Learn How To Research Your Genealogy
Sandra K. Gorin firstname.lastname@example.org via rootsweb.com (posted with permission)
© Copyright 27 July 2012.
LESSON 1 – THE INTRODUCTION
Doing genealogical research today has grown by
leaps and bounds. For many of us coming from the
“olden” days, we have a tendency to envy how much
easier it is today for the newer researchers and
concern about how easy it does appear!
With the internet allowing availability to
research records from thousands of miles away
comes a problem too. Oh, I love seeing source
records on line! In the past we spent hours in a
dark room, scrunched over a microfilm reader
which had seen it’s better days (with stiff necks
and bleary eyes), or trying to talk our spouse or
family into driving hundreds of miles to visit a
library and walking through tick infested
cemeteries trying to locate a stone for our
ancestor. But, with the internet comes problems
which we will discuss later on in the series.
I want to take you step by step through available
records, what we can find from them, and why they are important.
I won’t give you a pep talk about how important
it is to preserve our family’s history, or,
contrary to public opinion, tell you that
everything will fall in your lap in one fell
swoop! I enjoy watching “Who Do You Think You
Are?” presented by ancestry.com just like the
rest of you. I fear the only problem with the
series (for which I commend them) is that in a
one-hour program, the celebrity has been able to
trace their family tree back to the 1500’s, meet
their relatives, jet all over the world and the
researchers helping them just happen to spin the
microfilm to the right page or the old faded book
to the exact name. I wish there would be a series
where the average Joe or Jane is shown digging
through records and not finding them or following
a false lead and having to start over. But, it is
encouraging people to start researching.
We are going to do it the old fashioned way here
until the final lessons when I hope to touch on internet research.
Let’s start on some basic supplies you need to
have on hand. Yes, back to elementary school
here. But, as I’ve learned over the years, I
didn’t follow these rules always and cost myself
sometimes years of information. I don’t mind if
you use the internet if these records are on
line, but we’re dealing with source data, not
someone’s family tree you found on line.
1 – Pedigree charts. There are sites on the
internet where you can print off blank forms.
Even though these forms might be considered old
fashioned, they will save you time. You can fill
in as you find information, re-do if you’ve
tracked the wrong family. See the end of this topic for the link to forms.
2 – Family charts. If one is researching on-line
or in a library, this is an easy way to sort out
the family. It is another work sheet for you to
add to, delete. You will likely find conflicting
data during your searches and to keep your John
Smiths and Ann Jones sorted out, this is a great place.
3 – A software genealogy program. If you haven’t
invested in a software genealogy program, you’re
making yourself a lot of extra work and the
papers will stack up. There are many excellent
programs on the market, most very reasonably
priced now. I still fill out information first on
paper where I can make a lot of primary changes
and then when I think (remember the word think!)
I have a family pegged, I’ll enter it on my
genealogy program. Most software programs
accomplish the same thing and allow a large
number of reports to be printed, a book to be
printed and indexed from your entries,
relationship charts, additions, deletions of
family member and notes. You just want one that
is user friendly! If it’s so complicated that it
is taking all your time trying to figure it out,
try a different program. I won’t recommend a
program here, but ask your researching friends,
check it out on-line to see what it can and can’t
do and it’s price and do some comparative shopping.
4 – a way of tracking where you’ve been, what you
found and the source of every record you copied!
This was my downfall. When I visited a library
and made photocopies, I knew that I’d remember
where I’d found it. Oh no. I’ve lived in 5 states
and many towns over the years. I’d pull out a
piece of paper that I hadn’t had time to enter on
my records at the time and went totally blank on
where I had obtained it. I forgot to note down
the names of books, page numbers, author and
where I’d found it. I several times had to re-do
the work again wasting valuable time. Was it at
the St. Louis Public Library, The Dallas Public
Library, a Family History Library, did someone
mail it to me? So start out prepared. A little
notebook to stick in your purse or briefcase, by the computer.
Now that we’ve covered the introduction, next
week we’ll look at various sources. We’ll be
covering the census records, birth and death
records, obituaries, cemetery records, funeral
home records, wills, tax records, marriage
records, deed and land record books, County order
books, church minute books, biographical
accounts, Circuit Court records, Bible records
and miscellaneous other records, interviewing family members and more.
As a family researcher you will soon find that
you become a detective, a time traveler, and
likely will “go where no man has gone before”!
