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Kentucky Genealogy – Guide to Ancestry and Family Tree Records


Kentucky-Flag-StateThe Allegheny Mountains kept settlers from moving west for a time, but they eventually did pass through those mountains and establish the first settlements to the west of them. In 1774 Harrodsburg, the first permanent settlement in what would later become Kentucky, was founded by James Harrod. Daniel Boone explored the region in 1767 and then founded Boonesboro in 1775, after cutting a trail through Cumberland Gap, when was known as the Wilderness Trail.

In December 31, 1776, the counties of Virginia beyond the Appalachian Mountains became known as Kentucky County (aka Kentucke County) by dividing Fincastle County. During the 3-1/2 years of Kentucky County’s existence, government seat was in Harrodstown also knwn as Oldtown, and later renamed Harrodsburg.

Kentucky County was abolished on June 30, 1780, when it was divided into Fayette, Jefferson, and Lincoln counties of Virginia. Eventually, the residents of Fayette, Jefferson, and Lincoln counties petitioned for a separation from Virginia.Ten constitutional conventions were held in Danville between 1784 and 1792, in the Constitution Square Courthouse . The final convention, in April 1792, was approved by the Virginia House of Delegates.

On June 1, 1792 the Commonwealth of Kentucky was admitted to the United States as its 15th state. Kentucky contains 120 Counties. The Kentucky State Capital is in Frankfort and the state government website is

Getting Started with Kentucky Genealogy and Family Trees

Kentucky Genealogy Tips & Hints – Kentucky genealogy can be traced through cemetery records, court filings such as marriage certificates and even archived newspapers. Browsing through Kentucky records like bibles, birth certificates and letters, if available, is another way to glean missing information. Libraries are a good source to find books, periodicals, magazines and other printed material full of helpful information to help trace genealogy.  Unfortunately, some Kentucky counties have kept better records than others.  So, you may hit a few roadblocks along the way.  However, you shouldn’t let that deter you, especially in this digital era.

Understanding Kentucky Genealogy – To understand the basics of genealogy, you first have to know what it is. Genealogy is a way to trace the ancestry of a family through the generations. It is a type of investigation to compile data so a family can see their own history. For many families, understanding their own heritage is very important. But, it can be difficult to get beyond the basics, to go back more than just a couple of generations. Without knowing how to conduct a proper genealogy search, there can be gaps or an incomplete family tree. So, it is a good idea to know what resources you can rely on to get the job done. Genealogical research in the state is aided by excellent research facilities and printed materials on Kentucky’s early settlement.

Genealogy, or the study of one’s own family history, is an important part of who we are as kentuckians.  We all would like to know exactly what are origins are.  Unfortunately, that is far easier for some people than for others.  If you are one of those others, you may need to do some serious genealogy research.  If that research point you to Kentucky, here are some things that could help you along the way. Chances are that you have some clue about your family history.  It might be a picture, a date, a last name, or even a love letter.  Whatever it is, use it to your advantage.  Take whatever material you have and share it with others.  There are many online forums devoted to Kentucky genealogical research.  The people in those forums will be glad to help you with your Kentucky ancestry research.

Finding The Lost Counties

It is also important for you to know that there are two “lost counties” in Kentucky. As the state changed, two counties were eventually done away with entirely. Beckham County was dissolved on 29 Apr 1904, but the state still has some postal records and marriage records on file from that county.

The other “lost county” isn’t really lost at all. The name was simply shortened. It went from being called Josh Bell County to simply being called Bell County beginning on January 31, 1873.  The county was originally formed just after the Civil War, on February 5, 1867, from portions of Harlan and Knox Counties. So, if you are looking for records from its first 6 years, you should look under the full original name of Josh Bell County.

Paper Trails

It would be fair to say that Kentucky is, in general, a little behind the times when it comes to genealogy. A lot of the Kentucky public records have not been digitized. However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. You just have to follow the paper trails. Visit Kentucky libraries and historical societies and look for Bibles, Books, Newspaper Articles, Birth Certificates, Marriage Certificates, Death Certificates, Court Documents or Land Deeds.

The DAR (Daughters Of The American Revolution) and the SAR (Sons Of The American Revolution) are huge organizations. They are devoted to helping descendants of those who helped to fight for freedom in America during and around the time of the Revolutionary War. There are both DAR and SAR chapters in Kentucky. So, if your ancestor may have had any connection to our founding fathers or to the military, you should definitely start there.

There are several websites which contain court records and other data where visitors can trace their Kentucky ancestry for free. The Internet is also a source to find Kentucky ancestry communities where people can perform Kentucky research and potentially create family trees or connect to relatives they didn’t know existed.

Kentucky Ethnic Group Research

Many records of African American slaves and family migration records from the time of reconstruction can be found at the Kentucky Historical Society and the Filson Library. During slavery, many slaves were sold and purchased in Kentucky, but it was also a major hub for the Underground Railroad. In fact, slaves, former slaves, and free African Americans were so prevalent in the area that almost 20% of the residents of the state had some African American ancestry, as of 1860. Researchers should note, however, that all African Americans freed after the new constitution was passed in 1850 were required to leave the state 30 days or less after gaining their freedom.

Local courts generally have records on file for court cases involving African Americans who were accused of petty crimes and misdemeanors.

County clerks maintained marriage records for African Americans after the Civil War ended. After 1865 “Declarations” (late marriage records) were allowed to be recorded after the fact.

Veteran’s assistance, poor assistance, schools, and hospitals were all established by the Freedman’s Bureau. Those records can be found on both a national and a state level. The federal records include information about freedmen, marriage records, abandoned land records, refugee records, and other information. The state records do not contain much helpful genealogical information. Some separate tax lists, vital records, marriage records and school records were kept for Kentucky African Americans as well.

While county and city estate and property records remain the best sources for identifying slaves and their families, other records, such as lists of free persons of color, marriages, slave lists, apprenticeship bonds, trial dockets, lists of slave owners, church records, family and plantation records, account books, bills of sale, and other miscellaneous records should be used.

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