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Church records and the information they provide vary greatly, depending upon the denomination and the record keeper. They may contain information about members of the congregation such as age; dates of birth, christening, baptism, or death; and marriage information, such as the bride’s maiden name and the names of both sets of parents. Records may include other relatives who were witnesses or members of the congregation. The members of some churches were predominantly of one nationality or ethnic group.
Before 1900 the largest religious groups in Tennessee were the Baptist, Christian (Disciples of Christ), Methodist, and Presbyterian churches. The Family History Library has copies of some original church records, as well as published transcripts and histories. An overview of the role of religion in Tennessee is in:
- Norton, Herman A. Religion in Tennessee, 1777–1945. Knoxville, Tennessee: University of Tennessee Press, 1981. FHL US/CAN Book 976.8 K2n.
The Tennessee State Library and Archives has pre-1900 records from 100 churches. An index to these records is:
- Sistler, Byron. Vital Statistics from 19th Century Tennessee Church Records. Nashville, Tennessee: Sistler, 1979. FHL US/CAN Book 976.8 K29s; Fiche 6088427 [Volume 1, 4 and 6088428 [Volume 2, 3]. The record is arranged alphabetically by surname. Entries may contain birth, marriage, death, and burial dates. The number following each entry refers to a microfilm number listed on the inside cover of the book.
Another source for information on church records available at the Tennessee State Library and Archives is:
- Tennessee Diaries, Memoirs and Church Records in the Manuscript Division, Tennessee State Library and Archives: Listed by County. Nashville, Tenn.: Manuscript Division, 1965. Digital versions of this guide are available at Ancestry ($); and Heritage Quest Online ($).
Some denominations have collected their records in central repositories. You can write to the following addresses to learn where their records are located.
Baptist minutes, membership lists, and other records were kept by the clerk of each congregation. Many clerks considered their papers their personal property and upon their deaths their papers often became the property of their descendants. As a result, many early Baptist records were lost or remain unaccounted for. A few clerks passed their records to their successors and the records remained with the church. Some Baptist records have been donated to public libraries or historical and genealogical societies.
The Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives is the repository for many Southern Baptist congregations in the South. To request a search of these records, you must have the name and location of the church. The address of the historical library and archive is:
Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives
The Southern Baptist Convention Building
901 Commerce Street #400
Nashville, TN 37203
The following contain brief descriptions of Baptist churches in Tennessee at the end of the 1930s and describe the records that were available then:
- Inventory of the Church Archives of Tennessee: Tennessee Baptist Convention, Nashville Baptist Association. Nashville, Tennessee: Tennessee Historical Records Survey Project, 1939. FHL US/CAN Book 976.8 K2hb; Film 874326 Item 3; Fiche 6046958 [set of 2].
- Inventory of the Church Archives of Tennessee: Tennessee Baptist Convention, Ocoee Baptist Association. Nashville, Tennessee: Tennessee Historical Records Survey Project, 1942. FHL US/CAN Book 976.8 K2hba; Film 874326 Item 2; Fiche 6046991 [set of 4].
Disciples of Christ
Disciples of Christ Historical Society
1101 Nineteenth Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37212-2196
Telephone: 866-834-7563 (toll free)
Jewish Federation of Nashville Middle Tennessee Library and Archives
801 Percy Warner Boulevard, Suite 102
Nashville, TN 37205
Telephone: 615-356-3242 x255
A description of Jewish organizations and an inventory of their records as of 1941 is:
- Inventory of the Church Archives of Tennessee: Jewish Congregations. Nashville, Tennessee: Tennessee Historical Records Survey, 1941. FHL US/CAN Book 976.8 K2hj; Film 874326 Item 5.
The repository for Lutheran Church records in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean synods is at:
A collection of vital statistics of east Tennessee Lutheran Churches is:
- Daughters of the American Revolution, General James Breckinridge Chapter (Roanoke, Virginia). Marriages, Births and Deaths from Virginia and East Tennessee Lutheran Church in America Records. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1971. FHL US/CAN Film 858645 Item 2.
- Henkel, Socrates. History of the Evangelical Lutheran Tennessee Synod. New Market, Virginia, Henkel, 1890. Free digital copy, courtesy: Internet Archive.
Tennessee is served by three Methodist conferences that oversee the missions and business of the church. The conferences have collected records from churches that have closed. Records of existing congregations are generally still in the churches.
The Holston Conference oversees the eastern third of the state, the Tennessee Conference oversees the middle third, and the Memphis Conference oversees the western third.
P.O. Box 850
Alcoa, TN 37701
The Kelly Library of Emory and Henry College houses the archives of the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church:
Emory and Henry College
P.O. Box 948
30480 Ambrister Drive
Emory VA 24327
520 Commerce Street, Suite 205
Nashville, TN 37203
Telephone: 615-263-0518 (call to make an appointment)
Memphis Conference United Methodist Archives
Luther L. Gobbel Library
705 Lambuth Boulevard
Jackson, TN 38301
Lambuth University Library houses an excellent collection of original Methodist newspapers, such as The Nashville Christian Advocate. Death notices and obituaries for prominent Methodists from all over the region appeared in these newspapers. FHL has acquired abstracts and indexes:
- Smith, Jonathan K.T. Genealogical Abstracts from Reported Deaths, the Louisville and Nashville Christian Advocate and the Nashville Christian Advocate. [1852-1856] Jackson, Tenn.: J.K.T. Smith, 1997. FHL US/CAN Book 976.855/N1 V48sj.
