Clay County

Clay County

Clay County was formed in 1870 from
Jackson and Overton counties

(Acts of Tennessee 1870 [2nd Extra Session], Chapter 29)

The county seat is Celina.


Selected Published County Histories
  • Clay County, Tennessee, Pictorial History (Clay County Museum of History, Inc., 1997) [surname index]*
  • Historical Sketches of Clay County, Tennessee (Stone, 1962)*
  • History of Clay County, Tennessee (Clay County Homecoming '86 Historical Book Committee, 1986)*

Additional county and community histories can be found at the Bibliography of Tennessee Local History Sources: Clay CountyThe items in the bibliography may not all be available at the Tennessee State Library and Archives.  


Published Local Records
  • 1880 Census, Clay County, Tennessee (Sistler, 1999) [alphabetical listing]*
  • 1880 Federal Census: Clay County, TN (Birdwell, 2002) [name index]*
  • 1900 Federal Census, Clay County, Tennessee (Shrum, 2003) [name index]*
  • Bible and Tombstone Records of Clay County (2003) [partial name index]
  • Campbell County, Tennessee (Commissioner Certificates Only), Clay County, Tennessee, Hancock County, Tennessee, Macon County, Tennessee, Pickett [1891 enumeration of male voters] (Reed, 1990) [name index]
  • Cemeteries of Clay County, Tennessee Volume 1: East of the Cumberland River (Crowley & Reeves, 2017)
  • Cemeteries of Clay County, Tennessee Volume 2: West of the Cumberland River (Crowley & Reeves, 2017)
  • Clay County, Tennessee, Bible and Tombstone Records (WPA, 1937) [name index]
  • Clay County, Tennessee, Marriage Book, also Deeds [marriages & deeds 1871-1873] (WPA, 1938) [name index]
  • Clay County, Tennessee, Tombstone Inscriptions (Webb, 1982) [surname index]
  • Early Clay County, Tennessee Marriages (Shrum & Birdwell, 2001) [alphabetical by groom; bride name index]*
  • Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930 Clay County, Tennessee (Gann, 2003) [name index]*
  • Graves Relocated in Pool Area of Dale Hollow Lake  (Smith, 19??) [surname index]


Local Records on Microfilm

An inventory of microfilmed Clay County records is available on our website.  Individual reels of microfilm may also be purchased. 

Earliest records include:

  • marriages from 1871
  • wills from 1871
  • deeds from 1871
  • chancery court minutes from 1871
  • county court minutes from 1871
  • circuit court minutes from 1871
  • tax books from 1900

The following reels are available on interlibrary loan from the Library and Archives:

  • WPA Records, Clay County  (Record Group #107, Roll 13,  1 reel). Roll includes Marriage Records, Book A (1871-1873) and Bible & Tombstone Records (undated).*


Newspapers on Microfilm

Newspapers were published in Celina.  Scattered early issues are available from 1899, and a complete run begins in 1969.  Microfilms are loaned to Tennessee libraries.  Individual reels may also be purchased.  An Inventory of Newspapers on Microfilm at the Library and Archives is available on our website.


Selected Manuscripts Material
  • Mary Kirkpatrick Tinsley Diary, 1891-1894  (Microfilm Manuscript #630, 1 reel)*

Search for Manuscripts Material in our Catalog 


Census Records
  • Census on microfilm for Clay County:  1870-1880, 1900-1930
  • State-wide census index:  1870-1880
  • State-wide census index on microfilm  (Soundex):  1880,  1900-1930
  • Clay County census records in book form:  1880*,  1900*,  1930*


Additional Research Aids for Clay County

* Indicates this title may be borrowed on interlibrary loan from the Library and Archives.


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Clay County Formation Act

ACTS OF TENNESSEE 1870 (Second Session), CHAPTER 29:

"An Act to establish the county of Clay."


SECTION 1. BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE, That a new county be and the same is hereby established, to be composed of portions taken from the northern portion of Jackson and Overton counties, to be known and designated by the name of county of Clay, and shall be bounded as hereinafter provided.

SECTION 2. BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That the general boundaries of said county shall be as follows, to-wit:  Beginning at the common corner of Jackson and Overton counties, upon the state line between  Kentucky and Tennessee, running thence with said line east to a point in said line on the northern boundary of Overton County, to be fixed by the commissioners to be hereafter designated in this act; thence south or southwest to a point in Overton County, to be also fixed and established by the said commissioners; thence in a westerly direction through Overton and Jackson counties to a point to be fixed by the commissioners; thence north with said line to the state line; thence east with said line to the beginning; Provided, That no line of said new county shall approach the court-houses of Jackson and Overton counties nearer than ten miles in a direct line from the same.

