Biographies provide useful genealogical information such as an individual’s birth date and place (including foreign birthplace where applicable); family members; occupation; education; and social, political, and religious affiliations. They may also contain a physical description, previous residences, and immigration information. Biographies are the product of family knowledge or previous research, often compiled on the early settlers and prominent citizens of the state, county, or town. Many lesser known individuals may have biographical sketches written about them, especially in local histories.
Tennessee State Library and Archives
The Tennessee State Library and Archives has:
- The History of Tennessee From the Earliest Time to the Present. Nashville : Goodspeed Pub. Co., 1886-1887. This indexes biographical sketches for 82 of Tennessee’s 95 counties.
- Their Manuscript Collection includes "Family papers" and documents with biographical information.
- "Core List of Tennessee Books" includes biographies and a variety of books containing biographical information.
Memphis Public Library and Information Center
The Memphis Public Library and Information Center maintains extensive card indexes to biographical sketches in histories and related works.
Tennessee Historical Society
The Tennessee Historical Society has an extensive family surname file and a large collection of personal and family histories.
Family History Library
The Family History Library has a good collection of biographical sources. Representative biographical works for Tennessee include:
- Allison, John Roy V. Notable Men of Tennessee: Personal and Genealogical with Portraits. Two Volumes. Atlanta, Georgia: Southern Historical Association, 1905. FHL US/CAN Film 24567; digital versions are at Ancestry ($); and World Vital Records ($). Includes a surname index.
- American Genealogical-Biographical Index. Volumes 1–198+. Middletown, Connecticut: Godfrey Memorial Library, 1952–. FHL US/CAN Books 973 D22am ser. 2; on 31 films starting with 1698167; or online at Ancestry ($) or Godfrey Memorial Library ($). This is a continuing series. An earlier edition of 48 volumes was published as The American Genealogical Index 1942–1951. The expanded edition consists of more than 198 volumes, indexing over 12 million brief citations (name, date, and source) to more than 1,150 manuscripts, periodicals, or books. To help interpret citations and to locate the original sources, use the colored pages in some volumes, or use: Key Title Index to the American Genealogical Biographical Index: Register of Family History Library Call Numbers. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1990. FHL US/CAN Book 973 D22am index; Film 1698167 item 4; Fiche 6088377. This shows the call numbers for those sources that are at the Family History Library.
- Crutchfiled, James. Timeless Tennesseans. Tomball, TX: Strode Publishers, 1984. (Family History Library Book 976.8 D3cj.) Indexed biographical sketches and illustrations.
- First Families of Tennessee: a Register of Early Settlers and Their Present-day Descendants. Knoxville, Tennessee : East Tennessee Historical Society, 2000. (Family History Library Book 976.8 H2ff.) Includes full name indexes.
- Griffey, Irene, compiler. The Preemptors: Middle Tennessee's First Settlers. Clarksville: P.p., 1989. (Family History Library Book 976.8 R2g.) Notes if grants were made to the resident (at the time that the commissioners visited in 1782-3) or to an assignee.
- McBride, Robert M. Biographical Directory of the Tennessee General Assembly. Nashville, Tennessee: Tennessee State Library and Archives and the Tennessee Historical Commission, 1975. FHL US/CAN Book 976.8 D3mc. There are six volumes, each representing a specific time period between 1796 and 1991. A surname index is included in each volume.
- Memorial and Biographical Record: An Illustrated Compendium of Biography, Containing a Compendium of Local Biography, Including Biographical Sketches of Prominent Old Settlers and Representative Citizens of Part of the Cumberland Region of Tennessee, with a Review of Their Life Work; Their Identity with the Growth and Development of This Region; Reminiscences of Personal History and Pioneer Life; and Other Interesting and Valuable Matter Which Should Be Preserved in History. Also a Compendium of Biography, Containing Biographical Sketches of Hundreds of the Greatest Men and Celebrities America Has Produced in Various Walks of Life, Including Great Statesmen, Lawyers, Jurists, Scientists, Editors, Poets, Writers, Financiers, Railroad Magnates, Army and Navy Officers, Inventors, Speculators, Scouts, Merchant Princes, Humorists, Manufacturers, Abolitionists, Explorers, All the Presidents, Etc.Chicago, Illinois: George A. Ogle and Company, 1898. FHL US/CAN Film 1291. A partial index is included in this record.
- Moore, John Trotwood and Austin P. Foster, editors. Tennessee: The Volunteer State, 1769-1923. 4 vols. Nashville: S.J.Clarke Publishing Co., 1923. (Family History Library Book 976.8 D3m v. 1-4.) This indexed four-volume set includes church information and Tennessee history in addition to three volumes of biographies.
- Speer, William S. Sketches of Prominent Tennesseans: Containing Biographies and Records of Many of the Families Who Have Attained Prominence in Tennessee. 1888. Reprint, Greenville, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1997. FHL US/CAN Book 976.8 D3s; Film 833388. A surname index is included. Free digital copy Sloan Foundation.
The Surname Search of the Family History Library Catalog will lead you to biographies and published family histories on specific surnames. Using the term “Tennessee” in the Keyword Search will narrow the search to families in Tennessee.
