in all eight school districts in the county, including head-of-household and number of children between the ages of six and sixteen.
City and county governments sometimes recorded special censuses. Examples are Memphis, Tennessee Census, 1869 (3rd Ward), 1897 (Nashville: Tennessee State Library and Archives) and Marshall County, Tennessee Agricultural Census, 1857 (Nashville: Tennessee State Library and Archives). The Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) and FHL have these on microfilm.

In 1891, a state enumeration was taken of male citizens who were twenty-one years of age and older. The complete Union Veterans and Widows listing is available from the TSLA on microfilm.

External Links

  • Tennessee Census Records - free up-to-date guide to accessing Tennessee census records. Identifies federal, state, and territorial censuses, as well as substitute records (FamilySearch Research Wiki).


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