Census Records for Tennessee
This entry was originally written by Wendy Bebout Elliott, Ph.D. FUGA for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
• Indexed—1810 (part), 1820 (part), 1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930
• Soundex—1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930
Industry and Agriculture Schedules
• 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880
• 1850, 1860
Union Veterans Schedules
Federal census records for Tennessee are lost for 1790, 1800, parts of 1810 and 1820, and all of 1890. Some territorial censuses (1791, 1795) were taken, but only statistical data remains. The territorial census, taken in the fall of 1795, validated the population for statehood requirements and showed that the number of residents had more than doubled in four years. One source for pre-territorial enumerations is Lucy Kate McGhee, Partial Census of 1787 to 1791 of Tennessee as Taken from the North Carolina Land Grants (Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1990).
Petitions by settlers help fill the early census void. Many have been published in journals for state historical and genealogical societies, such as Cherel Bolin Henderson, trans., “Petitions to the North Carolina General Assembly from Inhabitants South of the French Broad, 1784–1789,” Tennessee Ancestors: A Tri-Annual Publication of the East Tennessee Historical Society 17 (December 2001): 208-28. This journal article includes thirteen different petitions (dated from April 1784 to 30 November 1789) and lists hundreds of male residents in the area before a census was taken.
Compilations of early Tennessee tax lists also assist in replacing the lost U.S. censuses. Among these are Byron Sistler and Barbara Sistler, Index to Early Tennessee Tax Lists (Evanston, Ill.: Byron Sistler and Assoc., 1977); Pollyanna Creekmore, comp., Early East Tennessee Taxpayers (Easley, S.C.: Southern Historical Press, 1980); Mary Barnett Curtis, Early East Tennessee Tax Lists (Ft. Worth, Tex.: Arrow Printing Co., 1964); and Richard Carlton Fulcher, comp., 1770–1790 Census of the Cumberland Settlements: Davidson, Sumner, Tennessee Counties (In What Is Now Tennessee) (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1987).
Only Rutherford County and a portion of Grainger County are available for the 1810 census; the Grainger County 1810 census (about 92 percent of the inhabitants) was published by Tennessee Ancestors: A Publication of the East Tennessee Historical Society, vol. 6, no. 2 (August 1990): 90-112.
Twenty-six of Tennessee’s counties have federal census records for 1820. These middle and west Tennessee counties are Bedford, Davidson, Dickson, Franklin, Giles, Hardin, Hickman, Humphreys, Jackson, Lawrence, Lincoln, Maury, Montgomery, Overton, Perry, Robertson, Rutherford, Shelby, Smith, Stewart, Sumner, Warren, Wayne, White, Williamson, and Wilson. It is 1830 before a complete list of Tennessee households is available.
The Tennessee State Library and Archives has microfilm copies of all of Tennessee’s censuses. In addition to the full indexes on the Internet (see page 3), statewide AISI indexes (see page 3) exist. Some federal population censuses for individual counties have published indexes for 1870, 1880, 1900, and 1910. Abstracted entries of the whole state are published for 1850 and 1860. These are arranged alphabetically and are available from Byron Sistler and Associates, Nashville, Tennessee.
A study of land tenure, slavery, and agricultural economy during the late antebellum period was conducted under the direction of Frank L. Owsley, Professor of History, Vanderbilt University. Data was charted from agricultural census schedules for twenty-two Tennessee counties from the 1850 and 1860 enumerations. These compilations contain a wealth of information, including the amount of improved and unimproved land of each farmer or tenant farmer, types and value of crops produced, value of livestock, value of manufactures, and other related data. Charts were created for the following Tennessee counties: Davidson, DeKalb, Dickson, Dyer, Fayette, Fentress, Franklin, Gibson, Grainger, Greene, Hardin, Hawkins, Haywood, Henry, Johnson, Lincoln, Maury, Montgomery, Robertson, Stewart, Sumner, and Wilson. Entitled “Owsley Charts: Master Charts Compiled from the Unpublished Census, 1850–1860,” this compilation was microfilmed and is available at the Tennessee State Library and Archives, Vanderbilt University, and the FHL. Originals of industry and agriculture schedules are at Duke University, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
The 1870 Mortality Schedules were lost. Others have been published by Byron Sistler and Barbara Sistler: Tennessee Mortality Schedules, 1850, 1860, 1880 (Nashville, Tenn., 1984). Common (public) schools in Tennessee often kept records that include genealogical data. For instance, Meigs County, Tennessee, Scholastic Population for 1838 includes information from all eight of its school districts. Each lists the head-of-household and number of children between the ages of six and sixteen in the household.
Some special censuses were taken either at the city or county level. Two of these are Memphis, Tennessee Census, 1869 (3rd Ward), 1897 (Nashville: Tennessee State Library and Archives) and Marshall County, Tennessee Agricultural Census, 1857 (Nashville: Tennessee State Library and Archives). Both have been microfilmed and are available at the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) and FHL.
The only remaining schedule of the federal census for 1890 is the Union Veterans and Widows listing, a special state enumeration taken in 1891. It lists male citizens, twenty-one years and older. The complete listing has been microfilmed and is available at the TSLA. Many of these are included in Sue S. Reed’s eight-volume compilation, Enumeration of Male Inhabitants of Twenty-one Years of Age and Upward, Citizens of Tennessee, January 1, 1891 … (Houston: the author, 1989).
- Tennessee Census Records - free up-to-date guide to accessing Tennessee census records. Identifies federal, state, and territorial censuses, as well as substitute records (FamilySearch Research Wiki).