Lesson #2 – The
Census – Part 1
One of the first places researchers look is at
the census records. Taken every ten years, these
give us a snapshot of the family unit during that
year. But, as we quickly find out, prior to 1850
the only name appearing on the census, is the
head of house-hold with a lot of "tick" marks
representing various age brackets of the other
members of the family. Don't give up on them -
they are hard to figure out sometimes, and
sometimes a tick mark is a scratch on the film
that can really throw us off, but they are priceless anyway!
First of all - we need to look at the census
years that are available, what information they
contain - and then we will work our way down to the practical goodies.
1790: This census is really unavailable for
Kentucky although some have been reconstructed
based on the tax lists for that county. It
contained the following information: Township or
Local Community, County, State, name of the
enumerator, the date the census was taken, the
Enumerator District #. Then the following
breakdowns: Name of the head of the family, free
white males 16 years & upwards including heads of
families, free white males under 16, free white
females including head of families, all other
free persons, slaves, dwellings and other information.
1800 and 1810: Again, the 1800 census is
generally a reconstructed list. This and the 1810
contained the same headings at above with the
following breakdowns: Name of head of family,
free white males: under 10, of 10 and under 16,
of 16 and under 26, of 26 & under 45, of 45 and
up (all including heads of families), same
categories for free white females, all other free
persons except Indians not taxed and slaves.
1820: A top heading was added called Supervisor
District #. Then: name of the head of the family,
free white males: to 10, 10 to 16, 16 to 18, 16
to 26, 26 to 45, 45 and up; same for free white
females, foreigners not naturalized, persons
engaged in Agriculture, Persons engaged in
Commerce, Persons engaged in Manufacture, free
colored persons: males 50 14, 14 to 26, 26 to 45,
45 and up; same free colored females, all other
persons, slaves. This extra male category of
males 16-18 vs 16-26 was used to determine the
total manpower that could be called up in time of
war. Sometimes this can get very confusing
because the census taker would sometimes check
both boxes, sometimes check only one and you
don't know how many males there really were!
1830 and 1840: Name of head of family, males (and
same categories for females), under 5, 5-10,
10-15, 15-20, 20-30, 30-40, 40-50, 50-60, 60-70,
70-80, 80-90, 90-100, 100 & over. There was a
part 2 which showed: Head of family from Part 1,
males (and females) slaves under 10, 10-24,
24-36, 36-55, 55-100, 100 & up; free colored
persons (males and females columns) under 10,
10-24, 24-36, 36-55, 55-100, 100 & up, total,
white persons included in the foregoing who are:
deaf & dumb under 14, deaf & dumb 14-25, deaf &
dumb 25 & up, blind, foreigners not naturalized;
then slaves and colored persons included in the
foregoing who are deaf and dumb under 14, 14-25, 25 & up, blind.
1850-1860: THE census! Dwelling in order of
visitation, family number in order of visitation,
name of every person whose usual place of abode
on 1 June 1850 was with this family, age, sex,
color, profession/Occupation/trade of each male
over 15, value of real estate owned, place of
birth: state/territory or country; married within
the year, in school within the year, persons over
20 unable to read and write, if deaf & dumb,
blind, insane, idiot, pauper or convict. There
was a separate slave schedule, Part 2, with
included the name of the slave owner, number of
slaves owned, age, sex, color, fugitives from the
State, Number Manumitted, deaf & dumb, blind,
insane or idiotic, total number of slave houses.
1870: Dwelling number, family number, name of
every person, etc, age, sex, color,
profession/occupation/trade, value of real estate
owned, value of personal estate owned, place of
birth, parents with a place to check if father or
mother were foreign born, month born during the
year, month married within the year, in school
within the year, cannot read, canot write,
deaf/dumb/blind/insane/idiotic, males eligible to
vote, males not eligible to vote.
1880: Street name, house number, dwelling number,
family number, name of every person, etc, color,
sex, age, month born in during census year,
relationship to head of this household, single,
married, widowed/divorced, married during year,
profession/occupation/trade, months unemployed
this year, currently ill - if so specify, blind,
deaf & dumb, Idiotic, Insane, Disabled, school
this year, cannot read, cannot write, birthplace,
birthplace of father, birthplace of mother.
