Kentucky Land and Property
The availability of land attracted many immigrants to America and encouraged westward expansion. Land ownership was generally recorded in an area as soon as settlers began to arrive. Land records are primarily used to learn where an individual lived and when he or she lived there. They often reveal other family information such as the name of a spouse, heirs, other relatives, and neighbors.
You may learn where a person lived previously, his or her occupation, if the ancestor served in the military, if he or she was a naturalized citizen, or other clues for further research. Sale of the land may show when the person left and may mention where he or she was moving to.
Kentucky was a "state-land" state, meaning the state government appropriated all land within its borders.
Land was surveyed in odd-sized lots in much of the state, but west of the Tennessee River it was surveyed in townships. Several types of land grants were issued in Kentucky. Warrants authorizing surveys of the desired land were issued to persons qualified to receive grants for military service (military warrants) or cash payments (treasury warrants). Land grants, original warrants, surveys, patents, and Virginia land records are at the Kentucky Land Office, Capitol Building, Frankfort, KY 40602. The files and their indexes are open to the public. Additional land records are at the Kentucky Historical Society and the various county courthouses. The following collections are at the Kentucky Land Office and on microfilm at the Family History Library. Indexes are generally found at the beginning of each set.
Virginia Grants (1773–1792). These grants were issued to men who served in the French and Indian War and in the Revolutionary War or their heirs. Hammon, Neal O. Early Kentucky Land Records, 1773–1780. Louisville, KY: Filson Club, 1992. This book indexes early Kentucky land records, beginning with the Fincastle County entries in 1774 to 1776 and continuing to the military surveys. The original Fincastle records are at the Montgomery County, Virginia, Courthouse. Military lands do not include grants for Revolutionary War service. Virginia. Governor. Virginia Grants, 1782–1792. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1962. (Family History Library films 272809–17.) Family History Library film 272809 is an index to this record.
Old Kentucky Grants (1793–1856). These records include military, seminary, and academic records; treasury warrants; and preemption grants. Some of these were based on warrants and surveys issued by Virginia. Kentucky. Governor. Old Kentucky Grants, 1793–1856. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1962. (Family History Library films 272818–26.) Film 272818 is an index for these records.
Kentucky Land Warrants (1816–1873). These were primarily warrants for lands east of the Tennessee River. Kentucky. Governor. Kentucky Land Warrants, 1816–1873; Index, 1812–1836. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1962. (Family History Library films 272843–64.) Film 272843 is an index for these records.
Grants South of Green River (1797–1866). These lands were reserved by Virginia for soldiers of the Revolutionary War and were also used as a relief for squatters. Kentucky. Governor. Grants South of Green River, 1797–1866. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1962. (Family History Library films 272827–41.) Film 272827 is an index for these records.
Tellico Land Grants (1802–1853). These grants were for lands the Cherokee Indians ceded to the United States in 1805. They were obtained by Treasury warrants. Kentucky. State Land Office. Tellico Land Grant Surveys, v.1–2, 1802–1817. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1962. (Family History Library film 272961.) These volumes show the survey number and indicate the grant and survey volume and page number, the name of the person receiving the survey, and the number of acres. Kentucky. State Land Office. Tellico Land Grants, 1803–1853, v.# 1–2. Salt Lake City Genealogical Society of Utah 1962. (Family History Library film 272842.) These grants include the name of the person the grant was given to the number of acres the land certificate or warrant number and the grant volume and page number.
Grants West of the Tennessee River (1822–1900). These grants were based on Treasury warrants. Kentucky. Governor. Grants West of Tennessee River, 1820–1900. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1962. (Family History Library films 272865–8.) Film 272865 is an index to this record.
County Court Orders (1836–1955). In 1835 the counties began selling unowned lands within their boundaries. Kentucky. Governor. County Court Orders, 1836–1955. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1962. (Family History Library films 272875–938.) Films 272875–6 are indexes to this record. Due to the numerous disputes and litigations concerning Kentucky lands, consult the Court of Appeal deed books: Kentucky, Court of Appeals. Deed Books, 1780–1909. Frankfort, KY: Kentucky Historical Society, 1966. (Family History Library films 551280–92.) Film 551280 is an index to these records. An abstract of some of these deeds is: Cook, Michael L. Kentucky Court of Appeals Deed Books. 4 vols. Evansville, Indiana: Cook Publications, 1985. The abstracts are arranged alphabetically.
Indexes to Land Grants and Surveys. Several important indexes are available for researching the land grants, military land warrants, state land office records, and court of appeals land records in Kentucky.
