Tennessee Land 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.

This article is part of
the Tennessee Family History Research series.
History of Tennessee
Tennessee Vital Records
Census Records for Tennessee
Background Sources for Tennessee
Tennessee Maps
Tennessee Land Records
Tennessee Probate Records
Tennessee Court Records
Tennessee Tax Records
Tennessee Cemetery Records
Tennessee Church Records
Tennessee Military Records
Tennessee Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
Tennessee Archives, Libraries, and Societies
African Americans of Tennessee
Native Americans of Tennessee
Tennessee County Resources
Map of Tennessee


Tennessee is a State-Land State.

Only a small portion of the land granted in Tennessee was free land, and that was granted to those who provided some form of service to North Carolina. Earliest land records, including early grants issued by North Carolina and Tennessee, are microfilmed with a card index available in the Public Services Section of the TSLA. Other holdings include land warrants, survey certificates, and records from county register of deeds offices.

The earliest land grants are now maintained and available on microfilm at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Official copies of all Tennessee land grants are bound and filed in the archives. All known grants are indexed in the master index, which is included on these microfilm reels. These consist of the following:

  • North Carolina grants in Tennessee, 1783–1800, including North Carolina state grants. These land grants are also in the North Carolina State Archives (see North Carolina Land Records).
  • Tennessee general grants date from 1806 to 1927.
  • Grants were issued by district land offices from 1807 through 1838: East Tennessee District grants, from 1807; Hiwassee District grants, from November 1820; Middle Tennessee District, from 1824; West Tennessee District, beginning in 1826; Mountain District, opening in 1828; Ocoee District, starting in 1838. A pamphlet entitled “Land Grants in the Tennessee State Library and Archives” explains the holdings and is available from the repository.

The North Carolina Military Reservation was established in 1783 in the northern section of what was then west Tennessee (present-day middle Tennessee). It encompassed all the area surrounding the loop of the Cumberland River north to the Kentucky/Tennessee state line. A Congressional Reservation was organized on 18 April 1806 in the southwest section of middle Tennessee. The Congressional Reservation’s northern border was the North Carolina Military Reservation’s southern boundary. The western border for both was that portion of the Tennessee River that flows north. Several published volumes relate to North Carolina Revolutionary service land grants in middle Tennessee.

Land grants for the area south of Walker’s Line (in Tennessee) are microfilmed and available through the FHL. Originals are indexed and housed in the Kentucky Land Office, Frankfort. Williard Rouse Jillson’s work (see Kentucky Land Records) covers these grants. A printed source to North Carolina land grants is Betty G. C. Cartwright and L. J. Gardiner, North Carolina Land Grants in Tennessee, 1778–1791 (1958; rev. ed., Easley, S.C.: Southern Historical Press, 1981). The process of obtaining a land grant took three steps. First, the entry includes the name, date, number of acres, and location—usually including the name of a watercourse—and entry number. If improvements had been made, a survey was the second step in the process, conducted within five years after the entry was made. The survey includes great detail about the location and boundaries of the property. It frequently includes a drawing of the plat. The survey usually includes the individual’s name, number of acres, entry number, and date. A survey number is also assigned. If the entry was transferred to another individual before the survey was conducted, the entry book details that exchange. The survey includes the names of the “sworn chain carriers” (SCC). The survey could be transferred to another prior to the grant process. The third step was the grant. A person applied for the land grant based on the entry and survey; he also paid a small amount per acre. Each grant has its own number, which differs from the assigned numbers for entries and surveys. It is recorded at both the state and county levels. The TSLA maintains some county land entries and survey abstracts. These are on microfilm; some counties kept the original records.

Beginning with county organization, land records are available from the register of deeds at the respective county courthouse. Land and property records include transfer of real estate or personal property, mortgages, leases, surveys, and entries. The TSLA has microfilmed county deed records that can be ordered by providing name, date, county, and type of record in the request. Some land books contain transcripts of Board of Aid records (a public assistance program during the twentieth century), early wills, and other transactions.

Many publications for county land records are available. An example is Vicky L. Morrow Hutchings’ work in abstracting deeds for several Tennessee counties, published by Mountain Press at Signal Mountain, Tennessee.

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