1890: None exist but a few fragments, none for Kentucky
1900: Street, house number, dwelling number,
family number, name of every person, etc,
relationship to head of family, color, sex, birth
month, birth year, age, marital status, # of
years married, mother of how many children,
number of these children living, birthplace of
this person, this person's father, this person's
mother, year of immigration, number of years in
the US, naturalized citizen?, occupation of every
person 10 and older, # months employed, # of
months in school, can read, can write, speaks
English, Owned or rented house, owned free of
mortgage, farm or house, No. of farm schedule.
1910: same thru naturalized or alien, then Speaks
English - if not, give name of language, employee
of wage earner working on own account, out of
work 15 Apr 1910, # weeks out of work in 1909,
can read.... same thru farm schedule, then Civil
War veteran, blind, deaf & dumb.
1920-1930. Many additional columns added.
1940: This has been released but only a few
states have been indexed to date. Volunteers are
indexing the remaining states and in looking at
some of the transcriptions, normally by people
who do not live in that area, I have found a LOT
of errors. It is understandable and not
intentional but you need to really check variant
spellings at times. I have yet to find my family
and I know the house number and street where I lived!
Each census had two dates - a census date and a
date the census was taken. The census date is
the one established by the government and is as follows:
1790, 1800, 1810, 1820 First Monday in August
1830, 1840, 1850, 1860, 1870, l880, 1890, 1900 June 1st
1880 Indian Schedule October 1
1910 April 15
You may check the remaining censuses 1920-1940;
these dates can be very important!
Rules and Regulations:
All ages reported on a census were to be recorded
as the age of the individual on the census date.
So, if a person's birthday fell after the census
date, yet before the date the census was taken, a
person would appear a year younger. Births were
recorded only up until the census date. If a
child was born after the census date, it would
not be reported on this census. So if a census
was taken September 1850, a child born in July
would not be shown on this census because it was
born after the census date of June 1, 1850.
Missing a child who you know was there???
You will note also that when you read a printed
census that someone has copied, most of this
information does not appear. We all assume that
the basic information such as house number, name
of the head of household, ages, places of birth
and occupation are the most critical to the
researcher. But, if you get a chance to read the
actual film, you will find MUCH more information.
In closing for this session, something to
remember. When we read through the census prior
to 1850, we count all the “tick” marks shown in
the various age categories and mark them as
husband, wife and children. But did you stop to
think that some of those children might be
grandchildren raised in the home? A hired hand? A
younger brother or sister? An elderly parent with
the head of household being young enough to fall
into the lower aged categories?
Next week, we’ll do a little more “tweaking” of
those census records and some things to look for.
I gave you a site last week where blank forms can
be printed off. I would suggest you go back there
and print off a blank census form for each of the census years.
Lesson #3 – A
closer look at the census
Before moving on to another research tool, I want
to run through just a few things on the census
forms that can be clues – or problem areas.
1) Notice the date taken for the family
you’re researching. Remember the tip last week
reference the cut-off date for being included.
You might find an individual that is deceased
because he was living at the time of the census.
You might find a child not listed because he/she
was born before or after the date.
2) Note relationships. On the 1850 census
there is no relationships really shown. The
census taker was supposed to list the head of
household first, wife and then each child in the
order of their ages, then other residents. They
could be mistaken based on one of the below
reasons. We easily assume that the children are
listed next – but, could one be a married son
with his wife listed below and still fall in the
right age group? Could younger children possibly
be grandchildren? Or, a visitor or household/farm
help and have the same surname? IF the census
taker got the ages correct and there is a jump
back to an older individual with the same
surname, could that be a sister or brother of the head of household?
3) Be careful of ages. The census taker was
supposed to inquire of someone of legal age who
had the information. But … being paid a pittance
and not wishing to ride on horseback out to this
farm again, he sometimes just asked anyone that
lived there. Did Grandma Jones know exactly the
ages of all the people in the household? Birth
records weren’t kept like they are today – some
people actually didn’t know their age! Or, did he
ask a child who thought everyone was old? Or did
the people fudge on their ages? You will often
find ladies who age only 5-8 years between census
reports while their husband ages gracefully a
full 10 years! Was it a guess, or was it on purpose?
4) Be care of places of birth. This can
really be confusing. You will likely note that on
one census Papa Jones says he was born in NC; on
an ensuing one he states he was born in KY.
