Tennessee Emigration and Immigration

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United States  Gotoarrow.png  Tennessee  Gotoarrow.png  Emigration and Immigration

The United States Emigration and Immigration article lists several important sources for finding information about immigrants to this country. These nationwide sources include many references to people who settled in Tennessee. The Tracing Immigrant Origins FamilySearch Wiki article introduces the principles, search strategies, and additional record types you can use to identify an immigrant ancestor’s original hometown.

Migration Trends

European. Pre-statehood settlers of Tennessee generally came from Virginia and the Carolinas by way of the Cumberland Gap and other land routes. Some settlers from Pennsylvania and New England poled keel boats from the Ohio River up the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers. Most of these early settlers were of English and Ulster Scottish origin, although some were of German, Irish, and French ancestry.

Tennessee continued to attract settlers from the Atlantic Coast into the 1830's and received Irish and German settlers during the European immigrations beginning at that time. However, most of the overseas immigrants preferred the industrialized North rather than the agricultural South. Many settlers moved from Tennessee to areas further west, most notably to Arkansas and Texas.

African. The African-American population comprised about 10 percent of the total population in the first federal census and is only a little above that percentage today. For information on African-Americans in Tennessee, see the “Minorities” section of this outline.

Native American. The Chickasaw and Cherokee Indians had nearly all been exiled from the state by 1839. For further information on the tribes and their records in Tennessee, see Indians of Tennessee. For information on specific settlement patterns, see county and local histories.

Major Ports of Entry. Most foreign-born immigrants arrived at the ports of New Orleans, New York, or other Atlantic and Gulf ports. The major port of entry for the Mississippi River was New Orleans. Passenger lists for these ports are at the Family History Library and the National Archives. Tracing Immigrant Origins and United States Emigration and Immigration articles give details about those records.


Some published sources about migration to Tennessee include:

  • Lightfoot, Marise Parrish. Let the Drums Roll: Veterans and Patriots of the Revolutionary War Who Settled in Maury County, Tennessee. [Columbia, Tennessee]: Maury County Historical Society, 1976. FHL US/CAN Book 976.859 D3L. This record contains maps, historical information, biographical sketches, and an index.
  • Peden, Henry C. Marylanders to Tennessee. Lewes, Delaware: Colonial Roots, 2004. FHL US/CAN Book 973 W2pm.
  • Williams, Mike K. Virginians in Tennessee, 1850. Signal Mountain, Tennessee: Mountain Press, 1988. FHL US/CAN Book 976.8 W2w. This book is divided into two parts: the first contains an alphabetical list of Virginians with their ages, county of residence, and the birth date and place of the spouse; the second part contains historical and genealogical information. There is an index.

For the history and location of some of the old roads in Tennessee used by immigrants, see:

  • Daniels, Jonathan. The Devil’s Backbone: The Story of the Natchez Trace, with Map and Headpieces by the Dillons. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, [1962]. FHL US/CAN Book 976 B4d.

See the Tennessee Archives and Libraries article for facilities with regional collections which might include emigration and immigration records. Other sources on emigration and immigration can be found in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:



Web Sites


Tennessee Research Outline. Salt Lake City, Utah: Intellectual Reserve, Inc., Family History Department, 1998, 2001.