Kentucky History

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Brief History

Effective family history research requires some understanding of the historical events that affected your family and the records about them. Learning about wars, governments, laws, migrations, and religious trends may help you understand political boundaries, family movements, and settlement patterns. State, county, and town histories often include biographical sketches of local residents, including important genealogical information. This may be one of the best sources of information for some families.

The following important events in the history of Kentucky affected political boundaries, record keeping, and family movements.

  • 1772-1773: Virginia land speculation company dispatched agents to survey along the Ohio and Kentucky Rivers.
  • 1772: Fincastle County was formed from Botetourt County, Virginia. It included all of the present state of Kentucky and small portions of Virginia and West Virginia.
  • 1773-1774: Lord Dunmore War the Indians attack at Cumberland Gap.
  • 1774: Harrodsburg was established as the first permanent settlement in Kentucky. Settlements at Boonesboro, St. Asaph, and Danville soon followed. Early settlers received land warrants for their participation in the French and Indian War.
  • 1775:  Wilderness Trail through the Cumberland Gap.
  • 1775: (April 1,) Boonsboro established by Daniel Boone
  • 1776: Kentucky County was created from Fincastle County, Virginia. It included the eastern part of present-day Kentucky.
  • 1792: Virginia dropped claims to region
  • 1792: (June 1,)The Commonwealth of Kentucky was admitted to the Union as the 15th state. Many pioneers of Kentucky were Revolutionary War veterans who came to claim bounty land.
  • 1792: Battle of Fallen Timbers ends Indian resistance in the area.
  • 1803: Migration through Kentucky, as well as settlement there, increased after the Louisiana Purchase.
  • 1812– 1815: The War of 1812 involved many Kentucky soldiers.
  • 1852: Kentucky law required counties to record births, marriages, and deaths.
  • 1815–1860: Kentucky settlers benefitted from improvements in transportation, including river steamboats, canals, and railroads.
  • 1861–1865: Kentucky officially supported the Union in the Civil War, but its soldiers served on both sides (120,000 Union and 60,000 Confederate).
  • 1862: The Kentucky law requiring counties to record births, marriages, and deaths was repealed.
  • 1870s: Further attempts were made to record births, marriages, and deaths.
  • 1898: Over 300,000 men were involved in the Spanish-American War which was fought mainly in Cuba and the Philippines.
  • 1911: Kentucky again required the registration of births and deaths.
  • 1917–1918: More than 26 million men from the United States ages 18 through 45 registered with the Selective Service. World War I over 4.7 million American men and women served during the war. Over 75,000 Kentuckians served in World War I
  • 1920s: The coal mining industry boomed.
  • 1930's: The Great Depression closed many factories and mills. Many coal miners lost their jobs, and small farms were abandoned as the depression hit Kentucky. Many Kentuckians moved to the cities for better jobs.
  • 1940–1945: Over 50.6 million men ages 18 to 65 registered with the Selective Service. Over 16.3 million American men and women served in the armed forces during World War II. Over 300,000 Kentuckians served in World War II. Coal mines and farms became productive again.
  • 1950–1953: Over 5.7 million American men and women served in the Korean War.
  • 1950's–1960's The building of interstate highways made it easier for people to move long distances.
  • 1950–1970s: Tourism became a major industry as new highways were built. Coal mining and manufacturing continued to grow.
  • 1964–1972: Over 8.7 million American men and women served in the Vietnam War.

Historical Content

Histories are great sources of genealogical information. Many contain biographical information about individuals who lived in the area, including:

  • Parents' names
  • Maiden names of women
  • Place of birth, death, or marriage
  • Occupation
  • Migration
  • Military service
  • Descendants

Local Histories

Some of the most valuable sources for family history research are local histories. Published histories of towns, counties, and states usually contain accounts of families. They describe the settlement of the area and the founding of churches, schools, and businesses. You can also find lists of pioneers, soldiers, and civil officials. Even if your ancestor is not listed, information on other relatives may be included that will provide important clues for locating your ancestor. A local history may also suggest other records to search. Local histories are extensively collected by the Family History Library, public and university libraries, and state and local historical societies.

An index of the pioneer histories and genealogies of Kentucky is:

  • Calendar of The Kentucky Papers of the Draper Collection of Manuscripts. 1925 [1] This work list documents in date order, giving the author, an abstract of the document, and the reference to the series, with volume and page number. A name index gives the book page number where the document is abstracted. Series CC (the code used by the Draper Collection for the Kentucky Papers) begins on Family History Library microfilm 889112.
  • A Bibliography of American County Histories [2] [3]
  • United States Local Histories in the Library of Congress [4] [5]

State Histories Useful to Genealogists

Good genealogists strive to understand the life and times of their ancestors. In this sense, any history is useful. But certain kinds of state, county, and local histories, especially older histories published between 1845 and 1945, often include biographical sketches of prominent individuals. The sketches usually tend toward the laudatory, but may include some genealogical details. If these histories are indexed or alphabetical, check for an ancestor's name. Some examples for the State of Kentucky:

  • A Bibliography of Kentucky History [6] This bibliography lists sources of Kentucky history by subject and by the repositories that contain copies.
  • A History of Kentucky, Embracing Gleanings, Reminiscences, Antiquities, Natural Curiosities, Statistics, and Biographical Sketches. 1872 [7] This book includes some biographical sketches and is indexed.
  • A New History of Kentucky [8] This book contains chapters on the history of the economy, education, politics, slavery, and social changes in Kentucky. It is indexed.
  • History of Kentucky [9] Volumes 3 through 5 contain several hundred biographical sketches. An index is included with volume one of this record.

