Publisher of Quality Genealogy Materials
Volume 6, Number 15 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 July 16, 2014
I was asked recently what are the Tennessee 1836 Civil Districts and why did I combine it with the Tax Listings from the same time period. This article helps to explain the Civil Districts and my reasoning in combining them.
In my research over the years I have often found two sources that can be cross-referenced to help place your family in a particular area which in turn helps with researching them. Even if you aren't researching in Tennessee hopefully you can apply the cross referencing technique to source materials in your area.
If you have any comments or suggestions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
James L. Douthat
TENNESSEE IN 1836
The year 1836 was a pivotal year for the State. It was at this time that the structure and mechanics of each county was changed into the set up present today. The General Assembly in December 1835 passed acts to establish each county into Civil Districts. The first section of this act was “There shall be appointed by joint resolution of both branches of the General Assembly, five suitable persons as Commissioners in each county in this State, a majority of whom shall be competent to act, to lay off the respective counties into districts of convenient size, regard being as to territory and population, for the purpose of electing Justices of the Peace and Constables therein; and that said Commissioners shall receive for their services such compensation as the County Court, in their discretion may allow, to be paid out of any moneys in the county treasury not otherwise appropriated.”
The size of each Civil District was to be determined by the voting population as per the 1833 enumeration of the state. A written description of each of the boundaries of these Civil Districts was submitted to the legislature.
In later years, the districts served a much broader purpose than just the election of the Justice of the Peace and Constables. The boundaries served in the role of collection of taxes, militia units and much later school districts. In reading these records, one is struck by the fact that many of the larger land owners owned land in multiple districts within the county.
As the 1836 time period falls between the 1830 census, the first complete census for Tennessee, and the 1840 census, they give a great enumeration of persons living in the area at the time. When one finds their ancestor within a particular district on the tax listing, they are easier to follow through the later years. This latter concept is very important when there are multiple families of the same surname in the same county. By determining which is your ancestor then as events take place through the years, they are easier to follow.
Another provision in the Act of 1835 was that each county would submit to the legislature a drawing of the county showing the approximate location of each of the districts. This map was to be drawn by the commissioners without any outside help. This makes for many of the maps to be very crude, but this was their goal. Many of the counties have changed their borders since 1836, but for the most part, the districts have remained in roughly the same location.
The written descriptions and the maps that have survived are now found in the Tennessee State Archives in their original form. Mountain Press has copies of most of these and has transcribed some of the records. The Civil Districts information is one part of each of these volumes while the tax listing is a second part. We felt that by combining these two sets of records into one volume, the research would have a fuller understanding of the population of each of the counties. To date, we have transcribed and published 30 of the county records with the majority of them in the eastern portion of the state. We have transcribed some of the middle and western portion as well. Here is a listing of ones finished to date:
Anderson, Bledsoe, Blount, Bradley, Campbell, Carroll,
Carter, Claiborne, Cocke, DeKalb, Dyer, Giles,
Grainger, Greene, Hamilton, Hawkins, Haywood, Henry,
Jackson, Jefferson, Knox, Lincoln, Marion, Monroe,
Obion, Overton, Robertson, Shelby, Tipton, Washington
Several major problems in this project are that records are not complete at the State Archives. Some of the maps are missing which is not a huge problem. Some of the written descriptions are missing and this is a problem. Finally, the major problem is that some of the tax listings for this year are also missing. Without the tax listing, then the other information is only partially valid. If the next year or so tax listing is available, we have substituted these for the 1836 one that is missing. If we use a substitute, then the year is noted.
We hope this information will help clear up some of your misgivings about Tennessee at this time period. Most of the states have similar events in their history worthy of this kind of notation.
Cherokee Book Sale
Through midnight on Thursday, July 17th we will be offering several of our Cherokee books on sale. All sale books can be viewed at the Cherokee Book Sale page.
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