People forget! Sometimes it is because boundaries
changed, states were formed from other states for
the oldest in the household. One will find many
times in other records where an individual said
they were born in Monroe Co KY as an example in
1805 – but there was no Monroe Co in 1805. They
would have been born in Barren Co or possibly
Cumberland County. They were just giving the
requester the place that it’s known by now.
5) Check the ages of the children for
another fact. Do you have a husband who has
children in the teens or older and then children
that are much younger? If you’re sure they are
children and not grandchildren, etc. why the age
gap? Have you considered that he had been married
before and the older children were his by his
first wife? Time to check the marriage records.
Men who lost their wives often re-married almost
immediately when they had a household full of
children running around! And often, the second
wife was much younger than her husband; he wanted
to be sure she was strong, able to have children
– or keep up with his older children!
6) Check the neighbors! How often do we do
handstands when we find our family on a census,
copy it and go on our happy way? It is critically
important to check those who lived in close
proximity to the family in question. Why? They
could easily be kin folk. It was a custom to
divide up one’s land when a child married, giving
them the “back 40” or a portion of the homestead.
If Papa Jones had a daughter Susan who married
William Smith and there is a William and Susan
Smith living nearby … hmm, wonder if that could be one of his daughters?
Also, if this is the first year that Papa Jones
shows up on the census, check those neighbors
too. If he was born in some other state and one
or more of his neighbors was born in the same
state; could they possibly have moved their
families together? I know it’s hard when so many
came from Virginia, but if you know what county
Papa lived in before appearing on this census;
you might check, if possible, to see if any of
those neighbors lived in that same county.
Families traveled together many time. One family
wanted to “go west” or seek out new lands; they
told the neighbors, John Adams thought it was a
mighty good idea and they traveled together. This
was done not only for friendship, but for safety
in the earlier days, and church members also
moved together en masse to establish a church in a new area.
7) Check for big age gaps of the children –
we seem to keep coming back to them don’t we?
Poor mothers usually gave birth every 9-12 months
as regular as clock work! If there is a 15 year
old, a 14 year old and a 10 year old – unless
Papa Jones was away from home mining gold
someplace, there is a good chance that they had a
child or more that died between the census records.
8) Watch the spelling of the surnames but
don’t panic! Remember these poor weary census
takers didn’t know everyone on their list. The
route covered many miles and new people were
moving in all the time. If you find your surname
spelled different way, but you know it’s the same
family, chalk it up to a census taker that
“spelled it as he heard it”, or could barely
spell himself. We had one clerk in Barren Co who
was of strong English roots and when reading his
records, many of the first or last names took on
an English flair – James was Jeames, etc. Even as
a transplanted Kentuckian, I still don’t “hear”
names always the way they are spelled.
In closing, the census taker was to go on a
specific route, especially in the town areas. He
started at a specific house on a specific street
and progressed in a pre-ordained direction. He
was to number each house and if no one was there,
come back to it. But, what if he was tired,
hungry, saddle sore and never made it back to
that house? Or he got lost in the “hills and
hollers” and didn’t follow the exact route
prescribed. I think they were pretty good at
that, but maybe your family was really here after
all and the census taker forgot to go back????
LESSON 4 – A
LOOK AT THE “I DO’S” – THE PERMISSION SLIP
There are up to four documents that can be
involved with the Kentucky marriages of the past.
Most of you will already know this, but let’s do
a quick review, starting with the permission slip.
John and Elizabeth want to tie the knot in the
1800’s in some Kentucky county. A lot depended on
age, consent and money! If they were not of legal
age there were two avenues. The age of consent then was 21.
If the parents objected, about the only thing the
couple could do was elope. Of course, some
couples did this just for the adventure and
excitement of it; they could have been married
right back where they lived. But, many times, an
elopement meant that they were under age and the
parents just thought them too young! If you have
looked and looked for a marriage license and
can’t find a document in their home county –
consider that they might have dashed off to an
adjoining county – or state. I found, a few years
back, a marriage license and certificate in Green
Co KY for a couple who lived in Hart County.
Well, it wasn’t all that far away and all and I
thought it was perhaps a matter of convenience.
But, written across the documents were the words
“DO NOT PUBLISH!” And, it wasn’t; it was just in
the files safely resting some 100 plus years later.
