Tracing Family Trees
Guide No. 11
Brig Beaver II a replica of one of the three original Boston Tea Party ships whose cargo was dumped into the harbor on Dec. 16, 1773
"Research in Land and Tax Records"
a chapter in The Source
Links to tax records cataloged on Cyndi's List
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Taxing Tales ... Unromantic, but reliable, and sometimes quite revealing
Americans have been fighting taxes since the country's beginnings. In fact, the Stamp Act, passed by the British Parliament in 1765 as a means of raising revenue in the American colonies was the spark that kindled the fires of the American Revolution. It required that all legal documents, licenses, commercial contracts, newspapers, pamphlets, and playing cards carry a tax stamp. It ignited organized resistance and provided the flaming creed of "no taxation without representation" which drew many to the cause against the mother country.
On December 16, 1773, the so-called Boston Tea Party took place wherein a group of citizens protested the British tax on tea imported the colonies. The citizens of Boston would not permit the unloading of three British ships that had arrived in its harbor laden with 342 chests of tea. The royal governor of Massachusetts would not allow the tea ships to return to England until the duty had been paid. Disguised as Indians, Patriots boarded the vessels and emptied the tea into Boston Harbor.
While some extant tax records are available for England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, American researchers are blessed with an abundance of surviving tax records that can be polished into genealogical jewels.
The census taker might have missed your ancestors, but the taxman seldom did. Since every property owner of real estate, personal property, and eligible voters in most areas appear on tax rolls, you often can find your ancestors in the tax records even when they appear nowhere else. Tax records aid in such genealogical research problems as:
Tracing the moves of families from place to place
Identifying taxpayers of the same name
Finding clues of relationships that resulted from inheritances
While tax records vary in content according to the purposes for the taxation and the time period, you often will discover some or all of the following data in such records:
Among the most common types of tax records found in post-Revolutionary War American records are:
Personal property taxes, starting as early as 1782 in many states, assessed taxes on various types of personal property, including livestock, carriages and slaves. Every male 21 and over appeared on the list as he became eligible to vote and to pay taxes on horses and other personal property. Even if your ancestor did not own real estate, he probably owned a horse, and it is in these records where you might find him mentioned.
Owners of real estate were required to pay taxes on their land as early as 1782. You will find them with number of acres owned and described by locations on water courses. Widows and heirs of land are shown as the taxpayers on their inherited properties.
Poll taxes were a tax of a specific sum levied on each person eligible within a certain class, such as males of a certain age, without reference to his property, or lack of it.
During the colonial period in America you may find your ancestors on quit-rent rolls, tithables or poll tax rolls. Quit-rent taxes were a yearly amount of money paid by landowners, generally at a rate per each 100 acres of land, and usually started several years after the owner had settled on the property. Quit rents were abolished at the start of the Revolutionary War.
Tithables generally were persons 16 to 60 who were obliged to pay taxes regardless of their personal assets. Depending on local laws, males were usually taxable at the ages of 16, 18 or 21 through about age 50 or 60, with some exceptions for veterans, ministers, paupers, and others. This tax was paid for support of church minister or church wardens of parishes.
Poll taxes [general revenue] were a tax specified by law for every free man above the age of 21 and a tax of every slave or servant above the age of 16. It was paid by the person or by the parent or guardian of eligible persons. These records can be most helpful in sorting out the sons in a family.
The Family History Library of Salt Lake City has filmed many tax records, making some of these records fairly easy to access through local Family History Centers. Check the Family History Library Catalog for the state or colony and county of interest to learn what tax records are available on microfilm. State archives and county courthouses are other repositories that have tax records. Carefully abstract the tax information and study it you may be able to solve some of your genealogical problems through the use of those so-called dry, dull tax records.
The U.S. government estimated that there were approximately 2,000 stills in the Carolinas, Georgia, Virginia, and Tennessee in 1877, and it calculated that moonshiners who made and sold this untaxed liquor were depriving the federal government of $2,500,000 a year in uncollected taxes. Your ancestor might appear in court records for moonshining not for making it, but for failure to pay taxes.
Delinquent Tax and Other Records
While tax lists demonstrate that people were in a certain place at a certain time, delinquent tax lists demonstrate that a tax was not collected, perhaps because the tithable was insolvent or exempt from tax due to age or infirmity, or because while the tithable was known to have been in a certain place at the time of the assessment, he had departed that place through death or migration by the time the tax came due. The tax collector had to provide an accounting of uncollected taxes, and so in some cases we have a fine record in the form of delinquent tax lists. The content of such lists varies depending upon the person who made the list, some being a list of bare names and others containing such information as the tax collector was able to gather.
"A List of Persons Charged with Tax in Montgomery County [Virginia] for the Year 1787 & have Removed before the Same Could have been Collected Taken in by Mr. Bird Smith, Commr"1 contains the full name of each tithable, the Virginia county or other state to which the person was believed to have migrated, and the amounts of both the revenue tax and the county levy not collected from that person. The first few entries tell us that Laudiwick AUELING migrated to Boutetourt [sic], Edward BAKER to Russell, and Daniel BRITT to South Carolina. Some of the persons named on this list are mentioned in Schreiner-Yantis and Love's book, The 1787 Census of Virginia, although the spelling of the names might differ. For example, "Laudiwick AUELING" on the delinquent tax list above appears to be the same person as "Lodwick ABELIN" on Montgomery County Tax List C (District of Bird Smith, Commissioner) in The 1787 Census of Virginia.
