Tennessee Probate Records
Probate is the “court procedure by which a will is proved to be valid or invalid” and encompasses “all matters and proceedings pertaining to the administration of estates, guardianships, etc.” Various types of records are created throughout the probate process. These may include, wills, bonds, petitions, accounts, inventories, administrations, orders, decrees, and distributions. These documents are extremely valuable to genealogists and should not be neglected. In many instances, they are the only known source of relevant information such as the decedent’s date of death, names of his or her spouse, children, parents, siblings, in-laws, neighbors, associates, relatives, and their places of residence. They may also include information about adoption or guardianship of minor children and dependents. For further information about the probate process, types of probate records, analyzing probate records, and to access a glossary of probate terms, see United States Probate Records.
Probate records of Tennessee are kept by the county clerk. In Shelby, Knox, and Davidson counties probate courts were established.
The following events in the history of Tennessee affected political/jurisdictional boundaries and record keeping.
- 1584 The region of Tennessee was included in the English land grant to Sir Walter Raleigh.
- 1763 France surrendered all claims to the land east of the Mississippi River to England.
- 1769 The first permanent settlement was established in Watauga Valley.
- 1776 The Territory of Tennessee was designated by North Carolina as the Washington District.
- 1777 Washington County, North Carolina was established to provide governmental jurisdiction over the Watauga settlement. Its boundaries included most of present-day Tennessee.
- 1779 Nashborough (Nashville) was organized and the settlement of Middle Tennessee was begun.
- 1784 North Carolina ceded Tennessee to the federal government. Watauga settlers organized a short-lived “State of Franklin.”
- 1790 The federal government created the “Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio,” also known as the “Southwest Territory.”
- 1796 Tennessee admitted to the Union as the 16th state.
- 1803 The Louisiana Purchase increased settlement in the state and migration through it.
- 1817– 1838 American Indian claims to land in Tennessee were greatly reduced by land cession treaties. Most Indian tribes were exiled in 1838 in what became known as the “Trail of Tears.”
- 1818 A treaty with the Chickasaw Indians for the purchase of western Tennessee opened that area to white settlers.
- 1861 Tennessee seceded from the Union.
- 1866 Tennessee readmitted to the Union.
- 1933– 1951 Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a federal program that brought hydro-electric power to the Tennessee River Valley, displaced communities.
- A history of the settlement and boundary changes of Tennessee and the resultant effects on record keeping can be found on Ancestry. ($)
- A discussion of Tennessee Probate Records written by Wendy Bebout Elliot for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources can be found at Ancestry. ($)
Understanding the Tennessee probate laws and how they changed over time can help us learn how the estate was administered, taxed, and distributed and might help to solve difficult genealogical problems.
Additional information about Tennessee state statutes relating to probate matters can be found at law libraries. Online digital versions of state statutes can often be found by conducting a search engine search for the term, "Tennessee statutes."
Copies of original records can be obtained by contacting the clerk’s office in each county courthouse. Some county archives have the materials also.
Copies of some county probate records are at the Tennessee State Library and Archives and microfilm reels of these records can be ordered.
- The Family History Library located in Salt Lake City, Utah has pre-1871 Tennessee probate records available on microfilm. For collection details see the Family History Library Catalog. Use the "Place Search" option to search for a specific Tennessee county. Then look for topics labeled "Probate Records" or "Guardianship."
Some Tennessee probate records have been published and indexed in genealogical periodicals that are in the Family History Library.
Statewide Record Collections
- Meier, Oveda. Tennessee Ancestors: The Brave and the Dead, Probate and Death Records of Early Middle Tennessee, 1780–1805. Salt Lake City, Utah: O. Meier, 1990. FHL Book 976.8 P2m; Film 1697372. This source contains abstracts of probate, Bible, and court records, county histories, and military death records for Davidson and Sumner counties. It includes a surname index.
- Sistler, Byron. Index to Tennessee Wills and Administrations, 1779–1861. Nashville, Tennessee: Byron Sistler and Associates, 1990. (Family History Library book FHL Book 976.P22s; Fiche 6101646}} (5 fiche). Records are arranged alphabetically by the name of the deceased. They show the year and county of the probate and the location of the record. A key to symbols for the counties and locations appears at the front of the book. Free Lookups Available!
- Whitley, Edythe Johns Rucker. Tennessee Genealogical Records. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, [197-?]-1982. FHL Film 1206429 Item 4, vol. 1-9; Film 547553 Item 3, vol. 10. Includes index.
- Whitley, Edythe Johns Rucker. Tennessee Genealogical Records, vols. 3, 5, 6. Salt Lake City, Utah: Filmed by the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1969. FHL Film 599551 Items 2-4.
- "Tennessee Divorce and Other Records, 1800-1965" database, Ancestry has divorce, court and probate records from only the counties of Anderson, Carroll, Cheatham, Dickson, Franklin, Haywood, Henderson, Obion, Tipton, and Willilamson. The record types and years covered varies with each county.The record types and years covered varies with each county.
- Allen, Malinda C. and National Business Institute. Beyond the Basics : Strategies for Solving Probate Issues and Challenges in Tennessee. Eau Claire, WI : National Business Institute, ©2005. WorldCat entry.
- Bradford, Gail Smith and National Business Institute. Tennessee Probate: Beyond the Basics. Eau Claire, WI : National Business Institute, 2004. WorldCat entry.
- Additional probate record information and sources can be found in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
TENNESSEE - PROBATE RECORDS TENNESSEE, [COUNTY] - PROBATE RECORDS
- Tennessee State Library And Archives
403 Seventh Avenue North
Nashville, TN 37243-0312
Tennessee State Library and Archives
- Tennessee State Library And Archives
- FindLaw has information on Tennessee State Probate Courts.
- Henry Campbell Black, Black's Law Dictionary, 5th ed. (St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing Co., 1979), 1081, "probate."