It was 1957, and the Warren County, Kentucky courthouse was about to undergo a major interior renovation. As the offices were being emptied for temporary relocation, someone was intently watching. A terrorist? A communist? A disgruntled defendant? No, even more intense–a genealogist. Ever since finding out about stacks of old, neglected county records–deeds and land certificates, marriage bonds, wills, estate documents, guardianship reports, petitions and lawsuits–gathering dust in the courthouse basement, Richardsville native and retired teacher Nora Young Ferguson had been determined to rescue them. Where some of the local attorneys, she claimed, saw only a fire hazard and “were going to have them thrown in the river,” she saw a rich trove of history dating back to the earliest days of the county.
When a path to the records opened up after the old ballot boxes and other obstacles were cleared away, Nora pounced. She gathered up the loose papers, took them home (with the permission of the Warren Fiscal Court), and began to clean and sort them. Of particular interest to her were thousands of 18th- and 19th-century marriage bonds, valuable to genealogists because they often named parents or other relatives as well as spouses.
Nora also spearheaded an effort to preserve the records permanently through microfilming. She worked with technicians from the Genealogical Society Library of the Mormon Church to photograph the documents, and even called for the expansion of the project to other records in the county and beyond. She gathered data on her own family history, and helped to found the Warren County Historical Society. One of her pet projects was fundraising to repair and preserve the Green River Union Meeting House, an early multi-denominational church near her birthplace in Richardsville.
The papers of Nora Young Ferguson, including her family correspondence, genealogy files and many of the original records that she saved, are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives holdings at WKU’s Special Collections Library. Click here to download a finding aid. For marriage records, wills, court records and other collections on family history, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.