- Smith, Jonathan K.T. Genealogical Abstracts from Reported Deaths, the Nashville Christian Advocate. [1847-1914] 10 vols. [Jackson, Tenn.]: J.K.T. Smith, 1997-2003. FHL US/CAN Books 976.855/N1 V48s 1847-1851 ff. Free digital versions at David Donahue Memorial: Tennessee Records Repository.
For a general history of early Methodism in Tennessee, see:
- McFerrin, John B. History of Methodism in Tennessee 1808-1818. Nashville, Tenn.: Southern Methodist Publishing House, 1871. Free digital copy, courtesy: Google Books.
The records of the Presbyterian Churches are kept in the individual congregations. When a congregation wants to have records archived or when a church closes, records are sent to:
Presbyterian Historical Society
425 Lombard Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Records for the Cumberland Presbyterian Church are sent to:
The Historical Foundation of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America
The Historical Library and Archives
8207 Traditional Place
Cordova, TN 38016
These archives collect papers of ministers; and session, trustee, and women’s missionary society records. These records may contain baptisms, marriages, and communions of members. The staff at the archives does not do research; however, you can do research in person for a small fee.
The Presbyterian Church in Tennessee is coordinated by the Louisville Presbyterian Seminary. The library of the seminary does not collect records of any congregation, but it does have ministerial directories with information on many ministers. The staff of the library can direct you to congregations in the state where records are. Direct your inquiries to:
Louisville Presbyterian Seminary
1044 Alta Vista Road
Louisville, KY 40205
Telephone: 502-895-3411; 800-264-1839 (toll free)
For a history of early Tennessee Presbyterians, see:
- McDonnold, Benjamin Wilburn. History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Second Edition, Nashville, Tennessee: Board of Publication of Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1888. FHL US/CAN Book 976 K2m; Film 369750.
A collection of genealogical abstracts of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, and Tennessee is:
- Eddlemon, Sherida K. Genealogical Abstracts of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church: 1836 and Beyond. Bowie, Maryland: Heritage, 1995. FHL US/CAN Book 976 K2es.
- Boisen, Anton T., A Rural Survey in Tennessee. New York: Redfield Borther, Inc., 1912. Free digital copy, courtesy: Internet Archive.
- Alexander, John Edministon A Brief History of the Synod of Tennessee, from 1817 to 1887. MacCalla and Company, 1890. Free digital copy, courtesy: Internet Archive.
Records of existing Catholic parishes are generally kept in the individual churches, though copies of sacramental records are sent to the appropriate diocese. Sacramental records include baptisms and confirmations. They may contain names of godparents or information about marriages or burials.
The diocesan archives also have some school records. Requests for genealogical searches must be submitted in writing. To receive death information, you must include proof of your relationship to the deceased. The state of Tennessee is served by three Catholic dioceses. The Diocese of Knoxville serves the eastern third of the state, the Diocese of Nashville serves the central third, and the Diocese of Memphis serves the western third.
Diocese of Knoxville
805 Northshore Drive Southwest
Knoxville, TN 37919
Diocese of Nashville
The Catholic Center
2400 Twenty-first Avenue, South
Nashville, TN 37212-5387
Diocese of Memphis
The Catholic Center
5825 Shelby Oaks Drive
Memphis, TN 38134-7316
The dioceses of Tennessee are part of region five, with the archdiocese at:
Archdiocese of Louisville
P.O. Box 1073
Louisville, KY 40201-1073
- "Religion," inTennessee: A Guide to the State'. Compiled and Written by the Federal Writers' Project of the Work Projects Administration for the State of Tennessee. American Guide Series. (No Place: New Deal Network, 1996) Original published: Tennessee: State of Tennessee. Department of Conservation, Division of Information, 1939. Available online. This chapter briefly describes the history of Tennessee’s most common religions.
The following research guide, prepared by a Certified Genealogist, includes a useful guide for Tennessee churches:
- Bamman, Gale Williams. "Research in Tennessee," National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 81, No. 2 (Jun. 1993): 107-108. FHL US/CAN Book 973 B2ng v. 81 (1993).
See the Tennessee Archives and Libraries article for facilities with regional collections which might include church histories and records. For more information on church records, see the United States Church Records article. The Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog lists more sources under:
TENNESSEE - CHURCH HISTORY
TENNESSEE, [COUNTY] - CHURCH HISTORY
TENNESSEE - CHURCH RECORDS
TENNESSEE, [COUNTY] - CHURCH RECORDS
TENNESSEE, [COUNTY], [TOWN ] - CHURCH RECORDS