Tennessee Probate Records
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This entry was originally written by Wendy Bebout Elliott, Ph.D. FUGA for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
The county court maintains jurisdiction over probate cases. Wills, administrations, and all other records pertaining to probate are recorded in the respective county clerk’s office. If the will or administration was contested, the records of these actions may be filed in the circuit court or chancery court. Shelby and Davidson counties have separate probate courts.
Many early court records and lists of wills were transcribed by the WPA. Copies of these are usually in the county clerk’s office and in the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Most records have been microfilmed and are available through the FHL.
Projects to preserve and microfilm probate files, or loose papers, were started in Franklin County in 1979 and in Shelby County in 1981. Microfilm copies are at the TSLA. Other counties are following this fine example of record preservation.
County courts also hear guardianship and minor civil and criminal cases. Court records date from the organization of the county except in cases where records have been destroyed. See Annie W. Burns, Major Index to Wills and Inventories of Tennessee at the D.A.R. Library, 6 vols. (Washington, D.C.: n.p., 1962–65), which covers Bedford through Meigs counties alphabetically.
Court orders often are unindexed but contain references to action related to probate, such as dower, year’s support, and appointments. Some early wills may be registered in other sources; for instance, in Scott County, Tennessee, wills were not recorded in will books until 1929; prior to that date, wills were recorded in the County Court Minute Books. A few early wills can also be found among deed records. In some counties, separate books were maintained for Estate Settlements and Orphans’ Court actions and bonds.
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