The Family History Library has many collected biographies and local or county histories with biographical sketches on residents. These can be found in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
TENNESSEE - BIOGRAPHY
TENNESSEE, [COUNTY] - BIOGRAPHY
TENNESSEE, [COUNTY] - HISTORY
TENNESSEE, [COUNTY], [TOWN] - HISTORY
East Tennessee Historical Center
601 S. Gay St.
Knoxville, TN 37901-1629
The East Tennessee History Center houses the Knox County Archives, the Museum of East Tennessee History, and the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection.
The McClung Historical Collection’s primary focus is east Tennessee; it holds one of the country’s leading research collections about the region. The collection contains books, newspapers, directories, manuscripts, maps, microfilm records, and photographs. In addition to the east Tennessee material, the collection also contains research guides and census indexes for many states in the United States, especially 11 states in the South. The Knox County Public Library offers the free online Calvin M. McClung Digital Collection.
Germantown Regional History and Genealogy Center
7779 Poplar Pike
Germantown, TN 38138
The Germantown Regional History and Genealogy Center (GRHGC) is the special collections division of Germantown Community Library. It is a repository for non-circulating books, microfilm, periodicals, photographs, and maps for genealogical and historical research for the Mid-South, Eastern and Southern states.
The Draper Manuscript Collection
- Draper Manuscript Collection The collection consists of nearly 500 volumes of manuscripts, papers, and books collected by Lyman Copeland Draper about the history of the trans-Allegheny West, a region including the western areas of the Carolinas and Virginia, all the Ohio River Valley, and part of the upper Mississippi Valley from the 1740s to 1830. The collection is divided into 50 series. Some series are titled by geographic area, some by the names of prominent frontier leaders, and some by topic. The bulk of the collection consists of notes from interviews, questionnaires, and letters gathered during Draper’s extensive travels and research to learn about frontier history. Personal papers are much more rare than government or military records.
The collection includes many items of a genealogical or biographical nature. For an inventory and partial indexes, see:
- Guide to the Draper Manuscripts This guide gives series and volume descriptions for some of the Draper manuscripts. There are several indexes at the end of the book, including a name and subject index, an additional personal data index, and a list of references to Illinois.
- Index to Lyman C. Draper Manuscripts. The name index gives the series and volume numbers, but is not complete.
Other Tennessee Biographical Collections:
- Crozier, William Armstrong. A Key to Southern Pedigrees: Being a Comprehensive Guide to the Colonial Ancestry of Families in the States of Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Alabama. Hasbrouck Heights, N.J. : The Genealogical Association, 1911. Free digital copy, courtesy: Internet Archive.
- Klebenow, Anne. 200 Years Through 200 Stories: A Tennessee Bicentenial Collection. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1996. Contains biographies of 200 persons important to Tennessee history arranged by time period.
- Prominent Tennesseans, 1796 - 1938. Lewisburg, TN: Who's Who Pub. Co. 1940. Digital versions available at Ancestry ($) and World Vital Records ($).
- Ray, Worth S. Tennessee Cousins: a History of Tennessee People.1950. Reprint. Baltimore, Genealogical Pub. Co., 1989. (Family History Library book 976.8 D2r 1968--this is the 1968 edition.) This history includes biographies of families of each county since the Watauga settlement.
- Temple, Oliver Perry and Mary Boyce Temple. Notable Men of Tennessee, from 1833 to 1875: Their Times and Their Contemporaries. New York, New York : Cosmopolitan Press, 1912. Digital versions available at Ancestry ($); BYU Family History Archives; Google Books [full view]; and World Vital Records ($).
- Crockett, David. Col. Crockett's Exploits and Adventures in Texas. New York: Wm. H. Graham, Tribune Buildings, 1848. Free digital copy.
- Mathews, John, 1826, Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Peeps into Life: Autobiography of John Mathews, a Minister of the Gospel for Sixty Years. n.p.: Published by request of the Tennessee Annual Conference, 1904. Free digital copy, courtesy: Internet Archive
- Turner, Francis Marion. Life of General John Sevier. New York and Washington. The Neale Publishing Company, 1910. Free digital copy, courtesy: Internet Archive.
Published family histories of numerous local residents are identified for many counties under the Tennessee county page in FamilySearch Wiki.
The following research guide, prepared by a Certified Genealogist, includes a guide for Tennessee biographies:
- Bamman, Gale Williams. "Research in Tennessee," National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 81, No. 2 (Jun. 1993): 103-104. FHL US/CAN Book 973 B2ng v. 81 (1993).
- Tennessee Biographies. These biographies have Tennessee ties to help with your online genealogy research to find your family tree.
- Tennessee Authors past and present is a website dedicated to identifying authors who have called Tennessee their home as well as identifying their major works.
- University of Tennessee Libraries web site offers local and regional biographical references, documents, digital collections, and links.
- Draper, Lyman Copeland. Draper Manuscript Collection Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Library, 197–?. (On 147 Family History Library films beginning with columns=*,0,0 889098.)
- Harper, Josephine L. Guide to the Draper Manuscripts. Madison, Wisconsin: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1983. (Family History Library book 977.583/M1 A3h.)
- Wolfe, Barbara Schull. Index to Lyman C. Draper Manuscripts. Logansport, Indiana: B.S. Wolfe, 197–?. (Family History Library book 977.583/M1 A3w.)