From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Locating the Names of Slaves and Slave Owners in Kentucky

African slaves in Kentucky were property, and therefore, they are mentioned in property deeds, tax records, wills, probates, court cases, manumission papers, estate records, cemetery records, certificate of slave registries, and other public documents found at the County Clerk's Office in each of the 120 counties in Kentucky. Some slaves will be included in these records by name. Most often, that will be a first name only, and that name could have changed from one owner to the next. Some slaves will not be named in the records, but rather, they will be referred to as male or female, or boy or girl, with their approximate ages. The terms "boy" and "girl" are used in reference to both children and adults. There is no such thing as a comprehensive list of every slave that was in every county. There is not a slave index to the various documents. Nor is there a comprehensive list of slaves for the entire state of Kentucky.

Searching for the names of slaves and slave owners found in property deeds, tax records, and other public documents requires patience and persistence. Ask the staff at the County Clerk's Office for help.

Kentucky County Clerk's Association

Beginning with the 1790 U.S. Census, there was a column for the number of slaves owned by the named head of each household. The slaves were not named, and neither were the other family members. The head of the household was presumed to be the slave owner if there were any slaves. 

Beginning in 1850, there was an attempt to name every person in the household within the census records. For the most part, this did not include the slaves who were listed in the 1850 and 1860 Slave Schedules. The slaves were numbered under their owners' names and noted as male or female, along with their approximate age. However, there are those rare instances in the census records where the slave or slaves are named with the owner's family members.

U. S. Federal Census records may be found in libraries and historical societies on microfilm, and via the subscription database, and within free online genealogical databases such as FamilySearch.

Searching the holdings found in libraries, historical societies, and Special Collections also requires a good deal of patience and persistence. Knowing the names of potential slave owners can help move the search process along. Records found in libraries and historical societies will many times be those of prominent families in Kentucky. As mentioned before, the slaves may or may not be mentioned by name in these records.

Here is a list of the types of records that may have the names of slave owners and slaves. Ask the library and historical society staff for help.

Bill of sale receipts (for the sale or purchase of slaves)
Bounty papers (for runaway slaves)
Broadside collections (slave owning family names)
Court records
Family papers
Farm records (slaves and livestock)
Handbills (runaway slaves and/or slaves wanted)
Hemp production records
Ledgers and account books
Online finding aids and library catalogs
Newspapers with runaway slave ads and notices
Newspapers with "slaves wanted" ads and notices
Tobacco production records

*Assistance with this entry was provided by UK Special Collections Archivist Megan Mummey and Photo Archivist Jason Flahardy.

Source: Researching African American Slavery in Kentucky, a University of Kentucky research guide by Reinette Jones.

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Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Locating the Names of Slaves and Slave Owners in Kentucky,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 18, 2024,

Last modified: 2023-10-06 14:09:31