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Check the ads!

They appear, with regularity, in the advertising columns of some of the nation’s oldest newspapers.

In one column in a February 1792 newspaper published in Lexington, Kentucky, the focus was on cows:

stray• “Taken up by the subscriber (James Dougherty), living in Woodford county, on south Elkhorn, a brindled STEER, about four years old, with some white along his back and belly, marked with a swallow fork in the left ear, a crop hole and slit in the right ear, appraised to £ 3.15.”1

• “Taken up by the subscriber (Soloman Lawrance) on Shelby’s branch a RED STEER, with some white in his face, about three years old, the end of his horns sawed off, marked with a swallow form in each ear, appraised to £ 1.16.”2

• “Taken up by the subscriber (Thomas Arbuckle), on East Hickman, a black STEER, with a white back and belly, about four years old, marked with a crop in each ear, both his horns sawed off, appraised to £ 3.6.”3

A few years later, horses were the key:

• “Taken up by the subscriber (John Ryle), living in Campbell county, on the Ohio river, three miles below the mouth of big Miami, a black mare three year old this spring, a blaze face and a whitestrip on her upper lip appraised to 25£.”4

• Just beneath that, from October 1795: “Taken up by the subscriber (John Ousley), near Winchester an iron gray horse two years old, last spring, branded on the buttock and side thus C, and on the button thus CC, a small star in its forehead; appraised to 7£. 10 s.”5

• In another column on the same page, from September 1795: “Taken up by the subscriber (Haile Talbot), Madison county, a bay horse fifteen years old, four feet nine inches high, blaze faced, branded on the near shoulder thus 8, and on the near buttock thus B, and the cushion, EW. appraised to six pounds.”6

So… what’s going on here?

Well, first of all, The Legal Genealogist is obviously poking around in Kentucky records. Why, you ask? So glad you did! Because the Kentucky Genealogical Society is having its 41st annual seminar tomorrow and I’m heading down to Frankfort to have some fun in the Blue Grass State.

(And, by the way, from 5-9 p.m. tonight, the Kentucky Historical Society is hosting what’s being called Research Rave, a fun-filled evening of research and personalized research help — even one-to-one consults with local professionals. There’s no advance registration needed, help is available on a first-come, first-served basis, and the library (on the second floor of the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History, 100 W. Broadway, Frankfort) is open for extended research hours. Admission is only $5 per person, and there will be snacks.)

Now back to those records which, of course, lead right to the laws of the time and place.

By statute adopted 18 December 1794, Kentucky gathered together several different prior laws on strays and brought them into harmony with each other. The statute provided that:

• A person could only take up a stray animal, and have the hope of being able to keep it if the owner didn’t claim it, if he owned land, or had a long-term lease for land. In other words, somebody who had roots in the neighborhood.7

• A person taking up a stray cow, sheep, hog or goat had to have it seen immediately by some property owner in the county and then go immediately with that property owner before a justice of the peace to report it. Then three property owners had to value the animal.8

• A person taking up a stray horse had 10 days to report it to a justice of the peace, including a description of any brand and a declaration that the marks and brands hadnt been altered. The justice would then appoint the property owners to value the animal.9

• The person taking up the stray had to pay the justice a shilling and the clerk a shilling for keeping the record, but would get a reward of one to six shillings plus the filing charges if the owner reclaimed the animal.10

And then came the kicker — the reason for all those notices in the newspaper:

every person taking up a stray … shall within two months after the same is appraised … transmit to the public printer, a particular description of such stray or strays, and the valuation thereof, together with the name of the county and plkace of residence … to be advertised three weeks in the Kentucky Gazette…11

By the 20th century, the laws were very different. “Taking up and confining stray or trespassing animals is unlawful,” the Lexington City Code declared by 1904. “They must be taken to the pound.”12

So… all very interesting, but why does a genealogist care?

Hmmm… because these notices prove that the person who found the stray was in a particular place at a particular time.

Because it tells us where he was when he found the animal.

Because it proves the person was at least a leaseholder, under the law of the time.

And — if that’s not enough — because it’s part of the person’s personal story.

Good enough for this genealogist, and then some.


  1. Kentucky Gazette, Lexington, 25 February 1792, p.1, col. 4; digital images, Kentucky Digital Library ( : accessed 4 Aug 2016).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Kentucky Gazette, Lexington, 6 February 1796, p.4, col. 2; digital images, Kentucky Digital Library ( : accessed 4 Aug 2016).
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid., col. 4.
  7. “An ACT to amend and reduce into one act, the several acts concerning Strays,” 18 December 1794, Chapter 164, in William Littell, The Statute Law of Kentucky, 3 vols. (Frankfort, Ky. : William Hunter, 1809), I: 252; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 4 Aug 2016).
  8. Ibid., I: 250.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid., I: 250-251.
  11. Ibid., I: 251.
  12. See City Laws Unfamiliar to Public, Lexington Morning Herald, 2 February 1904, p. 3, col. 1; digital images, Kentucky Digital Library ( : accessed 4 Aug 2016).
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