SECTION 3. BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That R. P. Brooks, Jas. G. Cunningham and Job M. Morgan, of Jackson County, and W. H. Turner and Thomas Armstrong, of Overton County, be and they are hereby appointed Commissioners, with full power and authority to run out and designate the boundaries of said county by actual survey; and they are authorized to employ a competent person to survey the same; and if, upon finding that their territory and population are sufficient to meet the requirements of the Constitution without infringing the constitutional territory or population of the counties from which said county of Clay is to be taken, then said commissioners shall have the lines of said county of Clay plainly marked, and cause a correct map of the same to be made out and transmitted to the Secretary of State, who shall file the same in his office; and the county of Clay is hereby established upon the following conditions:

SECTION 4. BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That it shall be the duty of said commissioners, as soon as they shall ascertain that there is territory and population sufficient to establish a new county under the requirements of the second and third sections of this act, after giving twenty days' notice in three or more public places of the time and place in each of the fractions proposed to be stricken off from the counties of Jackson and Overton, to open and hold an election in each of the fractions proposed to be stricken off from the counties aforesaid, for the purpose of ascertaining whether two-thirds of the voters residing in those fractions, are in favor of or opposed to the establishment of said county of Clay; and all persons qualified to vote for members of the General Assembly who have resided in the fractions aforesaid six months immediately preceding the day of election, shall be entitled to vote; and each voter who desires the establishment of the new county, shall have on his ballot "New County," and those opposed to the new county shall have on their ballots "Old County;" and if upon counting the ballots, the judges of the several elections shall return that two-thirds of each of the fractions have voted for the new county, then the county of Clay shall be and the same is hereby established, with all the powers, privileges and advantages, and subject to all the liabilities of other counties in this State.

SECTION 5. BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That all officers in said county shall continue to hold their offices and exercise all the powers and functions thereof, until others are elected and qualified according to law, and the said county of Clay shall elect her officers on the day and under the same rules and regulations as provided by law for the election of officers in other counties in this state.

SECTION 6. BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That the commissioners appointed by the third section of this act shall appoint such persons as they deem suitable to open and hold elections for county officers for the county of Clay; and the persons so appointed shall be and are hereby invested with full power and authority to appoint deputies, clerks and judges, and by themselves and deputies to administer all necessary oaths, and to do and perform all other duties as by law are required of sheriffs and other officers holding similar elections.

SECTION 7. BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That it shall be the duty of the Commissioners aforesaid, as soon after the county of Clay shall have been established as practicable, to select and secure, by purchase or otherwise, a suitable site for the seat of justice in said county, and the said commissioners, having first caused a deed to be made to themselves and their assigns, with general warranty, to a sufficient quantity of land, including the site so selected, shall cause a town to be laid off thereon, with as many streets and alleys as they may deem sufficient, within a suitable square, for the erection of public buildings. Said commissioners may reserve such lots as they may deem advisable, for the purpose of erecting a jail, and such other purposes as they deem proper, and said town, so laid off, shall be known by the name of ______: Provided, said commissioners shall consult the wishes and convenience of a majority of the citizens of said county; and said commissioners shall open and hold an election at three or more places in said county, first giving twenty days notice of the time and place, for the purpose of fixing upon an eligible site for the seat of justice in said county of Clay; and should said election be held, all qualified voters for members of the General Assembly, shall be entitled to vote in selecting said site. Should there be two or more places put in nomination and voted for, the place receiving a majority of the votes cast shall thereupon be declared, by said commissioners, the seat of justice of Clay County: Provided, That said commissioners shall have the right to hold elections, from time to time, until one place shall receive a majority of those voting.

SECTION 8. BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That the commissioners of said county shall sell the lots in said town on a credit of at least twelve months, first giving due notice thereof in one or more newspapers, of the time and place, and shall take bond, with security, from the purchasers of said lots, payable to themselves or their successors in office, and shall make title, in fee simple as commissioners, to the respective purchasers of said lots.

SECTION 9. BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That the proceeds of sale of said lots aforesaid, shall be a fund in the hands of said commissioners for the defraying of the expenses incurred in the purchase of said tract of land on which the said county site shall be located, and, also, for defraying the expenses of erecting the public buildings for said county of Clay.

SECTION 10. BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That the commissioners shall also appoint five commissioners, whose duty it shall be to divide and lay off said county into civil districts, designate the place of holding elections therein, and do and perform all the duties relative thereto, which, by the laws of this state, such commissioners are authorized and required to do.

SECTION 11. BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That the County Court of Clay County, when organized, shall be authorized to make such appropriations as they think proper to the commissioners appointed under this act, to compensate them for their necessary expenses and services.

