State of Tennessee
Court Records Research

Nearly all courts in America are generally courts of record that is they are required by law to maintain a record of their proceedings. Tennessee courts are the same. Moreover these days few people escape mention from a court room records ultimately throughout his or her life as witnesses, litigants, jurors, appointees to office or as petition signatories. Nevertheless Americans of a couple of generations ago also expected to show up at local court procedures while they were in session. It was a civic duty and in addition they could be fined if they didn't attend. Tennessee court files emulate U.S. history. Tucked away in courthouses in addition to archives all over the place are the desires and frustrations of lots of citizens. The prospects are excellent that your ancestors have left a concise record of at least some areas of life in a court room records.

It can be hard for researchers to utilize Tennessee court records. After all, not many indexes exist and those that do are often incomplete. Researchers should note that records may be organized alphabetically according to certain statements, such as "I" standing for "in regards to" or "A" standing for "adoptions." Records may not always be organized alphabetically by names of individuals. Other records, such as mortgage or lien records, may be organized under other headings, such as "B" for "bank of commerce." Other record keeping systems may include: "C" for "Commissioners/Commission", "J" for "Jury", "W" for "will"

Records may be filed by "S" for "Sheriff" in cases where the sheriff sold a certain piece of property. Courts often ordered sheriffs to sell property to pay taxes or settle estates. If the state was party to a case, such as in the distribution of state land grants, there may also be an "S" for "State." listed.

Another reason that court records from Tennessee can be difficult for researchers to interpret is that there were many different courts that each kept their own records.

Minor equity and civil cases in some of the bigger counties are heard by superior courts of law and equity. The county court generally held probate records, but the circuit court or the chancery court may have kept records when wills were contested. Chancery court jurisdiction extends to property disputes, while circuit courts are responsible for hearing adoption, divorce, ad criminal cases.

Courts of common please and quarter sessions were also part of the early Tennessee court system.

The original records kept by courts may include: Boxes of Loose Papers, Order Books, Case Folders, Minute Books, Other Files

Researchers should carefully examine all of those resources. The FHL and the TSLA have many of those records available on microfilm.

Around 1,000 typed county court record volumes were transcribed by the WPA, covering almost all counties in the state. Those records are on microfilm at the TSLA and available through inter-library loan programs. A card indexed that is organized according to county is also available. The collection includes minutes from circuit and chancery courts, as well as county court records, estate settlements, and wills. Unfortunately, the records are full of typographical and transcription errors. So, the researchers should also look at the original records when possible. The records for many Tennessee counties may be found in more than one location.

Naturalization records from prior to 1906 can be found in each county. Some of them have also been included in various publications.

The Constitution of 1796 stated that " "Every freeman of the age of twenty-one years and upward possessing a freehold in the county wherein he may vote, and being an inhabitant of this State, and every freeman being an inhabitant of any one county in the State six months immediately preceding the day of the election, shall be entitled to vote." It also stated that those men would be taxed. Those early tax records can be used to fill in data that is missing because of lost census records. Many tax lists have been published.

When original tax records still exist, they can often be found in either the TSLA or the various county courthouses. A tax record card index for pre-1835 tax records can also be found at the TSLA. They are listed by county, date, and name of district. The Lawson McGhee Library's McClung Historical Collection contains several original tax lists as well. Those include: Washington County, 1778 and 1787, Greene County, 1783, Carter and Sullivan counties, 1796, Grainger County, 1799

The TSLA holds 1836 to 1839 original tax schedules for most of the counties in the state. The FHL, the Indiana State Library, and the Allen County Public Library also have early tax record copies for Tennessee on microfilm.

Male inhabitant voter tax lists from 1891 have been located fairly recently. They can be accessed on 9 reels organized by county at the TSLA. Microfilms of tax lists from trustee offices are also available there.

Tax records are available at the county courthouses and in the Tennessee History Commission. Where county records were lost, the state auditor’s copies are especially valuable. Some Personal property tax records have been published for some counties.

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