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The state of Tennessee did not require the keeping of death records until 1908. This law expired at the end of 1912. In 1913, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a new law that called for the keeping of more detailed death certificates. This law went into effect in 1914.
When the first law expired at the end of 1912, however, no individuals or agencies were charged with the responsibility of keeping death records. For this reason, 1913 is frequently referred to as a "dead year" for death certificates in Tennessee.
The larger cities in Tennessee did keep earlier death records: Nashville (beginning in 1874); Knoxville (beginning in 1881); Chattanooga (beginning in 1872); and Memphis (beginning in 1848). Only the early Nashville and Memphis death records are indexed. The Library and Archives can search the unindexed records for one year only; you must provide us with the name of individual, date of death, the city, and the name of the spouse (if known).
Tennessee death records 1908-1965 are available online thru a partnership with Ancestry.com on at Ancestry.com's Tennessee State Library and Archives web page. Tennesseans: learn more about how to access these records for free.
Death Records 1973 - present
Contact the Tennessee Department of Health, Office of Vital Records
Death Records 1908-1912 and 1914-1972
To find a death record, we need the following information: name of individual, date of death (or three year range to search), county of death (if known) and name of spouse (if known). Please keep in mind that some deaths were not recorded, due to poor record-keeping by local officials. TSLA has searchable indexes for these records that includes the name of the deceased, county, year of death and certificate number. The following indexes can be used to order a copy of the death certificate from the Tennessee State Library and Archives. A sample death certificate is available for viewing on our web site.
- Index to Tennessee Death Records 1908 - 1912 - This index covers nearly 98,000 deaths occurring in Tennessee and recorded between 1908 and 1912. Although deaths were not registered as carefully and regularly as they were beginning in 1914, the index includes all extant records. If no year of death was given on the certificate, it is noted in this index as "1908-12". Children with no given name are listed under "infant".
Death records in this time period do not give parents' names. They do include the individual's age, occupation, place of birth and cause of death. Names have been transcribed as found on the original record, and may include spelling errors. There may also have been typographical errors made in preparing this index. If you see an error of this type, please notify us by email.
- Index to Tennessee Death Records (1914-1933) - This index lists name of deceased, county of death, and volume and page number of the certificate; beginning with death certificates issued in 1926, the certificate number is listed instead of the volume and page. (The index replaced the Partial Index to Tennessee Death Records 1914-1925, which covered only 38 counties in Tennessee and did not include children under two years of age.)
When using this index, please keep the following in mind:
- Check for alternate spellings of the surname. Handwriting is not always legible and could be misread. Spelling variations are common. A surname such as Hale might be spelled Hale, Hayleor Hail; a surname such as Dickson might be spelled Dickson, Dixon, or Dixson.
- Check for alternate spellings of the first name. The name William A. Smith may be listed as Smith, William or Smith, Will or Smith, Wm. or Smith, Bill or Smith, W. or Smith, W.A. The first name may have an abbreviation that is not in current usage, such as Jas. for the name James.
- Some records did not include the given name of the deceased. These records are listed at the beginning of each surname, such as Williams, (blank) or King, (unknown) .
- Many death records for young children did not list a first name for the child. These listings appear in the index as Smith, Infant of or Jones, Infant of John. There are also listings for older children, such as White, Son of John or Case, Child of Henry.
- Death certificates for some married women are listed under the name of the husband, such as Adams, James (Mrs) .
- Titles relating to occupation will be listed after the first name of the individual: Johnson, Martin (Rev.) or Hibbert, John (Dr.) or Blake, Charles (Maj.).
- If the individual died out of state, there will not be a death certificate issued in Tennessee, even if the body was returned here for burial.
- Death certificates during this time period were filled out by funeral directors. If the deceased was buried in a family cemetery and no funeral home was involved, there will not be a death certificate on file in Tennessee.
- There are some death records for individuals who could not be identified ("unknown white male, in late 40s"). These are not included in this index.
Davidson County Death Records 1900 - 1913
A searchable index to the Davidson County Death Records 1900 - 1913 is available on the Genealogy Index Search Site. Davidson County (as distinct from Nashville) began keeping their own death records in 1900 and continued to do so through 1913. The death records in this index include the following information: last name, first name, race, date of death, age, place of burial, and the volume & record number.
Please note that many of the recorded names in this index do not appear in the Index to Tennessee Death Records 1908-1912.
Shelby County Death Records
An online index to Shelby County death records for the years 1848-1966 and a state-wide index to Tennessee death records for the years 1949-2014 is available on the web site of the Shelby County Register of Deeds.