Kentucky Emigration and Immigration

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Portal:United States Emigration and Immigration >Kentucky

The United States Research Outline "Emigration and Immigration" section lists several important sources for finding information about immigrants to the United States. These nationwide sources include many references to people who settled in Kentucky. Tracing Your Immigrant Ancestor introduces the principles, search strategies, and additional record types you can use to identify an immigrant ancestor’s original hometown.

Immigration and Migration

Pre-statehood settlers of Kentucky were mostly of English and Ulster Scots descent who migrated from the Atlantic seaboard states. Immigrants from North Carolina and southwestern Virginia came by way of the Cumberland Gap and over the Wilderness Road. Immigrants from Maryland and Pennsylvania came on flatboats and rafts down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh.

Other early immigrants included small groups of French, Swiss, and Welsh. During the mid-19th century the Ohio River brought many German immigrants and settlers from New England and the Middle Atlantic states. Many Irish settled in Louisville during this time.

There was a large African-American population in Kentucky prior to the Civil War. The coal boom of the early 1900s brought additional African Americans and new immigrants from Europe to work in the Cumberland Plateau area. Further information on specific settlement patterns can be found in county and local histories.

Many settlers moved from Kentucky to areas further west. In 1816 a small army of settlers began moving to Indiana, then on to Illinois. In the following years many more people migrated westward from the state, giving Kentucky claim to the title "Mother of Western States."


Most foreign-born immigrants who came to Kentucky arrived at the ports of New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, or other Atlantic and Gulf ports. Passenger lists for these ports are available at the Family History Library and the National Archives. The "Emigration and Immigration" section of the United States Research Outline gives details about those records.

Some published sources about migration to and from Kentucky include:

Bender, Lucy Rearden. Marriage, Birth and Death Records of Families with Proved Lineages of American Revolution Ancestors: Who Emigrated from Virginia to Kentucky and From There to Texas, 1850–1895. [Langley Field, Virginia.: n.p.], 1937. (Family History Library book 976.4 V2b; film 851114 item 2.) This indicates the name of the Revolutionary ancestor and his or her date of birth, marriage, or death.

Kincaid, Robert L. The Wilderness Road. Harrogate, Tennessee: Lincoln Memorial University Press, 1955. (Family History Library book 973 H2k.) This tells the history of the Wilderness Road, which extended from southwestern Virginia to central Kentucky through the Cumberland Gap. It was a major route for settlers heading west.

Peden, Henry C. Jr. Marylanders to Kentucky, 1775–1825. Westminster, Maryland.: Family Line, 1991. (Family History Library Book 976.9 W2p)

Peden, Henry C., Jr. More Marylanders to Kentucky, 1778–1828. Westminster, Maryland.: Family Line, 1997. (Family History Library Book 976.9 W2pe) These books contain biographies of Kentucky residents who migrated from Maryland.

See the "Minorities" section of this outline for sources on African American and German immigrants to Kentucky. Other sources on emigration and immigration can be found in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:



Migration Trails

For the history and location of some of the old roads in Kentucky used by immigrants, see:

Brown, Cecil. Old Roads in Kentucky: The Wilderness Road, Indian War Roads, Trails of the Buffalo, Early Road Customs. 1929. Reprint, Lexington, KY: Margaret I. King Library, University of Kentucky, 1953. (Family History Library film 156888 item 3.) This is a microfilm edition of a work originally published in 1929.

Dollarhide, William. Map Guide to American Migration Routes, 1735–1815. Bountiful, Utah: AGLL Genealogical Services, 1977. (Family History Library book 973 E3d) This includes a place-name index and shows migration trails through Kentucky.

There are maps of several migration trails into Kentucky and other states in The Handy Book for Genealogists, 8th ed. Revised. Logan, Utah: Everton Publishing, 1991. (Family History Library book 973 D27e 1991; 6th ed. on fiche 6010044-47.) This is a popular source for its capsule summaries of state and county histories and some of the records available in each county.


  • Kentucky Research Outline. Salt Lake City, Utah: Intellectual Reserve, Inc., Family History Department, 1998, 2000.
  • 1880 Cenus Index CD Manuel.