Kentucky History

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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1862: The Kentucky law requiring counties to record births, marriages, and deaths was repealed.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.

1911: Kentucky again required the registration of births and deaths.

1917: Over 75,000 Kentuckians served in World War I.

1920s: The coal mining industry boomed.

1930s: 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.

1939–1945: Over 300,000 Kentuckians served in World War II. Coal mines and farms became productive again.

1950–1970s: Tourism became a major industry as new highways were built. Coal mining and manufacturing continued to grow.

Draper Manuscript Collection

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

Draper, Lyman Copeland. Draper Manuscript Collection. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Library, 197–?. (On 147 Family History Library films, beginning with 889098.) The Draper Manuscript 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:

Harper, Josephine L. Guide to the Draper Manuscripts. Madison, Wisconsin: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1983. (Family History Library fiche 6050187.) 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 Kentucky.

Wolfe, Barbara Schull. Index to Lyman C. Draper Manuscripts. Logansport, Indiana: B.S. Wolfe, 197–?. The name index gives the series and volume numbers but is not complete.

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

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 film 823866 item 2.)

State Histories

Sources for studying the history of Kentucky are:

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 film 924939.) This book includes some biographical sketches and is indexed.

Harrison, Lowell H. A New History of Kentucky. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1998. This book contains chapters on the history of the economy, education, politics, slavery, and social changes in Kentucky. It is indexed.

Kerr, Charles. History of Kentucky. 5 vols. Chicago, Illinois: American Historical Society, 1922. (Family History Library films 1000045–6.) Volumes 3 through 5 contain several hundred biographical sketches. An index is included with volume one of this record.

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 area families. The "History" section of the United States Research Outline (30972) cites nationwide bibliographies of local histories that includes local histories of Kentucky. For a statewide bibliography of local histories, see:

John Winston Coleman. A Bibliography of Kentucky History. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1949. (Family History Library  film 1425564 item 2.) This bibliography lists sources of Kentucky history by subject and by the repositories that contain copies.

The Family History Library has a sizable history collection for Kentucky consisting of two main types of records. First there are published histories of the state, its counties, and towns. They often contain maps, information on religious and civic organizations, and biographies of individuals and families who have lived in the area. Second, there are copies of documents on microfilm and in published form that broaden a genealogist’s understanding of the times and places their ancestors lived. Many of the documents include names of individuals involved in the event being documented.

The printed histories and microfilmed copies of the original documents used to write such histories are found in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under: