African Americans of Kentucky
This entry was originally written by Wendy Bebout Elliott, Ph.D., FUGA, for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Both the Filson Library and the Kentucky Historical Society have extensive manuscripts and indexes of their collections, many of which include African-American families who migrated both as slaves and during Reconstruction. Kentucky served a dual role during slavery: stations of the Underground Railroad were established within the state, but at the same time, slaves were bought and sold. By 1860 nearly twenty percent of the state’s population had African-American ancestry, which included slaves, free African Americans, and former slaves. However, the 1850 state constitution required that African Americans who were freed after passage of the new constitution leave the state within thirty days.
Judicial records for African Americans in Kentucky, for misdemeanors and petty crimes, can usually be found at the local level. Circuit courts heard cases for felonious crimes.
Beginning with the end of the Civil War, registrations of African-American marriages were maintained by county clerks. Marriages performed earlier but not recorded by civil authority were allowed to be post-recorded and filed under “Declarations” after 1865.
The Freedman’s Bureau established schools, hospitals, and assistance for the poor and veterans. Freedman’s Bureau records are both state and national. Federal Freedman’s Bureau records include some genealogical information in the lists of refugees, freedmen, and abandoned lands as well as some marriage records. Little of genealogical value is recorded in the state level records.
In Kentucky some records for African Americans are maintained separately; these include marriage, vital records, school records, and tax lists. (See also African Americans of Virginia).