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Researching African American Slavery in Kentucky: Census and Death Records

Using primary sources and documents to discovery more on the history of those enslaved in Kentucky


In the early census records, after 1870, there are geographic locations where African Americans were undercounted or completely left out of the census.

African Americans were individually named and enumerated as a population starting with the 1870 U.S. Census.

Prior to 1870, a few names will be found, but for the most part, enslaved Africans were not named in the U.S. Census records.

In the 1850 and 1860 Slave Schedules [U.S. Census], enslaved Africans were enumerated by gender, with an approximate age, all under the name of the slave owner. 

Prior to 1850, enslaved Africans were enumerated by gender, within age groups, all under the name of the head of household/slave owner.

Read more about Black names and naming (link) in Kentucky at the Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (NKAA).

Starting From Now - whatever names you have, work with them. Use the U.S. Census records to track the names as far as you can go.


  • NAME: Sophia Bates Word (1837-1937), enslaved for the first 20 years of her life.
  • ANCESTRY: Sophia Bates Word's grandmother was brought from Africa to the United States. She was purchased by William Reide's father.
  • SLAVE OWNER: William Reide in Clay County, KY.
  • SOURCE: Slave Narratives, Kentucky v.VII, pp.66-68. The Federal Writer's Project of the WPA. [Online at the Library of Congress]


  • SOURCE: William Reid in Clay County, Kentucky enumerated with 5 slaves in the 1840 U.S. Census [Ancestry Summary]


  • SOURCE: William Reid in Clay County, Kentucky enumerated with 6 slaves in the 1850 Slave Schedule


  • SOURCE: Sophia Word, spouse, and children in Clay County, Kentucky, enumerated in the 1880 U.S. Census

Find U.S. Census Records & Slave Schedules

Find Kentucky Death Records and Indexes

Kentucky Death Records and Indexes - use death records, and birth and death indexes to gain additional information about formerly enslaved Africans and their family members.


  • NAME: Sophia Bates Word (1837-1937)
  • FATHER: Pomp(?) Bates
  • MOTHER: Emily Reid (maiden name)
  • HUSBAND: Abe Word (enumerated in the 1880 U.S. Census as Abraham Word)
  • HOME: Manchester, Kentucky (Clay County)
  • INFORMANT: Sainte Word (son enumerated in the 1880 U.S. Census)


  • SOURCE: Sophia Bates Word, Kentucky Death Certificate in Ancestry.