European settlers first started moving into Kentucky in 1748, and established the first settlement, Harrodsburg, in 1774. Daniel Boone helped to open up the path for more settlers in 1775 by blazing a trail on what would become the Wilderness Road, which was the primary route through the Cumberland which led settlers into central Kentucky.
Until statehood on June 1, 1792, Kentucky was part of Virginia. Early settlers included Revolutionary War veterans staking claims to bounty-land grants. Scots-Irish, German, and English individuals and families from Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee soon joined the veterans in Kentucky.
During the Civil War, Kentucky was a slave-holding state, but also boasted a large abolitionist population and Kentuckians served in both the Union and Confederate forces. Coincidentally both President Abraham Lincoln and Confederate President Jefferson Davis were born in Kentucky.
Following the Civil War, tobacco and coal became leading commodities in Kentucky’s economy. Kentucky’s bluegrass pastures have produced an exceptional number of thoroughbred horses, leading to worldwide recognition in horse racing. Fort Knox, originally Camp Knox, began as a permanent military post and later became an official U.S. gold depository. In the 20th century, Fort Campbell served as a major training center for military recruits.
Our new free state guide, “Kentucky Research Guide: Family History Sources in the Bluegrass State,” has an overview and timeline of the state, along with resources to explore when searching for your Kentucky ancestors. Guides for other states are also available in the Learning Center under Free State Research Guides.