Kentucky Vital Records
This entry was originally written by Wendy Bebout Elliott, Ph.D., FUGA, for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Although compliance was never complete, birth and death records for Kentucky begin as early as 1852 when statewide registration was first enacted. The requirement continued for only ten years. Some births and deaths were recorded (1874–79, 1892–1910), but observance remained sporadic.
A few larger cities maintained separate birth and death records prior to 1911, but these too are incomplete. Louisville (1898–1911), Covington (1890–1911), Newport (1890–1911), and Lexington (1906–11) are four cities with registered births in their respective city health departments.
The Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives and the Kentucky Historical Society (see Kentucky Archives, Libraries, and Societies) have early records for 1852 to 1910, arranged by counties. Jeffery M. Duff’s Inventory of Kentucky Birth, Marriage and Death Records, 1852–1910, rev. ed. (Frankfort, Ky.: Department for Libraries and Archives, 1988), lists what is available by year and county at both of the repositories. Other repositories, including the Filson Library (see Kentucky Archives, Libraries, and Societies) and the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City, have some copies. No statewide index has been compiled for these early records, although the Kentucky Historical Society has a card index of both births and deaths for 1852 to 1862. Some early records, which have been indexed by county, appear in various issues of the Kentucky Historical Society’s Register.
Birth and death registration was enacted statewide on 1 January 1911 and generally adhered to by 1920. Indexes to births and deaths after 1911 are microfilmed; however, the actual records are not. Certificates of births and deaths after 1911 are only available at the Office of Vital Statistics, Department of Health Services, 275 E. Main St., Frankfort, KY 40601. The microfilmed index can be used at the Kentucky Historical Society, the University of Kentucky Library, the Filson Library, and the FHL. Delayed registrations of birth are maintained by the Office of Vital Statistics.
Kentucky marriage records usually begin about the time of the respective county’s establishment or within a few years of that date. Some counties have marriage records for dates prior to organization. Fayette, Jefferson, and Lincoln counties have marriage records as early as 1785. The respective county clerk has jurisdiction over marriage records. Beginning in 1958 statewide registration was required. Originals are filed in the counties and duplicates are available at the Office of Vital Statistics. The Office of Vital Statistics maintains an index to marriage records from 1958. Licenses and bonds may be filed separately from certificates. An index to Kentucky marriage, divorce, and death records is online at http://ukcc.uky.edu/vitalrec/.
Published marriage records for Kentucky include the following:
- Antoniak, Eleanor, indexer. Kentucky Marriage Records. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1983. Lists all marriages published in the Register of Kentucky but does not include records for all counties. It includes marriages from the following counties: Barren 1799-1817, Bourbon 1786-1800, Christian 1797-1825, Floyd 1803-1860, Franklin 1795-1810, Grant 1820-1854, Greenup 1804-1820, Hardin 1792-1825, Lawrence 1822-1859, Lincoln 1781-1792, Madison, Mercer 1786-1800, Montgomery 1852-1859, Muhlenburg 1799-1836, Nelson 1785-1815, Pike 1822-1865, Shelby 1792-1830, Union, and Woodford 1789-1799, with the addition of some Culpeper County, Virginia marriages.
- Clift, G. Glenn, comp. Kentucky Marriages, 1797–1865. 1974. Reprint. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1987. Newspaper marriage notices previously published in The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society. Alphabetical by county and alphabetical within each county by groom’s surname.
Kentucky’s state legislature granted divorces from 1792 through 1849. Between 1849 and 1958, divorces were usually recorded by the circuit courts in the respective counties. Some early original circuit court records are available at the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives. The records of early divorces are included in the Acts of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. These volumes, and a few microfilm copies of circuit court records, are available at the Kentucky Historical Society and Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives. Statewide registration commenced in 1958. Divorces granted after statewide registration are available through the Office of Vital Statistics at the above address.
Ancestry.com has a number of vital record collections for Kentucky including:
- Kentucky Birth Records, 1852-1910
- Kentucky Birth Index, 1911-1999
- Kentucky Marriages, 1797-1865
- Kentucky Marriages, 1802-1850
- Kentucky Marriages, 1851-1900
- Kentucky Marriage Records, 1852-1914
- Kentucky Marriage Index, 1973-1999
- Kentucky Marriage Records
- Kentucky Death Records, 1852-1953
- Kentucky Death Index, 1911-2000
FamilySearch.org has a variety of collections available for free online:
- Kentucky, Births and Christenings, 1839-1960
- Kentucky, Marriages, 1785-1979
- Kentucky, County Marriages, 1797-1954
- Kentucky, Deaths and Burials, 1843-1970
- Kentucky, Death Records, 1911-1955
- Kentucky Birth, Marriage, and Death Records - free up-to-date guide to accessing Kentucky birth, marriage, and death records (FamilySearch Research Wiki). Includes links to FamilySearch vital record databases.
- Kentucky Obituary and Death Notice Archive - free Kentucky obituary archive that has transcribed obits from across the state.
- Kentucky Library of Files - free Kentucky obituary and data files archive from across the state.
- Kentucky Vital Records - links to Kentucky vital record sources organized by county