Kentucky Courthouse records change extensively from county to county in both level of quality and volume. You will find different kinds of court records that are most likely to possess information related for your genealogical research below.
Kentucky Court Records
The Kentucky Court of Appeals originally had judicial powers. Kentucky also had the following courts over its period of history:
- Quarterly, circuit
- Justice of Peace
- Quarter sessions
Original court records are usually kept at each county’s courthouse in bound books or folders. Sometimes records have been copied on microfilm, or abstracts of the records have been published. However, the county courthouse normally has the most complete and accurate records.
Changes in borders and jurisdictions happened over time, so it can take a little work to find the correct records. Many courts are no longer operating, and records can sometimes be labeled wrong, so a thorough search of original records is the best way to make sure you don’t miss important information.
Before 1853, both civil and criminal cases were under the jurisdiction of the county courts. After that time, criminal cases were moved to quarterly or circuit courts, as well as divorces and major civil matters. Circuit courts also heard appeals from lower courts. In the earlier years of Kentucky’s history, including its first decade as a state, the courts of quarter sessions had jurisdiction over cases involving high amounts of money.
Microfilmed copies of most county court records are at the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives. Many transcribed records are available at the University of Kentucky Library, the Kentucky Historical Society, Filson Library, and the FHL. Some published or transcribed records are at local and regional libraries.
- The County Courts in Antebellum Kentucky (amazon.com) includes data concerning court procedures and types of records created.
- An Administrative History of Kentucky Courts to 1850 (amazon.com)
- Kentucky pioneer and court records (search.ancestry.com)
- Kentucky Court and Other Records (search.ancestry.com)
- Kentucky Court and Other Records, Vol. I (search.ancestry.com)
- Petitions of Kentucky Inhabitants to the General Assembly of Virginia, 1769-1792 (search.ancestry.com)
- Petitions of the early inhabitants of Kentucky to the General Assembly of Virginia : 1769-1792 (search.ancestry.com)
- A Complete Index to the Names of Persons, Places and Subjects Mentioned in Littell’s Laws of Kentucky (search.ancestry.com)
- Kentucky Court Record Books (amazon.com)
Kentucky Land Records
Because the Kentucky’s land has been part of two states and a growing area with counties that have been re-divided, it is important to know the history when looking for records. In 1779, the whole area of today’s state was “Kentucky County.” However, in the fall of 1780, this county was divided into Lincoln, Jefferson, and Fayette counties. There are some land entry books still remaining from Lincoln and Jefferson counties. Some of the records listed are from Kentucky County, before the division. The Kentucky Land Office in Frankfort keeps the records for Lincoln County, but the Jefferson County Records are still housed by the county clerk.
After the French and Indian Wars, it was common practice for cash-strapped colonies to pay their soldiers with land. This was done in the form of a military warrant, which was issued without a survey. The soldier was required to pay for or perform his own survey. This was the source of many incorrect surveys and conflicts over borders, and sometimes land was lost.
To research land records, such as grants and surveys, consult the indexes in the Secretary of State’s Land Office. This office maintains a full record of original papers on land granted or willed in Kentucky. These same records are on microfilm at The Kentucky Historical Society and Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives. The Kentucky Court of Appeals has deed books on record from 1796 to 1835, and some records from earlier dates are included in them. The first three books actually contain records from 1775 through 1796. These books include records for many out-of-state and foreign residents. Remember to also check Tennessee records for the counties that fall along the disputed border.
In 1795, a special land offering was made at the establishment of Green River County. Each head of household could purchase up to 200 acres for the price of $30 per acre. The title was granted once the fee was paid in full.
The county clerk surveyed lands under its jurisdiction and recorded the documents. Original records can usually still be found in this office, but the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, the University of Kentucky Library, Kentucky Historical Society, Filson Library, and the FHL also have microfilm copies. Also check genealogical society publications and local libraries. See Also Guide to U.S. Land Records Research
Kentucky Probate Records
Records that pertain to wills and estate settlements, as well as cases involving orphans, apprenticeships, and guardianships are normally held at the county courthouse under probate records. Some of these records are bound in volumes, and others, such as inventories and other estate documents, are filed with “loose papers.” For eary dates. sometimes the probate records are kept with general court proceedings, and disputes can be found in the circuit court records. The Filson Library and The Kentucky Historical Society have some transcriptions of early wills. The Kentucky Court of Appeals maintains wills and inventories for 1780-1788 under book J in their records. The Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, Kentucky Historical Society, University of Kentucky Library, Filson Library, and the FHL have some transcriptions and microfilm copies.
Destroyed or lost records can often be a problem, due to incidents such as fire. However, some records can still be found in church records and newspapers. To be thorough in your research, always go back several years beyond the lost record date. See Also Guide to U.S. Probate Records Research
- Will/Probate Record Request Form (kdla.ky.gov)
- Kentucky Will Index (search.ancestry.com) This database is an index of wills found in the six southern Kentucky counties of Cumberland, Christian, Russell, Logan, Todd, and Trigg.
- Index to Kentucky Wills to 1851 (amazon.com)
- Abstracts of Early Kentucky Wills and Inventories (amazon.com)
- Kentucky Will Index, Vol. 2 (search.ancestry.com)
- Kentucky, Probate Records, 1792-1977 (familysearch.org)
- Abstract of Early Kentucky Wills and Inventories (search.ancestry.com)
- Kentucky Probate Record Books (amazon.com)
Kentucky Tax Records
Tax records can reveal a lot of information to the family history researcher. Counties normally maintain annual tax records from their founding. These records can describe and appraise real estate, and because many taxes were per head taxes, they can list names of servants, slaves, and free men who were of a particular age. The Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives and the FHL have microfilmed records dating up to 1892. For records after 1892, consult the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives. Tax records to 1875 are at the Kentucky Historical Society. Records are usually organized first by county, then date, then surname. See Also Guide to U.S. Tax Records Research
- Kentucky Tax Record Books (amazon.com)
Kentucky County & City Government Links
Kentucky contains 120 counties. Each county is the local level of government within its borders. The largest city in Kentucky, Louisville is a “consolidated local government”. The second largest, Lexington, is an “urban-county government”. Lexington and Fayette County are completely merged and there are no separate incorporated cities within the county.
The links in the table below link to county and city government offices and is limited to government-maintained websites. If you know of a Kentucky county that has an official government web site but is not linked, or if the link is in error, please contact us so we may edit our database. Kentucky State Government is located in Frankfort.