If the couple were under age and had parental
permission, a parent, usually the father, had to
write a note to the County Clerk granting
permission for John and Elizabeth to be wed.
These little notes when found are just precious.
Scribbled on whatever paper they happened to
have, and written by someone who oft times could
barely write himself, John or Elizabeth’s parent
gave his consent for them to be married. This
little paper many times gives the son or
daughter’s full name and their date of birth –
and sometimes – the place of birth
If the permission slips are still to be found,
they were to be filed with the other marriage
documents. If a mother signed or another
relative, one can surmise that possibly the
father was deceased or gone from the family home,
and possibly the mother to if someone else
signed. Sometimes an older brother of legal age
signed and sometimes the father of the bride
signed. Why? This is found when the girl is
orphaned and living with another family and just
happens to fall in love with a son of her
guardian. I have found this in more than one instance.
And, once in a rare while, you will find a
permission slip signed by the groom-to-be about
his bride-to-be. If she had no one to vouch for
her age; had no living parents or relatives who
could attest to her age, sometimes the County
Clerk allowed the groom to write a note
explaining this in which the young man stated
that he knew the young woman to be of legal age
but having no kin, he was the only one who could
attest to the fact. He could list her date of
birth, perhaps her parents’ names or other
details that the Clerk would believe. I think
that in this instance, it is possible that the Clerk already knew the couple.
Sometimes the girl wrote her own permission slip.
Like the occasion above, she likely had no one
who could vouch for her and stated that she was a
poor orphan girl, that she had been on her own
for so many years and begged the County Clerk to
have mercy and allow her to marry.
I have found also that there was a permission
slip when one was not necessary. People just knew
that you had to have a permission slip to marry
if under age, and some did not know their actual
age. Some of these permissions will state that
they were about so many years old, the son or
daughter of their parents and “I give permission
for me to marry”. You will find this more on the
girl’s side than the young man’s.
Thus, when you start searching for, or having a
researcher search for, documents, be sure to have
them see if there was a permission slip.
LESSON 5 – THE
MARRIAGE BOND - 2nd document necessary to wed.
A bond was required for all potential marriages.
The groom-to-be and his bondsman had to come to
the County Clerk’s office and apply for a
marriage bond. There was a form used by the
Clerk, most of which have been preserved in the
Clerk’s office and kept in one of two places – to be noted in a few.
Why a bond? This was considered a protection for
the girl/woman. The bond cost varied over the
years. Sometimes the young man didn’t have the
money to post bond by himself (though some did)
and their bondsman came in with him. Together
they filled out and signed the marriage bond
which guaranteed that the man was legally able to
be married. Some poor young men had to bring in more than one bondsman.
This bondsman was most often the father of the
young man, or a male relative such as a brother.
There were many times that the mother signed the
bond which indicates, like the permission slip,
that possibly the father was deceased or out of
the home. Again, like the permission slip, in
some rare instances, the bride would act as
bondsman for the groom-to-be. Now, what happened to the money?
If the marriage went through without a hitch – no
money changed hands. The Clerk was not paid the
amount of the bond. But if the marriage didn’t
occur, it did. What could cause the marriage to not be performed?
The man was found to be already married.
The man left her standing at the altar.
The man had a criminal record – a felon.
The man was insane.
If any of those circumstances occurred, the full
amount of the bond was due and the bondsman(men)
started hunting up enough money to pay it.
When the couple was ready to be married, they had
to show the minister or justice of the peace a
copy of the bond to prove they could be married.
Now, where are these bonds? Were they saved? In
most counties, yes. They would be filed in one or two places –
With the other marriage documents or later,
In a bonds book kept by the County Clerk’s office.
In 1848, assumedly in all Kentucky counties, the
bond book was used. These books should be found
still in the County Clerk’s office in many
counties. It is the original copy and was
supposed to show a lot more information! But, I
think the Clerks were a little lazy! On the left
hand page was a form that was supposed to be
filled out, and sometimes was, which shows the
names of both parties, their residence, their
ages or date of birth, their place of birth, the
parents’ names and place of birth, occupation of
the man, how many times both had been married.
But few of these are totally completed which is
heart-breaking. Perhaps in other Kentucky
counties, the Clerks were a little more dedicated
to completing the form! On the right hand page
was the bond which showed the date, names of the
parties, the names of the bondsman/bondsmen, the
amount of bond. The groom and his bondsman had to
sign the bond (their original signatures), the
signature of the clerk, the date and sometimes
one will find a stamp which was affixed.
