For many African Americans, it is extremely difficult to learn the identities of their enslaved ancestors. There are many reasons for this, but the main problem is that so many of the documents that could be helpful are hidden in various courthouses and archives. Some are available online but only behind a paywall, and many have never been digitized at all. We are pleased to share with you what we believe to be truly a game-changing resource for African Americans with Kentucky roots to find the identities of their ancestors, as well as the people who enslaved them.
For the past 12 years, an historian named Charles Lemons has worked diligently to assemble a collection of information about Black people who lived in Kentucky during the early 19th Century. The collection currently contains nearly 70,000 records about Black people, both enslaved and free, who lived in 108 of Kentucky’s counties. It includes data from censuses, wills and other legal documents, tax records, religious records, and military sources. We believe this work to be unprecedented in terms of both the number of people researched and the depth of details unearthed.
We have worked with Mr. Lemons to place all of these records online, at no cost, to help you in your search for ancestors. At this time, we offer three ways to use this research. You can search for an ancestor by name, either by first name and last name, just first name, or just last name. You can search for an enslaver by name, with the same options as above, or you can browse by county. The browse by county tool can be useful if you know in a general way, either from family oral history or previously found documents, where your ancestors may have been enslaved (perhaps because you found family members living there in the 1870 Census.) If you find no relevant records in the county where you think they may have been enslaved, be sure to check for other adjoining counties (this map of Kentucky’s counties can help).
You can select any of the Research Tools found in the left column to begin searching for your ancestors. Please note this is a continuing work in progress, with more records being added all the time, so please check back at a later date if you do not find what you are looking for at this time.
We thank the Kentucky African American Heritage Commission for generously supporting this project.