15 March 2010

African American Research in North Eastern Kentucky

By Teresa Martin Klaiber

The last episode of Who Do You Think You Are highlighted African American Research. There were slave owners in north eastern Kentucky, though not the large numbers found in southern states, the large land holders names are well known in our area.

In 2004, Boyd County Kentucky Monographs I [available on cd] was published, containing several articles to help researchers of African American genealogy. A good example of tracking individuals is to follow William Hampton's slaves Isabella and Lucy. Isabella became Isabelle Fox residing in Catlettsburg in 1870. Lucy, also a Hampton slave, married Henry Williams a Mulatto.

Alexander Mead was a slave of Benjamin Mead in Greenup County. In a newspaper interview he tells of gaining his liberty "by buying it with his heals." He most likely crossed the river near Ironton and made his way north from there.

While the television program did not have time to go in depth into all records available for research, it did provide excellent guidelines. The Boyd County tax records beginning in 1860 are of assistance in our area. Beginning in 1865 the tax contain a list of all "Free Persons of Color." Some of these people migrated to the area from other counties. Alec [Alex] Botts moved to Catlettsburg from Bath County, Kentucky and became a well known barber. He bought his wife, Mary out of slavery.

Kentucky legislature created an act for marriage records commonly known as Freedmen registers. There was a separate book prepared for recording these marriages in 1866. The first recorded marriage in Boyd County Register 1-1-A was for James Spurlock born in Floyd County to Martha Russell born in Lawrence County, Kentucky. [Monographs I gives a complete list of the marriages in 1-1-A.]

By 1877 the tax list now labeled "Colored Tax Payers" has grown immensely. The majority of the people on the list live either in the town of Catlettsburg or Ashland. Only a few families have settled out in the county.

Sadly much has been wiped from history. Only a few that survived after slavery are in marked graves in Boyd County. Most graves were marked with field stone. The Eastham's buried slaves in graves in Fields Cemetery, marked only by stone. John Eastham had 5 slaves depleted to 1 in 1865 at the end of the Civil War. Oral history states that besides sales in Catlettsburg, there was an auction block at the point [junction of 60 and Midland Trail] across from where Kyova Mall is located [2010]. Old Catlettsburg Cemetery does contain a few marked graves of those people who stayed in the area after slavery.

Monographs I includes the tax records, and the television show outlined deeds and estate papers. Besides emancipation records, researchers can find many disputes recorded in County Order and Circuit Court records in north eastern Kentucky that will help researchers.


  1. Thanks for this post. The Ky. Monographs I is a good start for African American ancestry research.
    Kathleen, a3Genealogy

  2. My father and mother both remembered a man know as Black John Duff he was born a salve of the Duff's of Perry Co. he's grave is in the Duff family cemetery.