In the marriage bond book, one can also sometimes
find the permission slip or other correspondence
glued in. The little messages can often give the
researcher additional information. Two of my
favorites here in Barren County were very
interesting. The first was from the father of the
groom who was going to act at his son’s bondsman.
He wrote in scrawling handwriting that he was
quite ill, “near unto death” and couldn't come
into town to the Clerk’s office. He gave his
permission to add his name as bondsman and gave
extra information on his son. The second that
kept me laughing for a long time was from the
prospective groom himself. He said that he was
terribly ill and was sending this note to the
Clerk’s office to state that he was willing to
have his name signed as groom and that he needed
the woman to marry him and take care of him!
Well, the marriage went through and I assume she
immediately started attending to the needs of her new husband!
In later years, the bond was discontinued.
LESSON 6 – THE
MARRIAGE LICENSE AND THE MINISTER’S RETURN
The last marriage documents we will look at are
the marriage license and the minister’s return.
The former is not a complex form and quite
self-explanatory. Remember, we are speaking of
the 1800’s and into the early 1900’s, not the current document.
Marriage licenses of the past could be in two
different formats – either a separate document or
found at the bottom of the bond. It is most
interesting to work with the older ones; paper
was at a premium for many years and the quality
of the paper used and the color varied from year
to year. In many counties, the document was on a
beige or cream colored and inferior paper. Then
many counties went to a blue paper which is a
nightmare for the researcher to copy.
The ink used also created problems. On many of
these old documents either the writing is faded
out or actually flakes off the paper if touched.
One has to be very careful handling these
documents and one should really wear white gloves when handling them.
Don’t be tricked into thinking that your
ancestors married when you find a marriage bond
that we discussed last week! Maybe they did,
maybe they didn’t! Now, it’s possible that that
the official County Clerk’s copy of the license
has been lost. But – it’s also possible that the
marriage didn’t go through! Did the groom meet
someone new that stole his heart? Did the girl
get cold feet? Was there a reason they legally
couldn’t marry? There is no record kept in most
County Clerk’s offices where it is indicated that
the groom and his bondsman(men) had to pay the bond.
In transcribed records of marriages prepared by
many hardworking transcriptionists, it is
normally shown: name of the groom, name of the
bride, date bond taken, permission by an
individual if needed, marriage date, minister’s
name, witnesses. If the date of marriage and
minister’s name (or justice of the peace) is not
shown, put a ? until you do more research.
Looking back at the form; the normal information
included the name of the bride and groom, the
date of marriage, the location of the ceremony
and the original signature of the minister. Then
the witnesses signed. The marriage was legal!
Many ministers included a lot more information
which is a bonanza to the researcher. Many times
this additional information is not shown on
transcribed copies, which is a shame. The
minister could note the birth dates of the
parties, place of birth, parent’s names and then
… the interesting little tidbits which I love.
Some of the ministers added their own little
notes, never thinking that it would be seen 100’s
of years later! A few comments I’ve run across
includes: (after the main witnesses names) “and
all the boys in town!” “Married in the middle of
the street.” “I hope this one works,” and “as if
anyone will care later on.” Who said ministers didn’t have a sense of humor?
Note here! Many ministers, witnesses or bondsmen
could not write – or write well. One can find
various spellings of the bride and groom’s names
on all the documents! Many times the minister
didn’t even know the parties. Witness signatures
are a blast – if one wasn’t familiar with their
names, one could make up many versions of who it was!
Lastly, in the marriage department is the
minister’s return. Ministers and justices of the
peace were required annually to forward to the
County Clerk a list of all the marriages they had
performed during the past year. It appears most
ministers were provided by a pre-printed form –
or the County Clerk prepared it. I believe it to
be the former in most instances as the
handwriting rather matches known signatures of
the ministers. These forms were kept by the
County Clerk’s office and if found, could be
filed with the other marriage documents, or stuck
in a file with all the marriages for the year. In
this county, I have found many ministers’
returns; on some years there are none as they have been lost over the years.