SECTION 12. BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That for the convenience of the citizens, and for the administration of justice, the County and Circuit Courts for the county of Clay shall be held at such place as may be designated by said commissioners, until the public buildings for said county shall be completed, due notice of which shall be given to the clerks of the several courts of said county, by the commissioners herein appointed, after which time they shall be held at the court-house in the county aforesaid.

SECTION 13. BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That the commissioners appointed by the provisions of this act, together with Surveyor employed to run out and designate the boundary of said county, shall, severally, before they enter upon the discharge of the duties assigned them, take an oath before some justice of the peace to discharge the duty assigned them, without partiality or prejudice, to the best of their judgment according to law.

SECTION 14. BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That the commissioners of Clay County be, and they are hereby authorized to exercise all the powers conferred in this act, and such other powers as may be necessary and proper to the complete organization of the county of Clay.

SECTION 15. BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That the citizens of Clay County, in all elections for Governor, Representatives in Congress, and the election of President and Vice-President, shall vote with the counties from which they have been respectively stricken off, until the next apportionment.

SECTION 16. BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That the counties of Jackson and Overton shall retain complete jurisdiction over the fractions stricken off from said counties, until the county of Clay shall be completely organized.

SECTION 17. BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That the fractions of Jackson and Overton counties, formed by this act into the county of Clay, shall continue liable for their pro rate of all debts contracted and owing by said Overton and Jackson counties, as well as entitled to any portion of any stocks and credits belonging to said Overton and Jackson counties.

SECTION 18. BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, The public welfare requiring it, that this act take effect from and after its passage.


Passed on June 16, 1870


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Clay County Bibliography

PLEASE NOTE that the Tennessee State Library and Archives does not hold copies of all of the items listed in this bibliography. Please check the Tennessee State Library and Archives Online Catalog or visit the Ask Us a Question! webpage to contact the Library and Archives and verify we have an item in our collection. We will respond to e-mail requests promptly; response time may vary, depending on the amount of research required to answer your question and the unique nature of your request. If you need immediate assistance you may call the reference desk at (615) 741-2764 or visit us in person.

Subjects :

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Clay County in General
  • Anderson, Landon B. Brief history of Clay County, TN. Celina, the author, 1950. 6 pp.
  • Biographical directory, TN General Assembly, 1796-1969 (Clay County, Preliminary #34). Nashville, TSLA, 1973. 59 pp.
  • Butts, Charles. Geology & oil possibilities of the northern part of Overton County, TN & of adjoining parts of Clay, Pickett & Fentress counties. Nashville, Williams Print. Co., 1919. 45 pp.
  • Clay County Homecoming Committee. History of Clay County. Paducah, KY, Turner Pub. Co., 1986. 220 pp.
  • Clay County, 1980-1987: an economic analysis. Nashville, TN Dept. Emp. Sec., 1988. 12 pp.
  • Dale Hollow Dam & Reservoir Project, Obey River, TN. Washington, D.C., US Army Corps of Engineers, n.d. 1 vol.
  • Gaskill, Gordon. "Backward bonanza." American Mag. 129 (11940), pp. 36-37, 124-126. (oil wells in Clay County)
  • Head, Mell L. Happy Ridge. Columbia, KY, Waggener-Walker Newspaper, Inc., 76 pp.
  • Montell, William L. Don't go up Kettle Creek: verbal legacy of the Upper Cumberland. Knoxville, UT Press, 1983. 247 pp.
  • Montell, William L. Upper Cumberland country. Oxford, MS, U. Press of MS, 1993. 187 pp.
  • Peterson, Elizabeth & Tom Rankin. "Free hill: an introduction." TN Folklore Soc. Bull. 50 (1985), pp. 1-9.
  • Powell, James C. Farm taxation & county government in Overton, Clay & Pickett counties, TN. UT thesis, 1930. 171 pp.
  • Stone, William C. Historical sketches of Clay County, TN. Nashville, n.d. 19 pp.
  • Taylor, William C. A history of Clay County. Austin, TX, Jenkins Pub. Co., 1974. 168 pp.
  • TN Dept. Transportation [county maps] issued periodically.
  • TN Industrial & Agricultural Dev. Comm. Navigation locks for Cordell Hull & Celina dams & barge movement on the Upper Cumberland River. Prepared jointly by TN Industrial & Agricultural Dev. Comm., KY Dept. Ec. Dev. & TN State Plann. Comm. Nashville, n.p., 1959. 110 pp.
  • US Geol. Survey [topographic maps] issued periodically. Quadrangles: Red Boiling Springs, Union Hill, Celina, Dale Hollow Dam, Dale Hollow Reservoir, Whiteville, Burristown, Hilham.

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  • Brown, William L. History of Celina, TN. Celina, the author, 1940. 1 vol.
  • Flood plan information: Cumberland River, Obey River. Celina, the district, 1968. 53 pp.

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