Kentucky Court Records

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This entry was originally written by Wendy Bebout Elliott, Ph.D., FUGA, for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

This article is part of
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the Kentucky Family History Research series.
History of Kentucky
Kentucky Vital Records
Census Records for Kentucky
Background Sources for Kentucky
Kentucky Maps
Kentucky Land Records
Kentucky Probate Records
Kentucky Court Records
Kentucky Tax Records
Kentucky Cemetery Records
Kentucky Church Records
Kentucky Military Records
Kentucky Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections
Kentucky Archives, Libraries, and Societies
African Americans of Kentucky
Kentucky County Resources
Map of Kentucky

The first constitution gave judicial powers to the Kentucky Court of Appeals. Other courts of record in Kentucky included superior, county, chancery, quarterly, circuit, justice of peace, police, district, quarter sessions, oyer and terminer, and general. Court records include dockets, minutes, case files, and orders. Land, tax, and probate matters may be included in Kentucky court records. Most court records are maintained at the respective county courthouse. Some original records are maintained in books, while other court-related documents are filed in folders in boxes or cabinets. Many of the books containing court records have been microfilmed and some have been abstracted and published. The great majority of data, however, is filed in boxes, cabinets, and folders and has not been copied in any form.

Courts and their jurisdiction have altered over time in Kentucky. Some early courts are no longer extant. Some have undergone name or jurisdictional changes. Early records may be filed in volumes or containers that may be mistitled, making it necessary to examine all court records for a county. County courts maintained jurisdiction over most matters, both civil and criminal, until 1852 when quarterly or circuit courts began handling criminal cases. Some circuit courts handled major civil and criminal matters as well as divorces. The circuit courts also served as appellate courts. Matters involving large sums of money were usually heard by the courts of quarter sessions from before statehood through the state's first ten years.

Microfilmed copies of most county court records are at the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives. Many transcribed records are available at the University of Kentucky Library, the Kentucky Historical Society, Filson Library, and the FHL. Some published or transcribed records are at local and regional libraries.

  • Ireland, Robert M. The County Courts in Antebellum Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1972. Includes data concerning court procedures and types of records created.
  • Richardson, William C. An Administrative History of Kentucky Courts to 1850. Frankfort, Ky.: Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, 1983.

Harry Kennett McAdams' book Kentucky pioneer and court records is available as a database at