Well – what’s the problem there? The minister’s
return shows the minister’s name, a list of the
brides and grooms he married during the year and
the date of marriage. Sounds wonderful. BUT. Many
of the ministers just kept notes on little scraps
of paper after they did a marriage. Those little
papers got lost, either by the minister or by the
Clerk’s office if presented in the format. These
ministers were busy – they were normally serving
4 churches a month, marrying people, burying
people … and they didn’t have file cabinets! What
if Parson Jones forgot to fill out a form or
piece of paper when he got busy? What if he stuck
it in someplace to record later and lost it? So,
one can find missing marriages listed on the marriage returns.
LESSON 7 –
BIRTH AND DEATH RECORDS IN KENTUCKY
One of the most frequent questions I'm asked as a
researcher is from someone hunting for birth or
death record in Kentucky prior to 1911. It was in
1911 that the current system of recording births
and deaths began in Kentucky; before then there
are no certificates issued by the State.
Birth and death records were recorded prior to
that time as early as 1852. The law required
registration though no certificates were issued.
This law covered only 10 years but was again
taken 1874-79, 1892-1910. The latter years shown
are incomplete and “hit and miss.” It is said
that the County Clerks hated keeping these
records. Others thought it an invasion of
privacy. Doctors thought it yet another thing
they had to do. So, it was unpopular to say the least.
Doctors and midwives were supposed to write down
every birth and death they attended during the
year and then annually turn these records into
the County Clerk. The Clerk then recorded them in
one of those huge volumes we hate to lug around
as well as forward the information to the State.
These reports from the doctors were most often on
tiny scraps of paper; many of which I’ve seen.
What if the doctor forgot to write down a birth
or death? What if he didn’t know the party and
got the name wrong? What if he lost that little
piece of paper? Few if any of the ledger book
entries exist in the counties. But, they have
been microfilmed and the films are available for
sale by the Kentucky Department of Library and
Archives, and I believe can be rented through the
Church of Latter Day Saints at their Family History Centers.
The microfilm is difficult to read, not of the
highest quality. One or more counties can be on
each reel and organized generally by year. Thus
for, as an example, for Barren County, the reel
might contain Adair, Allen and Barren. Starting
at 1852 the births would be shown for the county
you are researching. Then 1853, etc. They are
alphabetized only by the first letter of the last
name. Then the deaths following the same format.
The writing is difficult to read many times;
Clerks sometimes got the wrong information on the
wrong line and sometimes alphabetized them in the
wrong place. One must usually go through every
entry to hopefully find the individual for which
he is looking. Since names were spelled various
ways, one might find John Farris under John
Pharris. And sometimes, the Clerk alphabetized by
the first name accidently and Robert Williams
might have been entered under William Robert. All
in all they did a decent job and the wealth of
information is worth the searching.
Some of these microfilmed reels have been
transcribed and are available in printed format.
I know that this is when I started wearing
bifocals! After transcribing Barren, Metcalfe and
other counties, the eyes got bleary! And each
transcription comes with a disclaimer that they
may have errors because of the writing or quality of the image.
The information included on birth records would
include: Name of child, Gender, Color or race,
Birth date, Birthplace (county and/or town),
Parents’ names, Parents’ birthplaces, Parents’
ages. For slaves, the name of the slave owner
would be shown in the place of the father’s name
and sometimes the mother’s name is shown. Now
don't be surprised if all the “blanks” are not
filled in. Sometimes the parents didn’t know, the
dates might be off slightly (some just show the year).
The information on death records were supposed to
include: Name of deceased, Gender, Color or race,
Birth date (or age), Birth place, Parents’ Names
and place, Marital Status, Date of Death, Place
of Death, Cause of Death and in some years, Occupation and How Long Ill.
In some instances, the doctor or Clerk added
additional information along the edge of the
entry; some of these are “worth the price of
admission”! Some comments I could not even share
here but one doctor or Clerk wrote after the
birth of the 10th child “she should have known
better.” Some death records of this time frame
can also be found on Ancestry.com.
To assist not only the Barren County researcher
but researchers in the counties in South Central
KY (and close by) here is a list of the records
available. (Remember that they may be indexed
incorrectly because indexing is done most often
by people not living in that particular area.).
