Kentucky Land and Property

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Land Records continued
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The availability of land attracted many immigrants to America and encouraged westward expansion. Land ownership was generally recorded in an area as soon as settlers began to arrive. Land records are primarily used to learn where an individual lived and when he or she lived there. They often reveal other family information such as the name of a spouse, heirs, other relatives, and neighbors.

You may learn where a person lived previously, his or her occupation, if the ancestor served in the military, if he or she was a naturalized citizen, or other clues for further research.
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Sale of the land may show when the person left and  may mention where he or she was moving to. 

Kentucky was a "state-land" state, meaning the state government appropriated all land within its borders. Land was surveyed in odd-sized lots in much of the state, but west of the Tennessee River it was surveyed in townships. Several types of land grants were issued in Kentucky. Warrants authorizing surveys of the desired land were issued to persons qualified to receive grants for military service (military warrants) or cash payments (treasury warrants). The Land Grant Process consists of the following steps:

  1. A person selected a piece of vacant land. They applied for it by entering a claim that described its features to a government official or entry-taker who recorded it. Entries/applications list the name of the person seeking the land, a description of the land, the number of acres, the name of adjacent land owners, and the date the entry was made.
  2. A warrant was authorized after a three month period if no legal caveat, formal opposition, was filed. There was sometimes as many as 10 years between a claim or application and the warrant was authorized.
  3. Then a plat or survey was created from the land description given in the entry or warrant. The surveyor sent copies of the plat to the land office.
  4. Finally after officals received the necessary papers and fee a grant or patent was issued that entitled applicatant to the land.

Land grants, original warrants, surveys, patents, and Virginia land records are at the Kentucky Land Office, Capitol Building, Frankfort, KY 40602. The files and their indexes are open to the public. Additional land records are at the Kentucky Historical Society and the various county courthouses. The following collections are at the Kentucky Land Office and on microfilm at the Family History Library. Indexes are generally found at the beginning of each set.

Land Grants

Virginia Grants (1773–1792). These grants were issued to men who served in the French and Indian War and in the Revolutionary War or their heirs.

Old Kentucky Grants (1793–1856). These records include military, seminary, and academic records; treasury warrants; and preemption grants. Some of these were based on warrants and surveys issued by Virginia.

Kentucky Land Warrants (1816–1873). These were primarily warrants for lands east of the Tennessee River.

Grants South of Green River (1797–1866). These lands were reserved by Virginia for soldiers of the Revolutionary War and were also used as a relief for squatters. Kentucky. Governor.

Tellico Land Grants (1802–1853). These grants were for lands the Cherokee Indians ceded to the United States in 1805. They were obtained by Treasury warrants.

Grants West of the Tennessee River (1822–1900). These grants were based on Treasury warrants.

County Court Orders (1836–1955). In 1835 the counties began selling unowned lands within their boundaries.

Indexes to Land Grants and Surveys

Indexes to Land Grants and Surveys. Several important indexes are available for researching the land grants, military land warrants, state land office records, and court of appeals land records in Kentucky.

County Records

Once a parcel of land was transferred from the government to private ownership, it may have stayed in the family for generations or for only a few months. It may have been subdivided, sold, and resold, with each transaction creating new records. These person-to-person transactions are an important resource to the genealogist since the potential for an ancestor to be recorded is high. These records may offer genealogical clues such as the given name of the wife, a previous residence, names of children, or death information. Land records also offer clues to maiden names if a father deeded property to his daughter upon her marriage. Witnesses and neighbors may also be in-laws or relatives.

It is important to trace the purchase and sale (or the acquisition and disposition) of each parcel of land an ancestor owned. The original records are filed in the county clerk’s or recorder’s offices. Be aware that as new counties were formed and boundaries changed, transactions were then recorded in the new county, while the parent county retained the records previously created. Most of the county deeds, town lot certificates, and other important land records from many counties are on microfilm at the Family History Library. Contact the county clerk or recorder for records that have not been microfilmed.

Most films can now be ordered online. Some are digitized and can be viewed online.  If a film cannot be ordered online, it can probably be ordered through a family history center. Do the following steps in the FHL online catalog to locate film numbers:

  1. Go to FamilySearch catalog.(
  2. Click on “Place Search.”
  3. Enter the locality where your ancestor lived. Hint: Grants are cataloged under the state or federal government while deeds are cataloged under the county.
  4. Select Land and Property from the Topic List.
  5. Once you have the film number, you should be given the information to order the film online.  If a link does not appear, you can access online ordering at Films.

State Records

In the early days land disputes were common and so deeds ended up appealed to the STATE court level. These are abstracted in Michael L. and Bettie A. Cook's Kentucky Court of Appeals Deed Books Vol VI (Deed Books A-G, 1796-1803), Vol VII (Deed Books H-N, 1803-1811), Vol VIII (Deed Books O-U, 1811-1821) and Vol IV (Deed Books V-Z, 1821-1835) of the Kentucky Record Series. Vol IV includes the District of Kentucky (1783-1789) state supreme court records.

Internet Resources of Kentucky Land Records

The Kentucky Land Office website has the following collections online  at Kentucky Land.  (Click on link and then select Database Searches.)

Kentucky Land Records and Deeds Directory, by Online Searches, accessed 11/16/2010

"Kentucky Land Records" at My Kentucky, accessed 11/18/2010

Ancestry ($)(a subscription site) has the following database titles on Kentucky land records:

  • Kentucky Court and Other Records
  • Kentucky Land Grants

Use the following steps to find a specific title on Ancestry:

  1. Go to ancestry ($).
  2. Select “Card Catalog” from the “Search” drop down menu.
  3. Type the title of the database into the “Database Title” field.
  4. Click on the Search button.

Reference Tools.

The Internet site for the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives has an explanation of how land was distributed in the state. Another resource for understanding the land and property records in Kentucky is: 

Adkinson, Kandie. The Kentucky Land Grant System, Newsletter (Marshall County Genealogical Society: Kentucky) 13, no. 4 (October 1998): 25–28.

United States Land and Property describes government land grants, grants from states, and major resources, many of which include Kentucky.


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