The State of Kentucky meaning is disputed, its from the Iroquois Indian word “Ken-tah-ten,” which means “land of tomorrow”, but some historians believe it means “meadowland. The State Nickname is “The Bluegrass State”, which is derived from the famed bluegrass grown in pastures in central Kentucky. The State Motto is “United we stand, divided we fall”.

Frankfort is the capital of Kentucky, which is located in the eastern central portion of the United States. The Ohio River runs along one of its borders. Four states in the country are actually formerly considered commonwealths, and Kentucky is one of them. Even though Frankfort is the capital of the state, Louisville marks its largest metropolitan area and Lexington-Fayette is the biggest city in the state.

Many famous pioneers spent time in Kentucky during the frontier era, including Daniel Boone. On June 1, 1792 Kentucky officially became a state. That was just before Vermont gained statehood, on February 18, 1792. Kentucky was right in the thick of things during the Civil War, since it was basically the dividing line between the north and the south. So, from 1861 until the war ended in 1865, there were many skirmishes and battles fought in Kentucky. The state itself stayed part of the Union during that time, but many of its people fought on the Confederate side of things. Both Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln, who were major figures during the Civil War, were born in the state of Kentucky. When the war ended, the state’s citizens began to recover, establishing manufacturing sectors at the end of the 1800s.

The Cherokee called the area south of the Ohio River by a name that sounded like Kentucky. It was spelled many ways, including “Cantuckey” and “Kaintuckee,” before the spelling that stands today was considered the official spelling. Some people believe that the original name meant “meadowland,” but not everyone agrees. Kentucky is known as the Bluegrass State because the central Kentucky pastures are full of bluegrass, which is actually green, but has bluish-purple buds. Therefore, the pastures look blue when they are seen from a great height or distance. The bluegrass region has played a major role in the economic success of the state, as well as the state’s general history.

In 1748 the North Carolina and Virginia border survey was completed. Prior to that time, there were not many settlers in the area that is now known as Kentucky. After the Seven Years War (French and Indian War) the boundary between the Native Americans and the white settlers was designated along the Ohio River. Augusta County, Virginia then gained jurisdiction over Kentucky. In 1772 the county of Fincastle in Virginia was formed. It included all of what is now the state of Kentucky. Then, in 1773, the Salt River was surveyed by several groups, including the McAfee brothers. The next year a group of people came to Kentucky via the Ohio River. That group included James Harrod. He founded Harrodsburg, which later became the county seat of Fincastle County.

In 1774 all of the land between the Cumberland, Ohio, and Kentucky rivers was bought by Richard Henderson for his Transylvania Company. It was the stories from John Finley that led to Daniel Boone exploring Kentucky. The Wilderness Road, which was first blazed by Daniel Boone, began at Cumberland Gap (the junction of Tennessee, Virginia, and Kentucky) and ran all the way to the middle of Kentucky. It was widely publicized by Richard Henderson’s Transylvania Company. In 1775 Boonesborough became the headquarters of that company.

When the Revolutionary War was taking place, Kentucky settlements were mainly ignored by the government of Virginia. They didn’t offer military assistance to Kentucky residents. Since residents felt isolated and on their own, they tried to push for statehood, especially because of the multiple conflicts they had with Native Americans at that time. In fact, there were 9 attempts to gather at Danville and demand independence from Virginia from 1784 to 1790, but none of them were successful.

On June 1, 1792, Kentucky became the 15th U.S. state. The first constitution had been drafter a couple months earlier, on April 3, 1792. It was a commonwealth state and, in the beginning, its capital was Danville. Several early Kentucky settlers came to the area to claim bounty-land grants as veterans from the Revolutionary War. Soon, families from other areas, including Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland came to settle in Kentucky.

The southern boundary of Kentucky, between it and Tennessee, was not first agreed upon until the Walker Line was accepted in 1820, but that line was drawn too far to the north. It was between the western Tennessee River and the Cumberland Gap. Surveyors eventually rectified that problem in 1859. However, several families lived in the questionable region during those years. Records for those families around that time may be located in Tennessee or in Kentucky. Several Kentucky counties were influenced by changing boundaries at various points. Those counties included: Trigg, Christian, Todd, Logan, Simpson, Allen, Monroe, Cumberland, Clinton, Wayne, McCreary, Whitley, Knox, Bell.

Kentucky residents were quite divided over the issue of slavery, both while the Civil War was taking place and in the years leading up to it. Most of the mountain families and farmers who owned small farms were against it, but farmers who owned large farms were for it, in general. Kentucky was considered a neutral state during the Civil War for a while. However, in September of 1861 it began supporting the Union side. Although, the Confederacy still thought of it as a supporter of their side. Interestingly, Kentucky was also the birthplace of the President who brought an end to slavery, Abraham Lincoln.

When the Civil War ended, Kentucky soon became known for both tobacco and coal mining. However, the bluegrass of Kentucky was also well-known for being excellent for raising horses. Several thoroughbreds have come out of the state over the years and it has become a horse racing leader. Kentucky is also home to Fort Knox, a gold depository, which was originally a permanent military post, Camp Knox. Fort Campbell, another military post in the state, was a major training area for recruits in the 1900s.

There are many printed resources about Kentucky’s early history. There are also several research facilities in the state, which can help genealogical researchers.

Kentucky Ethnic Group Research

African American
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Many records of African American slaves and family migration records from the time of reconstruction can be found at the Kentucky Historical Society and the Filson Library. During slavery, many slaves were sold and purchased in Kentucky, but it was also a major hub for the Underground Railroad. In fact, slaves, former slaves, and free African Americans were so prevalent in the area that almost 20% of the residents of the state had some African American ancestry, as of 1860. Researchers should note, however, that all African Americans freed after the new constitution was passed in 1850 were required to leave the state 30 days or less after gaining their freedom.

Local courts generally have records on file for court cases involving African Americans who were accused of petty crimes and misdemeanors.

County clerks maintained marriage records for African Americans after the Civil War ended. After 1865 “Declarations” (late marriage records) were allowed to be recorded after the fact.

Veteran’s assistance, poor assistance, schools, and hospitals were all established by the Freedman’s Bureau. Those records can be found on both a national and a state level. The federal records include information about freedmen, marriage records, abandoned land records, refugee records, and other information. The state records do not contain much helpful genealogical information. Some separate tax lists, vital records, marriage records and school records were kept for Kentucky African Americans as well.

While county and city estate and property records remain the best sources for identifying slaves and their families, other records, such as lists of free persons of color, marriages, slave lists, apprenticeship bonds, trial dockets, lists of slave owners, church records, family and plantation records, account books, bills of sale, and other miscellaneous records should be used.

Kentucky History Databases and other Helpful Links

State Genealogy Guides

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