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Researching African American Slavery in Kentucky: Public Documents

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

Pubic Documents are at the County Clerks' Offices in Kentucky.

  • There are 120 counties in Kentucky.
  • There is a county clerk's office in each county.
  • Visit the online webpage for a specific clerk's office or contact the clerk's office to ask about hours, costs, accommodations, and onsite and remote assistance.

List of Kentucky County Clerks' Offices

Gather Your Research

Gather your research before visiting the County Clerk's Office. Have some idea of the who, what, where, and when of your research.

  • Enslaved persons' names (if available)
  • Slaver owners' names
  • The years of the data you want to search
  • The Kentucky county (or counties) that are relevant to your search

EXAMPLE:

  • NAMES: Sophia Bates Work / Abraham Work / Emily Reid Bates / Pomp(?) Bates / William Reid(e) / Beverly Work / George Work / Sainte Work / Edward Work 
  • LOCATION: Manchester, Clay County, Kentucky
  • TIME PERIOD: 1830-1940
  • OTHER: Potter Cemetery location and records

Documents at County Clerks' Offices

Public documents at the county clerks' offices are primary documents that will contain additional information about the slave owners and those enslaved. The documents will include the sale and purchase price of those enslaved. Search using the slave owners' names, the enslaved persons' names (if available), and the names of African Americans (post -slavery).

TYPES OF DOCUMENTS FOUND AT THE COUNTY CLERKS' OFFICES IN KENTUCKY

  • Tax records
  • Property deeds
  • Wills and Probate records
  • Estate and inventory records
  • Emancipation and Manumission records
  • Slave registries
  • Slave record books (slave sales)
  • Slave Certificates [KY Certification of slaves sold in other states by slave dealers and brokers]
  • Court records

NOTE: Older public documents will be handwritten and they will be written in cursive English. [Cursive writing is a penmanship with the letters joined together in a flowing manner.] The documents may also have been written using older English. See example below.

George Boon Slave Deed

Date: 1839    Creator: unknown

Watts Family Papers

University of Kentucky Special Collections Research Center

City and County Locations

DOUBLE CHECK COUNTY AND CITY LOCATIONS

There are many similar names of counties and cities in Kentucky. Make sure you have the correct location.

EXAMPLES:

The city of Manchester is located in Clay County.

The city of Clay is located in Webster County.

The city of Frankfort is located in Franklin County.

The city of Franklin is located in Simpson County.

The city of Nicholasville is located in Jessamine County.

The city of Carlisle is located in Nicholas County.