Brookes-Smith, Joan E. Master Index: Virginia Surveys and Grants 1774–1791. Frankfort, KY: Kentucky Historical Society, 1976. (Family Hisotry Library film 1320833 item 6.) This index is alphabetical by name and shows the county, number of acres, dates of the survey and grant, volume and page number of the original documents, and Kentucky Historical Society volume number.
Jillson, Willard Rouse. Old Kentucky Entries and Deeds: A Complete Index to All of the Earliest Land Entries, Military Warrants, Deeds and Wills of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. 1926. Reprint, Baltimore, Maryland.: Genealogical Publishing, 1978. (Family History Library film 1035625 item3; fiche 6051260.) This is a name index that is alphabetical within the name of the county, military warrant, deed, or will.
Jillson, Willard Rouse. The Kentucky Land Grants: A Systematic Index to All of the Land Grants Recorded in the State Land Office at Frankfort, Kentucky, 1782–1924. Louisville, KY: Standard Printing, 1925. (Family History Library film 272808.) This index is alphabetical by the location of the grant. An electronic version of this book is available online at Ancestry.com under the database title of Kentucky Land Grants.
Index for Old Kentucky Survey’s and Grants; Index for Tellico Surveys and Grants. Frankfort, KY: Kentucky Historical Society, 1975. (Family History Library film 1402856.) This index shows the name of the person receiving the land, survey number, county, acreage, survey and grant dates, volume and page numbers of original documents, and Kentucky Historical Society volume number.
Taylor, Philip Fall. A Calendar of the Warrants for Land in Kentucky, Granted for Service in the French and Indian War. Baltimore, Maryland.: Genealogical Publishing, 1967. (Family History Library fiche 6019959.) These warrants are indexed and include the warrant date and number, name and rank of the veteran, acreage, and description of the property.
County Records. Once a parcel of land was transferred from the government to private ownership, it may have stayed in the family for generations or for only a few months. It may have been subdivided, sold, and resold, with each transaction creating new records. These person-to-person transactions are an important resource to the genealogist since the potential for an ancestor to be recorded is high. These records may offer genealogical clues such as the given name of the wife, a previous residence, names of children, or death information. Land records also offer clues to maiden names if a father deeded property to his daughter upon her marriage. Witnesses and neighbors may also be in-laws or relatives.
It is important to trace the purchase and sale (or the acquisition and disposition) of each parcel of land an ancestor owned. The original records are filed in the county clerk’s or recorder’s offices. Be aware that as new counties were formed and boundaries changed, transactions were then recorded in the new county, while the parent county retained the records previously created. Most of the county deeds, town lot certificates, and other important land records from many counties are on microfilm at the Family History Library. Contact the county clerk or recorder for records that have not been microfilmed.
Most microfilms in the Family History Library's (FHL) collection can be sent to a family history center near you. Do the following steps in the FHL online card catalog to locate film numbers:
- Go to Http://www.familysearch.org.
- Select “Library Catalog” from either the “Search” or the “Library” drop down menu.
- From the “Search the Family History Library Catalog” screen click on “Place Search.”
- Enter the locality where your ancestor lived. Hint: Grants are cataloged under the state or federal government while deeds are cataloged under the county.
- Select Land and Property from the Topic List.
Internet Resources of Kentucky Land Records.
The Kentucky Land Office website has the following collections online at http://sos.ky.gov/land/. (Click on link and then select Database Searches.)
- Virginia Patent Series & Old Kentucky Patent Series.
- Revolutionary War Warrants database.
- West of Tennessee River Military Patents database.
- Certificates of Settlement and Preemption Warrants database.
- Virginia Treasury Warrants Register,
- Lincoln Entries database.
- County Court Order Patents database.
- Jackson Purchase database.
- West of Tennessee River Non-Military Patents Database.
Ancestry.com (a subscription site) has the following database titles on Kentucky land records:
- Kentucky Court and Other Records
- Kentucky Land Grants
Use the following steps to find a specific title on Ancestry:
- Go to Http://www.ancestry.com
- Select “Card Catalog” from the “Search” drop down menu.
- Type the title of the database into the “Database Title” field.
- Click on the Search button.
Reference Tools. The Internet site for the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives has an explanation of how land was distributed in the state. Another resource for understanding the land and property records in Kentucky is:
Adkinson, Kandie. The Kentucky Land Grant System, Newsletter (Marshall County Genealogical Society: Kentucky) 13, no. 4 (October 1998): 25–28.
The "Land and Property" section of the United States Research Wiki describes government land grants, grants from states, and major resources, many of which include Kentucky.
Kentucky Research Outline. Salt Lake City, Utah: Intellectual Reserve, Inc., Family History Department, 1998, 2000.
"The Kentucky Secretary of State's Land Office County Court Orders Database," Kentucky Ancestors. [Frankfort, KY: Kentucky Historical Society] 44:1 Autumn 2008.