Kentucky Emigration and Immigration

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Daniel Boone escorting settlers through the Cumberland Gap.

How to Find the Records[edit | edit source]

Kentucky, being entirely inland, has no seaports. Immigrants would have initially arrived at a port on the coast. Most foreign-born immigrants who came to Kentucky arrived at the ports of New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, or other Atlantic and Gulf ports. To search those records, see United States Immigration Online Genealogy Records.

Online Resources[edit | edit source]

Cultural Groups[edit | edit source]

Passport Records Online[edit | edit source]

Offices to Contact[edit | edit source]

Although many records are included in the online records listed above, there are other records available through these archives and offices. For example, there are many minor ports that have not yet been digitized. There are also records for more recent time periods. For privacy reasons, some records can only be accessed after providing proof that your ancestor is now deceased.

U.S. Citizenship and and Immigration Services Genealogy Program[edit | edit source]

The USCIS Genealogy Program is a fee-for-service program that provides researchers with timely access to historical immigration and naturalization records of deceased immigrants. If the immigrant was born less than 100 years ago, you will also need to provide proof of his/her death.

Immigration Records Available[edit | edit source]
  • A-Files: Immigrant Files, (A-Files) are the individual alien case files, which became the official file for all immigration records created or consolidated since April 1, 1944.
  • Alien Registration Forms (AR-2s): Alien Registration Forms (Form AR-2) are copies of approximately 5.5 million Alien Registration Forms completed by all aliens age 14 and older, residing in or entering the United States between August 1, 1940 and March 31, 1944.
  • Registry Files: Registry Files are records, which document the creation of immigrant arrival records for persons who entered the United States prior to July 1, 1924, and for whom no arrival record could later be found.
  • Visa Files: Visa Files are original arrival records of immigrants admitted for permanent residence under provisions of the Immigration Act of 1924.[1]
Requesting a Record[edit | edit source]

Finding Town of Origin[edit | edit source]

Records in the countries emigrated from are kept on the local level. You must first identify the name of the town where your ancestors lived to access those records. If you do not yet know the name of the town of your ancestor's birth, there are well-known strategies for a thorough hunt for it.

Background[edit | edit source]

  • Pre-statehood settlers of Kentucky were mostly of English, German and Ulster Scots descent who migrated from the Atlantic seaboard states.
  • Immigrants from North Carolina and southwestern Virginia came by way of the Cumberland Gap and over the Wilderness Road. Immigrants from Maryland and Pennsylvania came on flatboats and rafts down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh.
  • Other early immigrants included small groups of French, Swiss, and Welsh.
  • During the mid-19th century the Ohio River brought many German immigrants and settlers from New England and the Middle Atlantic states.
  • Many Irish settled in Louisville during this time.
  • In 1790, historians estimate Kentucky's population was English (52%), Scots-Irish or Scots (25%), Irish (9%), Welsh, (7%), German (5%), French (2%), Dutch (1%), and Swedish (0.2%) in ethnicity.[2]
  • 1820 statistics vary slightly: English (57%), Scots-Irish or Scots (18%), Welsh (9%), Irish (8%), German (6%), French (2%), Dutch (1%), and Swedish (0.2%).[2]
  • There was a large African American population in Kentucky prior to the Civil War. The coal boom of the early 1900s brought additional African Americans and new immigrants from Europe to work in the Cumberland Plateau area.
  • Land speculator John Filson's early history, which "portrayed Kentucky as a natural paradise, where peace, plenty, and security reigned," and contained a narrative of Daniel Boone, became very popular.[3] Filson influenced many of our ancestors to venture out to this newly opening area of settlement: [4]

Immigration Records[edit | edit source]

Immigration refers to people coming into a country. Emigration refers to people leaving a country to go to another. Immigration records usually take the form of ship's passenger lists collected at the port of entry. See Online Resources. Again, Kentucky has no seaports. Most foreign-born immigrants who came to Kentucky arrived at the ports of New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, or other Atlantic and Gulf ports. To search those records, see United States Immigration Online Genealogy Records.

What can I find in them?[edit | edit source]

Information in Passenger Lists[edit | edit source]

  • Before 1820 - Passenger lists before 1820 included name, departure information and arrival details. The names of wives and children were often not included.
  • 1820-1891 - Customs Passenger Lists between 1820 and 1891 asked for each immigrant’s name, their age, their sex, their occupation, and their country of origin, but not the city or town of origin.
  • 1891-1954 - Information given on passenger lists from 1891 to 1954 included:
    • name, age, sex,
    • nationality, occupation, marital status,
    • last residence, final destination in the U.S.,
    • whether they had been to the U.S. before (and if so, when, where and how long),
    • if joining a relative, who this person was, where they lived, and their relationship,
    • whether able to read and write,
    • whether in possession of a train ticket to their final destination, who paid for the passage,
    • amount of money the immigrant had in their possession,
    • whether the passenger had ever been in prison, a poorhouse, or in an institution for the insane,
    • whether the passenger was a polygamist,
    • and immigrant's state of health.
  • 1906-- - In 1906, the physical description and place of birth were included, and a year later, the name and address of the passenger’s closest living relative in the country of origin was included.

Information in Passports[edit | edit source]

Over the years, passports and passport applications contained different amounts of information about the passport applicant. The first passports that are available begin in 1795. These usually contained the individual's name, description of individual, and age. More information was required on later passport applications, such as:

  • Birthplace
  • Birth date
  • Naturalization information
  • Arrival information, if foreign born

In-country Migration[edit | edit source]

Kentucky Migration Routes[edit | edit source]

Westward Migrants[edit | edit source]

Many settlers moved from Kentucky to areas further west. In 1816 a small army of settlers began moving to Indiana, then on to Illinois. In the following years many more people migrated westward from the state, giving Kentucky claim to the title "Mother of Western States."

Free native-born Kentuckians, alive in 1860, who had left the state, most popularly resettled in:[5]

State Persons Born in Kentucky
Missouri 99,814
Indiana 68,588
Illinois 60,193

For Further Reading[edit | edit source]

The FamilySearch Library has additional sources listed in their catalog:

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Genealogy", at USCIS,, accessed 26 March 2021.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Thomas L. Purvis, "The Ethnic Descent of Kentucky's Early Population: A Statistical Investigation of European and American Source of Immigration, 1790-1820," Register of The Kentucky Historical Society, Vol. 80 (1982):263.
  3. Much of his motivation, no doubt, was to attract settlers to purchase his unoccupied land grants. "The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke (1784) ...", Digital Commons@University of Nebraska - Lincoln.
  4. Filson, John. The Discovery, Settlement, and Present State of Kentucke: and an Essay Towards the Topography and Natural History of that Important Country: to which is Added, an Appendix, Containing, I. The Adventures of Col. Daniel Boon, One of the First Settlers, Comprehending Every Important Occurrence in the Political History of that Province. II. The Minutes of the Piankashaw Council, Held at Post St. Vincents, April 15, 1784. III. An Account of the Indian Nations Inhabiting within the Limits of the Thirteen United States ... IV. The Stages and Distances between Philadelphia and the Falls of the Ohio; from Pittsburg to Pensacola and Several Other Places. The Whole Illustrated by a New and Accurate Map of Kentucke and the Country Adjoining, Drawn from Actual Surveys. Wilmington, Del.: Printed by James Adams, 1784. Digital version at University of Nebraska Lincoln Digital Commons. Users may also download a free color map of Kentucky created in 1784 at this site. 1793 edition at Internet Archive.
  5. William O. Lynch, "The Westward Flow of Southern Colonists before 1861," The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Aug. 1943):303-327. Digital version at JSTOR ($).