Your heritage is an important part of who you are whether you grew up knowing the details or not. Often, as people age, they decide they want to learn more about their backgrounds and family history, and that can send them on a hunt to get information about their genealogy. Websites all over the Internet offer access to personal history and documents that explain how people are connected to other members of their family, but they often require subscriptions. Truthfully, these services aren't entirely necessary if you know how to use obituary records.
Obituary records are incredibly useful when trying to research genealogy. While it seems like a solemn way to gather information, obituaries often give information on the surviving family members as well as extended family of the deceased. The obituaries are published as a social convention that alerts the local community to the death, and they have been a practice in American newspapers for as long as 200 years. Records that are specific to Tennessee date back just over 100 years, and they provide excellent information to fill in the dots of missing information on your personal history.
When Tennessee began publishing obituaries, the Internet was still almost a century away. As a result, Internet searches don't usually yield obituaries that date back more than 15 to 20 years. No matter whether you think it will be there or not, it's best to start with a quick search of the person's name with the word "obituary" to see what comes up. If it's nothing, you know that you have to dig deeper into the archives to find out where the obituary that you are looking for is stored.
States that have a lot of small towns often have a lot of papers that have come and gone throughout the years. What this means is that it can get harder to find the publication that may have published that obituary because there's always a chance that the paper doesn't exist anymore. If you know what paper it was published in, then it could be as easy as finding it and calling their archives department. If you don't know or the paper is closed, it's time to head to the local library.
Libraries in the 21st century are interesting beasts that seems to almost work against their own interests by making lots of information available on their websites. If information is available remotely, there is not as much reason to physically go in to the library. That being said, Tennessee libraries keep excellent indexes of obituaries that are available through their websites. While they don't typically include copies of the actual obituary or manually entered text, they do give guests an idea of the issue number and the newspaper that the announcements were placed in so they can easily find them at the library where the records are stored.
If there is important information missing from your search, you may need to get some more concrete information about the deceased before trying to locate a record without an idea of when or where the person died. A death certificate is the best place to start, and many of them are available for informational purposes on Tennessee government websites that can be reached through TN.gov.
The earliest accessible required death records in Tennessee were in 1908, but there are a handful of localities that started keeping track of this information before then. Records of deaths for the last 50 years are kept at the Tennessee Office of Vital Records. Death certificates older than that must be requested from the State Archives. Informational copies of death records that include the date of death as well as the record number are available to anyone from the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Official copies of this information can be requested from the archives in writing.
Thought not all records are available, the Shelby County Register of Deeds offers a large portion of death records that cover 1949-2009. These are also informal records, but provide a link to fill out a formal request.
Early obituary records are available in some cases through the Tennessee State Library and Archives. The index provides the names of those who had announcements posted in local Nashville papers, and as well as the date of publication. Dates range from 1855-1907 and provide an opportunity to approach libraries or publishers with the information to assist in locating the actual obituaries.
The Nashville Public Library offers an index of the Tennessean, a Nashville newspaper with records back to the 1964. The information is searchable and provides the location of the obituary within the paper so that the archives or microfilms can be accessed. Blount County also has a similar listing that gives access of where to find information like that. Chattanooga Public Library also has a system like this. In fact, most, if not all, of the local library systems in Tennessee have access to a database that will point you in the correct direction.
Though there is plentiful access to sources that help you find out where and when the obituary was published, there is not a lot of access in Tennessee to uploaded versions of the original text or manually entered versions. What that means is that, even though there is a lot of digital information on where the find the obituaries, they will still require either a trip to the library or a formal request to arrange for copies of the announcements.
If you are a member of the local library system, you may be able to uncover some of the obituaries through online resources that your library card gets you membership to. There are genealogy websites that offer library memberships, but you don't have to physically be at the library to use them. Local libraries in Tennessee often offer access to Heritage Quest for searching for already digitized documents. Heritage Quest can be accessed from anywhere and does not require the user to be in the local library. It does, however, require library card access in order to log in.
You may not be able to find the record that you're looking for right on the Internet without a subscription to a genealogy service. There is, however, plenty of data available on the Internet to start your search for Tennessee records. From there, you can figure out who to call or where to go to get the record that you need to continue your quest.