Kentucky Land Records
This entry was originally written by Wendy Bebout Elliott, Ph.D., FUGA, for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Kentucky is a State-Land State.
All early property in Kentucky was historically under Virginia’s jurisdiction. In May 1779, Virginia passed an act that divided its western lands, including Kentucky County, which consisted of all of the present-day state. Just eighteen months later, Kentucky County was discontinued, and Fayette, Lincoln, and Jefferson counties were organized from it. The only extant land entries for this time are those in Land Entry Books of Jefferson and Lincoln counties, but these include some Kentucky County records. Originals are kept by the county clerk of Jefferson County and are entitled “Land Entry Book No. A.” Lincoln County records are at the Kentucky Land Office in Frankfort.
Like many other colonies prior to the Revolutionary War, Virginia had plenty of land, but little money. After the French and Indian War ended in 1763, Virginia found it necessary to pay the troops in bounty-land warrants. Military warrants were issued for military service and treasury warrants could be purchased. Warrants were issued authorizing surveys of property. The procedure was ineffective, for it did not require a survey of the land prior to the issuance of the warrant. Instead, Virginia law required that the person locate his land wherever he chose and then survey the property at his own cost. Unfortunately, the surveys were not reliable as most were not adept at surveying, and their attempts to do so sometimes resulted in conflicts in title and loss of the land. Original surveys, patents, warrants, and grants as well as indexes are filed in the Secretary of State’s Land Office, Rm. 148, Capitol Bldg., Frankfort, KY 40601. It has the complete set of original documents for the Kentucky land grant records, including caveats and wills. The Kentucky Historical Society and Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives have microfilm and photo copies of these records. Some records may be recorded in adjacent Tennessee counties due to the resurvey of Walker’s Line in 1859.
Land and property records for Kentucky include deeds, entries, warrants, surveys, mortgages, and indexes to these documents. Under the Kentucky Court of Appeals, which served as a court of record, deed books were maintained beginning in 1796. The first twenty-six books are designated as books A through Z for the period 1796 to 1835, although earlier deeds and documents, some dated as early as 1775, are recorded therein.
Within these twenty-six volumes are documents for residents of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, and Louisiana, as well as some foreign countries. Books A through C comprise, for the most part, documents relating to the period 1775 through 1796, but other books also include early records.
When the Green River country opened, a law enacted in 1795 provided that each head of household would receive the maximum of 200 acres at the rate of $30 per hundred acres. The “In Fee Simple” title to the property was not to be given to the landholder until the price of the land was completely paid.
The following printed sources deal with Kentucky land records:
- Brookes-Smith, Joan E. Index for Old Kentucky Surveys and Grants. Frankfort, Ky.: Kentucky Historical Society, 1975. Alphabetically arranged from the microfilm collection at the Kentucky Historical Society, the book includes volume number, original survey number, name, acreage, county, watercourse, survey date, original book and page, grantee, grant, and original book and page.
- ——. Master Index: Grants Which Were in What Is Now Kentucky. Frankfort, Ky.: Kentucky Historical Society, 1975. Compiled from thousands of original documents, includes original survey number, individual’s name, acreage, county where filed, location on watercourse, survey, grantee to whom land was later transferred, date, book, and page.
- ——, comp. Master Index: Virginia Surveys and Grants, 1774–1791. Frankfort, Ky.: Kentucky Historical Society, 1976. Contains data pertaining to bounty-land grants for service against the French and Indians. Includes Acts of the General Assembly of Kentucky pertaining to original land titles. Alphabetically arranged, includes Kentucky Historical Society volume number, original survey number, name, acreage, county, watercourse, survey date, original book and page, grantee, grant date, and original book and page.
- Cook, Michael L., and Bettie A. Cook. Kentucky Court of Appeals Deed Books. 4 vols. Evansville, Ind.: Cook Publications, 1985. A series of nine volumes of Kentucky Records Series, the Deed Books cover a nearly forty-year span (from 1796–1803, 1803–11, 1811–21, and 1821–35). Volume 4 also includes state supreme court records for the district of Kentucky (1783–89).
- ——. Fincastle & Kentucky County Virginia-Kentucky Records & History. Vol. 1. Kentucky Records Series. Vol. 18. Evansville, Ind.: Cook Publications, 1987. Contains all known extant records for these counties, plus all acts of the Virginia legislature pertaining to Kentucky prior to 1792. Includes land entries for Lincoln and Jefferson counties pertaining to Kentucky County and Fincastle County land records.
- Jillson, Willard Rouse. The Kentucky Land Grants: A Systematic Index to All of the Land Grants Recorded in the State Land Office at Frankfort, Kentucky, 1782–1924. 2 vols. 1925. Reprint. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1971. Vol. 1 [Part 1] lists Kentucky land grants; Virginia grants (1782–92); Old Kentucky grants (1793–1856); Grants south of Green River (1797–1866); Tellico Grants (1803–53); Kentucky land warrants (1816–73); Grants West of Tennessee River (1822–58); and Grants south of Walker’s line (1825–1923). Vol. 2 (Part 2) contains warrants for headrights (1827–49; one page) and grants in county court records (1836–1924). Originally published as Filson Club Publication Number 33.
- ——. Old Kentucky Entries and Deeds: A Complete Index to All of the Earliest Land Entries, Military Warrants, Deeds and Wills of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. 1926. Reprint. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1987. This work is a companion volume to Kentucky Land Grants and indexes land records for the commonwealth of Kentucky. Records abstracted include manuscript documents of early civil land entries, military warrants, and state land office entries as well as first deeds, wills, and powers of attorney (relative to land) that were filed with the clerk of the court of appeals at Frankfort. Each section is arranged alphabetically and must be searched separately. Originally published as Filson Club Publication Number 34.
- Sutherland, James F., comp. Early Kentucky Landholders, 1787–1811. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1986. Reprinted in 2000. A valuable tool for tracking elusive Kentucky land records. Contains data on over 17,000 landholders, representing forty-six of the fifty-four Kentucky counties extant in 1811.
Once county jurisdiction was established, land was to be surveyed and recorded at the county clerk’s office. In most cases, original county land and property records are maintained by the respective county clerk’s office, but microfilm copies are available at the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, the University of Kentucky Library, Kentucky Historical Society, Filson Library, and the FHL. Some published land records are available in local, regional, historical, or genealogical society collections or libraries.