The earliest death records in Kentucky date from 1852, following the passage of the Sutton Law, which required tax assessors in each county to keep a list of all births, deaths and marriages. One copy of this list was sent to Frankfort and another copy was to remain in the county.
Compliance with this new law was uneven and varied greatly from county to county. The law was repealed during the Civil War, but another law requiring the registration of births and deaths was passed in the 1870’s. Compliance, again, was irregular. It wasn’t until 1911 that statewide registration of all births and deaths was required, although some of the larger cities (Lexington, Louisville, Covington and Newport) do have earlier records.
Finding a person’s death date prior to 1911 can be a difficult task. There are the obvious places to check, such as cemetery records and tombstones, mortality schedules, church records and family Bibles, but there is another place that might be helpful, especially if the decedent was indigent.
Each county court would designate one session as the time to receive claims for payment for services provided by individuals to a county resident. Among the services claimed were the provision of food, clothing, lodging and, in some cases, burial expenses for indigent persons. Many times the indigent person was named and often the date of death was given. Examples of these claims are shown below as presented by J.H. Parker, coroner, and found in the Livingston County Loose County Court Papers, Box 11 (1840-1844), Livingston County Clerk’s Office, Smithland, KY:
"1841 Oct 5th Holdin Inquest on the view of Nancy Vaughns Infant $6.00"
"1842 February 1st Holding Inquest on the Body of John
Nelson who died in Jail $6.00"
"Arthur Loves act. for feading Wm Younger & family all sick
and in distress in the year 1841 The number of the famley is
8 I could state that all the itemes and the prices but I think
it unnesery fur a tungue that will lye a pen will Speake
the same. I brought them to my plantation about five
months - My charge is 17-50. Arthur Love. 1842."
There are other places to look for death information and we will discuss those in a later article.