A 'new' stash of old records being readied for viewing

jkegley@herald-leader.comDecember 26, 2009 

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    Call the Fayette County clerk's office at (859) 253-3344. For more information on early Kentucky land patents, visit www.sos.ky.gov/land.

Land, census and marriage records from the late 1700s to the early 1900s have recently resurfaced that could provide a treasure trove of information for genealogists and others.

The books, which are being indexed to make the information easier to pinpoint, were found in several places. The land and census records were at government archives in Frankfort, and several years' worth of marriage licenses were in the Fayette County clerk's storage area.

The documents are being scanned and eventually will be made available for public viewing on microfilm or a computer. But the original record books won't be available to the public in most cases.

"The documents are so old and the pages are so fragile that I really would not be willing to put them out there for the public to peruse through," Deputy Fayette County Clerk Linda Potter said.

Potter found out about a large volume of applications for land patents from an article in the October issue of The Kentucky Explorer magazine. The article said the Fayette County clerk's office had a "Doomsday Book" containing names of the commonwealth's earliest settlers. According to Potter, this was news to her.

"We got a call from a customer saying they wanted to come down and look at it, but no one here knew anything about it," Potter said.

After researching the book, she and deputy clerks Emily Gentry and Jennifer Tapia discovered that the Doomsday Book had been moved to the Kentucky Land Office in Frankfort in the early 1970s.

There is some debate whether the land office or Fayette County clerk's office is the book's rightful owner. Scans of and microfilmed images from the book eventually will be available for viewing at the clerk's office and the State Department of Libraries and Archives in Frankfort.

Microfilming at the Department of Libraries and Archives should be complete within two weeks, said Barbara Teague, state archivist and records administrator.

The Fayette County clerk's office has a DVD copy of many records in the Doomsday Book. Potter said people interested in those records may view the DVD on one of the office's computers.

But the information has not been indexed yet, meaning someone looking for a specific settler or family name would have to read hundreds of pages of handwritten script.

The Doomsday Book contains the names of settlers who applied for land patents — property titles, essentially — from 1779 through 1780, when Kentucky was still part of Virginia.

Another record book recovered by Fayette County clerks, the "Land Entry Book," contains similar information from 1783 to 1784. Kentucky became a state in 1792.

Kandie Adkinson, an administrative supervisor in the Kentucky Land Office, said she thinks the books are important for genealogists who want to document history and traditions of family members or others.

"Additionally, by determining if an ancestor received a commissioners' certificate for settlement prior to 1792, individuals may qualify for membership in First Families of Kentucky," a hereditary society established in 2005, Adkinson said.

The clerk's office also recovered several books containing Fayette County school census records from 1896 to 1909. There are separate books for black and white students.

Potter calls the census records a "significant discovery" for black genealogists.

"Unfortunately, the Fayette County clerk's office doesn't have a lot of records for black people to go on," she said.

The census books contain students' names, addresses, names of parents and siblings, and dates of birth.

"All of a sudden, one record has potentially opened up a world of finding one's family," Potter said.

Fifty years of unindexed marriage licenses from just after Kentucky was granted statehood also were found recently in the county clerk's vault.

"The first entry is from 1795 up to 1846. Some of these have been (microfilmed) before, but they weren't in order, and there's not an index to them," said Gentry, a deputy clerk.

There is no timetable for when the records will be indexed and available for the public to see at the Fayette County clerk's office. But clerks will do what they can to accommodate people with an urgent need to look at them, Potter said.

Reach Josh Kegley at (859) 231-3500 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3500.

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