We used geochemical data to examine the origin and preservation of organic matter contained in the lower part of the Huron Member of the Ohio Shale formation and the Rhinestreet Shale Member of the West Falls Formation (Devonian) in Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia. The thermal history of the organic matter was determined by relating relative temperatures experienced by the organic matter to the geologic setting. The organic matter in these formations is predominantly marine in origin and was most probably derived largely from algal organisms. Although the rate of production of marine organic matter may have been uniform within the basin, its preservation apparently was controlled by the existence of a set of fault-bounded anoxic subbasins associated with the Rome trough, a Cambrian structural complex. These subbasins apparently were anoxic because they limited oxygen recharge by circulating waters. Preservation of organic matter was also enhanced by periodic blooms of the alga Tasmanites and similar organisms in the waters above the subbasins during both early Huron and Rhinestreet deposition. A significant negative correlation was identified between the vitrinite reflectance peak temperature, an integrated measure of the thermal history of a rock, and the hydrogen index, a measure of the remaining hydrocarbon-generation potential of kerogen. Although peak temperatures were controlled by burial depth, excess heating occurred locally, perhaps by hot brines rising from depth through fractures associated with major structures in the study area.