Making the Best Use of Tennessee Census Index Books, 1850-1880
Beginning in 1850, the census records showed names and ages for all white and free black individuals, not just heads-of-households. Beginning in 1870, all black individuals were included in the regular census. The authors who have published these Tennessee census indexes have used different methods for each index book, described as follows.
1850: Sistler's index lists all of the families in the state alphabetically by head-of-household, and shows names and ages of all family members. At the end of each entry the state of birth for the first two people listed in the household is shown, followed by the county code, household #, and the handwritten page number from the original census. Sistler's index also has a cross-reference volume listing people living in households of a different surname. When answering mail inquiries, our staff check this cross-index only if the name you inquire about does not appear in the main listings. No slaves are listed in this index. Another index, published by Jackson, lists only the heads-of-household with a county and page number. It does not give any information on family members. The original census schedules include additional information not provided in the index, including state-of-birth for each individual, occupation, value of property, etc.
1860: The 1860 census provides about the same information as the 1850. Sistler's index lists all of the families in the state alphabetically by head-of-household, showing names and ages for all free persons. Each member of the household, including those with different surnames, is shown. Persons living with a family of a different surname are also cross-indexed under their own surnames. These cross-references are marked with an asterisk. Following each entry is a county symbol followed by one or two numbers. If one number, it is the handwritten number shown on the original schedule. If two numbers, the second one is the stamped number in the upper right corner of the original schedule. Free black people are identified by a (B) or (Mu) after the individual's name, or by (black family) or (mulatto family) if that applies to the entire entry. A partial index by Jackson is also available, covering counties alphabetically from Anderson through Knox only. Jackson's index is an alphabetical list of every individual (not just heads-of-household). Members of the same family are not necessarily listed together. Ages are not given.
1870: The 1870 census provides about the same information as the 1850 and 1860. Sistler's index lists only heads-of-household with their ages and a county and page number. The original census schedule must be viewed to see names and ages for family members. A (B) indicates a black or a mulatto individual. Persons living with a family of a different surname are listed under their own surname and marked with an asterisk.
1880: The 1880 census provides all the information the 1870 census does, plus birthplace of the parents of each person name, as well as month and year of birth of each person listed. Sistler's 1880 index (east, middle and west Tennessee volumes) lists only heads of households.
Residents of Tennessee can view scanned copies of Tennessee census records by going through the Tennessee Electronic Library (TEL), clicking on the Genealogy tab, and then selecting HeritageQuest Online.
Your local library may provide access to web sites such as HerigateQuest Online or AncestryLibrary.com, which have scanned the existing Tennessee census records for 1810 - 1880 and 1900 - 1940. The archives.org web site also offers scanned PDFs of Tennessee census records to the public.
The Tennessee State Library & Archives can provide copies from census index books 1820-1880 and from any original (handwritten) census schedule. To obtain copies of census records, please see our web page on ordering census records by mail.
Each census index entry provides the county name and census page number.
This list will help you identify county names which have been abbreviated by the indexer.
The year the county was created is also listed.
We have indicated which book(s) your copies are from.
Bentley, Elizabeth. Index to the 1820 Census of Tennessee. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1981.
Jackson, Ronald V. and G.R. Teeples. Tennessee 1820 Census. Bountiful, Utah: Accelerated Indexing Systems, 1974.
Sistler, Byron. 1830 Census - East Tennessee. Evanston, Illinois: Byron Sistler & Assoc., 1969.
Sistler, Byron. 1830 Census - Middle Tennessee. Evanston, Illinois: Byron Sistler & Assoc., 1971.
Sistler, Byron. 1830 Census - West Tennessee. Evanston, Illinois: Byron Sistler & Assoc., 1971.
Jackson, Ronald V. et al. Tennessee 1840 Census Index. Bountiful, Utah: Accelerated Indexing Systems, 1976.
Sistler, Byron and Barbara Sistler. 1840 Census - Tennessee. Nashville: Byron Sistler & Assoc., 1986.
Jackson, Ronald V. Tennessee 1850 Census Index. Bountiful, Utah: Accelerated Indexing Systems, 1981.
Sistler, Byron and Barbara Sistler. 1850 Census - Tennessee (8 vols.). Nashville: Byron Sistler & Assoc., 1974.
Sistler, Byron and Barbara Sistler. 1860 Census - Tennessee (5 vols.). Nashville: Byron Sistler & Assoc., 1981.
[Jackson, Ronald V.] Tennessee 1860 Census Index (4 vols.). Bountiful, Utah: Accelerated Indexing Systems, 1982.
Sistler, Byron and Barbara Sistler. 1870 Census - Tennessee (2 vols.). Nashville: Byron Sistler & Assoc., 1985.
Sistler, Byron and Barbara Sistler. 1880 Census - East Tennessee. Nashville: Byron Sistler & Assoc., 1997.
Sistler, Byron and Barbara Sistler. 1880 Census - Middle Tennessee. Nashville: Byron Sistler & Assoc., 2000.
The National Archives and Records Administration has provided TSLA with a list of libraries and archives that have extensive collections of Tennessee census microfilm .
Updated March 5, 2013