Additional Sources For Historical Information

Much historical information about early settlers in Indiana is found in the following collection:

The Draper Manuscript Collection

The Draper Manuscript Collection is a significant regional source that includes records of Kentucky.

  • Draper Manuscript Collection[10] The collection consists of nearly 500 volumes of manuscripts, papers, and books collected by Lyman Copeland Draper about the history of the trans-Allegheny West, a region including the western areas of the Carolinas and Virginia, all the Ohio River Valley, and part of the upper Mississippi Valley from the 1740s to 1830. The collection is divided into 50 series. Some series are titled by geographic area, some by the names of prominent frontier leaders, and some by topic. The bulk of the collection consists of notes from interviews, questionnaires, and letters gathered during Draper’s extensive travels and research to learn about frontier history. Personal papers are much more rare than government or military records.

The collection includes many items of a genealogical or biographical nature. For an inventory and partial indexes, see:

  • Guide to the Draper Manuscripts [11] This guide gives series and volume descriptions for some of the Draper manuscripts. There are several indexes at the end of the book, including a name and subject index, an additional personal data index, and a list of references to Illinois.
  • Index to Lyman C. Draper Manuscripts. [12] The name index gives the series and volume numbers, but is not complete.

United States History

The following are only a few of the many sources that are available:

  • The Almanac of American History, [13] [14] This provides brief historical essays and chronological descriptions of thousands of key events in United States history.
  • Dictionary of American History, Revised ed [15] [16] This includes historical sketches on various topics in U.S. history, such as wars, people, laws, and organizations. A snippet view is available at Google books.
  • Webster's Guide to American History: A Chronological, Geographical, and Biographical Survey and Compendium [17] [18] [19] This includes a history, some maps, tables, and other historical information.

To find more books and articles about Kentucky 's history use the Internet Google search for phases like "Kentucky history." Family History Library Catalog Surname Search lists many more histories under topics like:


Web Sites


  1. State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Library. Calendar of The Kentucky Papers of the Draper Collection of Manuscripts. 1925. Reprint, Utica, KY: McDowell Publications, 1983. (Family History Library book 977.5 A3ws vol.2 1983; film 823866 item 2)
  2. Filby, P. William. A Bibliography of American County Histories. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1985. (FHL book 973 H23bi)
  3. Worldcat
  4. Kaminkow, Marion J. United States Local Histories in the Library of Congress. 5 vols. Baltimore: Magna Charta Book, 1975-76. (FHL book 973 A3ka.)
  5. Worldcat
  6. John Winston Coleman. A Bibliography of Kentucky History. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1949. (Family History Library book 976.9 H2co; film 1425564 item 2)
  7. Allen, William B. A History of Kentucky, Embracing Gleanings, Reminiscences, Antiquities, Natural Curiosities, Statistics, and Biographical Sketches. 1872. Reprint, [N.p.]: Green County Historical Society, 1967. (Family History Library book 976.9 H2aw 1967; film 924939)
  8. Harrison, Lowell H. A New History of Kentucky. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1998. (Family History Library book 976.9 H2ha.)
  9. Kerr, Charles. History of Kentucky. 5 vols. Chicago, Illinois: American Historical Society, 1922. (Family History Library book 976.9 H2k; films 1000045–6)
  10. Draper, Lyman Copeland. Draper Manuscript Collection Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Library, 197–?. (On 147 Family History Library films beginning with 889098.)
  11. Harper, Josephine L. Guide to the Draper Manuscripts. Madison, Wisconsin: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1983. (Family History Library book 977.583/M1 A3h.)
  12. Wolfe, Barbara Schull. Index to Lyman C. Draper Manuscripts. Logansport, Indiana: B.S. Wolfe, 197–?. (Family History Library book 977.583/M1 A3w.)
  13. Schlesinger, Jr., Arthur M. The Almanac of American History. Greenwich, Conn.: Bison Books, 1983. (FHL book 973 H2alm)
  14. Worldcat
  15. Dictionary of American History, Revised ed., 8 vols. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976. (FHL book 973 H2ad.)
  16. Worldcat
  17. Webster's Guide to American History: A Chronological, Geographical, and Biographical Survey and Compendium. Springfield, Mass.: G&C Merriam, 1971. (FHL book 973 H2v)
  18. Limited view at Google Books
  19. Worldcat
  20. Writings on American History By American Historical Association, Library of Congress, United States National Historical Publications Commission, Published by KTO Press, 1921 FHL book 973 H23w
  21. Worldcat