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How to order Tennessee Vital Records

The first statewide registration of births and deaths began in 1908. Compliance was required by law in 1914, along with marriage registration, but this compliance was not fulfilled until the latter part of the 1920s. The Tennessee Office of Vital Records has birth records for the last century and records on marriages, divorces, and deaths for the last fifty years. Prior records can be found at the Tennessee State Library and Archives (see Archives, Libraries, and Societies). They may also be helf in the county, as indicated below.

Some Tennessee counties began keeping birth and death records in 1881, and a few continued these registrations for a longer period. The county courthouses contain the original records, and the Tennessee State Library and Archives and the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City have copies

There is an incomplete record of births available at the Tennessee Office of Vital Records in Nashville that includes Nashville births from June 1881, Knoxville births from July 1881, and Chattanooga births from January 1882. The Memphis-Shelby County Health Department, Division of Vital Statistics has birth records for the Memphis area from April 1, 1874 through December 1887 and from November 1898 to January 1, 1914.

Some deaths for the Middle and Eastern regions are kept by the Vital Records Office in Nashville. These incomplete records start in July 1874 for Nashville, July 1887 for Knoxville, and March 1872 for Chattanooga. Memphis records, held in the Shelby County Archives and Memphis-Shelby County Health Department, exist from 1874 to 1886 and from 1898 to January 1, 1914. There are also some Memphis records from May 1, 1848.

Deaths from the period between 1908 and 1912 are at the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) maintains. These do not include parents’ names. The TSLA website at contains a partial index to these. An index to death notices from Nashville newspapers can be found at the library.

Marriage registration by state law was not established until 1815. However, some counties recorded marriages prior to this: Green (1780), Washington (1787), Hawkins (1789), Carter (1790), Jefferson and Knox (1792), and Blount (1795). In 1838, the state began requiring all marriages to be registered in “wellbound books.” Both marriage licenses and bonds were recorded between 1838 and 1919. Additional information was required starting in the 1880s: names of bride and groom, dates of license and marriage, ages and birthplaces of bride and groom, places of residence at the time of marriage, and groom’s occupation. Many county vital records also began during this time.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives carries most early state marriage records on microfilm, organized by county. Some county marriage records are also on microfilm at the TSLA and available through interlibrary loan. The The Family History Library also maintains most of these records.

Many early records of marriages were copied by the Works Project Administration (WPA). You can find these at the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA), the Allen County Public Library (Ft. Wayne, Indiana), the FHL, and in some counties. Always check the original documents because the transcripts contain numerous errors. Microfilm copies can retrieved on interlibrary loan from the TSLA. The TSLA also carries an early Tennessee marriage index and an index to marriage notices published by Nashville newspapers.

Divorces prior to 1834 were required to be granted by an act of the general assembly. This is why divorce records from this period are in the legislative papers. The courts were given this authority in 1834, so records after this time normally found at the respective county’s circuit court. The Tennessee Office of Vital Records maintains records from the last 50 years.

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