•Adair: 1852-1859, 1861, 1874-1876, 1878,
1893-1894, 1903-1904, 1906-1907, 1909-1910
•Allen: 1852-1859, 1861, 1874-1875, 1878-1879,
1899-1901, 1903-1904, 1908-1910
•Barren: 1852-1859, 1861, 1878-1879
•Christian: 1852-1859, 1861, 1874-1876, 1878, 1902-1904
•Cumberland: 1852-1861, 1874-1876, 1878,
1893-1894, 1903-1904, 1906-1907, 1909-1910
•Edmonson: 1852-1859, 1874-1879, 1893
•Green: 1852-1853, 1855-1859, 1861-1862, 1874-1876, 1878-1879, 1904, 1906
•Hardin: 1852-1859, 1874-1875
•Hart: 1852-1859, 1861, 1872-1876, 1892-1893, 1903-1904, 1907
•Logan: 1852-1853, 1855-1859, 1861, 1874-1876, 1878
•Metcalfe: 1861, 1874-1876, 1878, 1906-1907, 1909-1910
•Monroe: 1852-1859, 1874-1876, 1878, 1893-1894, 1906-1910
•Warren: 1852-1859, 1861, 1874-1876, 1878, 1902-1904, 1906-1910
LESSON 8 – BIRTH
AND DEATH RECORDS STARTING IN 1911.
Thankfully in Kentucky, in 1911, the State began
not only registering birth and death records, but
issuing certificates. Forms were provided for
both which are not kept in the county normally.
They are sent to Frankfort and are housed at the
Kentucky Department of Vital Statistics. There
are also “Delayed Certificates” when the forms
were not issued until a later date.
Birth certificates are not on-line, as far as the
actual document. Transcriptions of the
information have been made by ancestry.com and
others. Warning! They are full of transcription
errors!!! I am in the process of transcribing the
1911 Barren Co birth certificates and I am
overwhelmed with the transcription of the names.
It is of no wonder that we cannot find many
records. The dear people who transcribed these
certificates in most cases were not from the area
of which they were transcribing. How they
interpreted the handwriting leaves us hunting all
over – “why can’t I find the record?” I’m sure
it’s there, hidden among names that are so far
from being accurate that we could literally scream!
The birth records that are shown on-line give
only the minimal information – the name of the
child, the name of the mother, the date of birth
and the county. To see the entire document, one
must be ordered from the Kentucky Office of Vital
Statistics, 275 East Main Street, 1E-A, Frankfort, KY 400621.
Information needed to obtain a certificate:
Full name at birth of the person for whom the certificate is requested
The month, day and year of birth
The county of birth
The mother's maiden name
The father's name
Additional information needed:
Name and address where the certificate is to be mailed.
Phone number where you can be reached during the
day from 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Eastern time.
The number of copies being ordered.
The office does NOT do genealogical
research! The cost is $10.00 for a certified
copy or $6.00 for a certified copy of a
stillbirth. They can be ordered on line. The
Death certificates can be found on-line through
ancestry.com (a paid site) and others. These are
photo images of the actual document. Most are
readable, some are faded but if readable contain
a wealth of information. When an individual dies
in KY, the funeral home sends the information to
the State who issues the certificate with one or
more copies sent to the surviving spouse or heir.
To obtain a copy, one must apply to the same
office as above. The website for this can be
The charge for certified copies is $6.00. Again,
this department does not, by law, do any
genealogical searches. You must provide the following:
Full name of the deceased
The month, day and year of death
The county of death
Additional information needed:
Name and address where the certificate is to be mailed.
Phone number where you can be reached during the
day from 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Eastern time.
The number of copies being ordered.
If the researcher does not have the above
information, the office will not do searches. A
downloadable form is linked to the site just shown.
As with any document – there will be errors
found! I think the greatest number of errors can
be found on the death certificates. There can be
errors in the spelling of the name which was
usually filled out by the attending physician.
Dates of birth can be off, parents’ names – you
name it. It is easy in a moment of grief to
provide the wrong information. I remember when my
Mother died last year, I had everything prepared.
Her obituary was written as I knew her death was
imminent, and I gave a copy to the funeral home.
Oops – I named her father – and it was really her
grandfather! Thus the newspaper account was
wrong, the death certificate was wrong. When my
father died 16 years previously, my mind went
blank and I couldn’t remember his year of birth!
Shock and sorrow can muddle our minds.
Thus, as with every event a human can experience,
errors creep in. If something is in black and
white it doesn’t mean that it’s correct!
It can be noted that some counties do have some
records; the Filson Club and others such as the
Louisville Free Library and Kentucky Historical Society.