Kentucky Court Records

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Names of many Kentucky residents are found in district and county court records. Civil court actions include disputes over property and settlement of estates. Criminal court actions include confrontations, thefts, or destruction of property. These records may give a person’s age, residence, occupation, or family relationships. Friends and neighbors may have given depositions as witnesses. Court records include dockets, minutes, case files, and orders. Land, tax, and probate matters may be included.

Major Kentucky courts that kept records of genealogical value were established as follows:

1780: Present County courts initially had county-wide jurisdiction over all records of civil and criminal cases. Later these courts recorded deeds, bonds, probates, and juvenile matters. After 1852 most criminal cases were handled by circuit or quarterly courts. The Family History Library has many county court minutes and order books.

1787–1802: Courts of quarter sessions heard suits involving large amounts of money.

1787: Present Circuit courts have county-wide jurisdiction over major civil and criminal cases, divorces, and appeals from inferior courts. The Family History Library has some circuit court order books or minutes.

1787: Present Quarterly courts have county-wide jurisdiction over minor criminal cases.

Other courts include the justice’s court, court of oyer and terminer, court of appeals, examining court, and general court.

Original court records are kept either in the county courthouse or at the state archives. The Family History Library and the Department of Libraries and Archives have microfilm copies of court records from many counties. Few of the records are well indexed. Many transcribed records are available at the University of Kentucky Library, the Kentucky Historical Society, and the Filson Club Library. Some records have been transcribed and published in books or periodicals. The great majority, however, are still in boxes, cabinets, and folders and have not been copied. For more information about court procedures and records, see:

Ireland, Robert M. The County Courts in Antebellum Kentucky. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1972. (Family History Library FHL book 976.9 P2i) This book details the history of Kentucky county courts.

Court records are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:



The court structure and history are described in:

Lockwood, Evelyn M. Index to Kentucky Legal History: References to Selected Sources of Information Concerning the 18th and 19th Centuries. Frankfort, KY: The Library, 1983. (Not at Family History Library.)

Richardson, William C. An Administrative History of Kentucky Courts to 1850. Frankfort, KY: Kentucky Department for Archives and Libraries, 1983. (Family History Library FHL book 976.9 P2r) This booklet contains a history of Kentucky’s court system with its table of laws and judicial maps.

See the United States Research Outline for more detailed information on court records. Refer to the "Court Records," "Probate Records," "Vital Records," and "Naturalization and Citizenship" sections for information about those specific court records.

Some indexes are:

A Complete Index to the Names of Persons, Places and Subjects Mentioned in Littell's Laws of Kentucky. By W. T. Smith. 1994. Baltimore, Maryland: Clearfield. Online at Internet Archive, Ancestry ($). FHL Book 976.9 P32s.