African-American Resources for Tennessee
Resources for African-American research fall into two periods: pre- and post-Civil War.
A great starting point is Afrigeneas's "African Ancestry in Tennessee."
Records consist of slave importation declarations, plantation records, Tennessee hiring practices, census records, white family records, church and cemetery records, military records, vital records, and numerous Tennessee court records.
African-American vital records were usually recorded in separate books for many years. Slaves are sometimes mentioned in deeds, wills, tax records, or court order books. A few parish registers list slaves who attended church with their masters.
Occasionally slaves are mentioned in records of the plantations where they served. A collection of plantation records is:
- Stamp, Kenneth M. Records of Ante-Bellum Southern Plantations from the Revolution through the Civil War. Frederick, Maryland: University Publications of America, 1989–1992. The records of several plantations were microfilmed in several series. They are indexed with Family History Library film numbers in Family History Library Bibliography of African American Sources: As of 1994, mentioned below.
An index to records at the Family History Library containing the names of African Americans is:
- Taylor, Marie. Family History Library Bibliography of African American Sources: As of 1994. Salt Lake City, Utah: Family History Library, United States Reference, 2000. (Family History Library book 973 F23tm; fiche 6002568 [set of 5; [this link allows access to a digital image].) Includes information taken from church, court, slavery, and vital records, as well from the Kenneth Stamp collection of Southern plantation records.
Slaves were gradually emancipated by Tennessee law beginning in 1865.
Not all black residents of Tennessee were slaves before the Civil War. The following is a list of free blacks living in Tennessee counties at the time the 1820 U.S. Federal Census was taken (census records do not survive for all counties that year):
- "'Free Colored' Heads of Household in the 1820 Tennessee Census," available online, courtesy: Free African Americans website.
Research consists of consulting the same record types as for non-African Americans. In addition, there are some types of records specific to African-American research, such as emancipation records, apprenticeship bonds for freedmen, and the other types of records.
The Freedmen’s Savings and Trust Company signature cards or registers may list a depositor’s birth date, birthplace, occupation, residences, death information, parents, children, spouses, siblings, or former masters. Tennessee had two branches of this bank at:
- Memphis 1865–1874 - Accounts 1–6298
- Nashville 1871–1874 - Accounts 4174–6189
The signature registers for these branches are microfilmed:
- Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company (Washington, D.C.). Registers of Signatures of Depositors, 1871–1874. National Archives Microfilm Publications, M0816. Washington, D.C.: National Archives, 1969. (Family History Library film 928590.)
Other types of records were kept by The Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, otherwise known as the Freedmen’s Bureau. An Internet site has resources for African-American research in Tennessee and other states:
The Freedmen’s Bureau Online. This site includes lists of freedmen, marriage records, labor records, other types of records, and links to related sites.
The Freedmen’s Bureau records do not normally include family information. In the Family History Library Catalog’s Subject Search, look under:
FREEDMEN - TENNESSEE
- Works Projects Administration. Slave Narratives - A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves.Washington, 1941. Free digital copy, courtesy: Internet Archive.
African Americans were generally buried in cemeteries that were race-specific.
The first Tennessee census that included the names and identities of freed slaves was taken in 1870.
African Americans typically worshiped apart from white congregations in their own churches.
For pensions of African Americans who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, see:
- Brogden, John V. and Willie L. Robinson. Tennessee Colored Pension Applications for CSA Service [Civil War], available online.
The Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville offers several free online research guides for tracing Tennessee African Americans in their collection:
- African American Collections of Note at TSLA
- African American Genealogical Resources @ TSLA
- Guide to African American Genealogy-Related Documents Prior to 1865 in the Collections of the Tennessee State Library and Archives
- Selected Bibliography of African American Genealogical Resources in the Tennessee State Library and Archives
Charles A. Reeves Jr. has created a detailed map, based on the 1860 U.S. Federal Census, illustrating the distribution of slaves throughout Tennessee just before the Civil War broke out. It may be purchased for a small fee through his website, which includes a scaled-down image of the map:
- Tennessee Slave Population As Reported in the 1860 Census
- "Negroes in Tennessee" chapter 10 of the online book Tennessee: 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. This chapter provides a concise introduction to African Americans in Tennessee.
- Patterson, C. Perry. The Negro in Tennessee, 1790-1865. Austin, Texas: The University of Texas, 1922. Free digitized copy. Written in 1922, this book can be viewed as treating slavery without a degree of compassion and understanding, but it is valuable for its information about the slavery system and laws in Tennessee.
- Profiles of African Americans in Tennessee, Editors Bobby L.Lovett and Linda T. Winn. Nashville, Tennessee: Annual Local Conference on Afro-American Culture and History, 1996. This online publication contains short biographies of 70 members of the Tennessee General Assembly between 1873-1995.
- Works Projects Administration. Slave Narratives - A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves.Washington, 1941. Free digital copy.