Campus News

Lexington's Early Marriage Indexes of African Americans Available Online


LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 13, 2016) Over the summer of 2016, the Special Collections Research Center at University of Kentucky Libraries and the Fayette County Clerk’s Office developed a pilot project that will provide online access to the Colored Marriage Indexes dated 1866-1882 and 1958-1968. The purpose of the project is to provide researchers with greater online access to early primary documents pertaining to African Americans in Kentucky. 

Details of the project, including ensuring security of the original records, took a few weeks to work out and were finalized during a sit-down meeting with Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins Jr., Deputy Clerks Meredith Nelson and Shea Brown, and Reinette Jones and Sarah Dorpinghaus from UK Special Collections Research Center. The project involved the secure in-person handoff of one volume at a time from the Clerk’s Office at 162 E. Main St. to the Digital Lab in the M.I. King Library Building on campus. Volumes were returned to the Clerk’s Office at the completion of each digitization process.

The four volumes of the Colored Marriage Indexes are the original finding aids used to locate the early marriage bonds of African Americans in Lexington. The indexes contain the name of each bride and groom, and the page number of the actual marriage bond held at the Fayette County Clerk’s Office. As the marriage indexes and bond books have been in continuous use by the public for many years, some are in fragile condition. 

The digitized versions of the indexes are now freely available to the public on ExploreUK, UK's digital library. The originals were scanned in full color at a high resolution that surpasses the national standard for digital preservation. The typed indexes have been run through optical character recognition (OCR) and are searchable.

The first two volumes of the indexes are handwritten and will be transcribed using an open-source software program developed by Eric Weig, digital library architect in the Special Collections Research Center. The program is called Libscribe. Libscribe works in conjunction with the open-source Omeka content management system to facilitate simple page transcription in order to improve digital library search accuracy. Once the transcription has been completed, it will be searchable and presented as an alternate view for each handwritten page.

“I am very pleased with the results of our collaboration with the Special Collections Research Center. The images are outstanding and will be a huge asset to genealogists and researchers everywhere,” said Blevins.

The original indexes and marriage bond books are available for use by the public in the Land Records Vault at the County Clerk’s Office, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, and copies may be made by the counter staff. 

UK Special Collections Research Center is home to UK Libraries' collection of rare books, Kentuckiana, the Archives, the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, the King Library Press, the Wendell H. Ford Public Policy Research Center, the Bert T. Combs Appalachian Collection and ExploreUK. The mission of the center is to locate and preserve materials documenting the social, cultural, economic and political history of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

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