The information provided on several lists varies widely. For example, an entry in Montgomery County, Virginia 1798-1799 Delinquent Tax Lists,2 on "A List of Delinquents of Revenue Within the district of Ja Hogue for the Year 1798 & in the first Battalion of Militia & in the 86th Regiment, Montgomery County Virginia, 24th August 1799" reads:
"Alexander HOLMES Tax on 3 Horses gone to Wythe 36 [cents]" while on the list "John McHenry Insolvent Revenue 1798/1799 Sepr. Allowed," we read "George MILES 2 Horses 23 [cents] In jail in Stanton" and "Henry HINKLE 4 Horses 48 [cents] gone to the Devil M. CASTELLO Says So." [the last comment and its attribution were crossed out but legible].
The last comment is atypical of the entries on such lists, but demonstrates that you never know what you might find until you've searched everywhere.
Auditors' accounts survive at the Library of Virginia and reflect the reliance of military forces on provisioning from local inhabitants, either voluntarily or involuntarily. When state money was used to pay someone or when money was collected as the result of an act of the Virginia Legislature or funds were collected or disbursed at the county level, an account had to be sent to the state auditor. Many types of accounts exist, including militia lists, license reports, record of poor-house keepers, tobacco inspectors and warehouse reports, lists of delinquent and insolvent taxpayers . . . and others, including the public claims abstracted in these volumes from the court booklets in the Public Service Claims, Record Group 48, Library of Virginia, which contain information about supplies and services furnished to the armed forces mostly during 1779-1781.3
All such records provide evidence of people residing in a certain place at a certain time and some provide evidence of much more than would be found in a census record of the period.
"Botetourt County Andrew HENRY allowed for 32-1/2# flour, 3/4 mutton for John CRAIG a Continental soldier; for boarding nursing the wife of Alex. CHAMBERS, a continental soldier, when in child bed; keeping her 8-1/2 weeks and keeping her child 3 months by order of a magistrate."
The 1790 federal census of Virginia was destroyed, as were the lists for Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, and Tennessee, when the British burned the City of Washington during the War of 1812; however, statistics already had been compiled and have survived showing that Virginia with its 747,160 inhabitants was the most populous state. Kentucky's population was counted separately and does not figure into the Virginia total in the federal accounting. However, Kentucky counties are included in The 1787 Census of Virginia,4 compiled from Virginia personal property tax lists for 1787, supplemented by other lists where necessary. The population of Virginia with the Kentucky counties included represented more than one-fifth of the population of the U.S. at the time of the 1790 federal census. By using the 1790 federal census, or substitutes such as tax lists, one often can identify and/ or at least narrow the search to counties in which the surname appears.
SAMPLE ENTRY from "The Vestry Book of King William Parish, Va., 1707-1750"5 (Translated from the French . . .).
. . . Book of the Parish of King William, Containing the Proceedings of the Vestry of Said Parish, Commencing December 20, 1707 [Lievre de la paroisse du roy guillaume contenant les actes du vestry de lad paroisse commence le 20 Xber 1707]. The vestry assembled at Monocantown the day and date stated above, Mr. PHILLIPPE, minister, being present. Ch. wardens: Abraham SOBLET, Louis DUTARTRE. Vestry: Jacob AMMONET, Andre AUBRY, Jean FARCY, Jean FONUIELLE, Abraham SALLE, Gideon CHAMBON, Jean MASERES, Timothee MORET, Pierre MASSOT, Anthoine TRABUE. It was decreed that the levy of the present year be made in accordance with the account given below, amounting to the sum of twenty-nine pound silver, currency of the country, in such manner as has been arranged by the preceding agreement with the vestry, so that each person pay, following the present division, six shillings and one half-penny, there being ninety-six persons on the list made and delivered to the clerk of the said vestry, who . . . a copy of it to the church wardens.
Done and decreed by the vestry the day and date above stated. E. REYNAUD, C. of Vestry.
1. "Montgomery County, Virginia, 1787 Delinquent Tax Lists, Persons Removed, Exempt, or Delinquent," transcribed by Julia M. Case and published in The Magazine of Virginia Genealogy, published quarterly by the Virginia Genealogical Society, Vol. 34, No. 2, Spring 1996, 113-120.
2. "Montgomery County, Virginia 1798-1799 Delinquent Tax Lists,"* transcribed by Julia M. Case and published in The Magazine of Virginia Genealogy, Vol. 34, No. 3, Summer 1996, 242-254.
3. Abercrombie, Janice L. and Richard Slatten, Virginia Revolutionary Publick Claims (in three volumes) (Athens, Ga.: Iberian Publishing Company, 1992).
4. Schreiner-Yantis, Nettie and Florene Speakman Love, The 1787 Census of Virginia: An Accounting of the Name of Every White Male Tithable Over 21 Years; the Number of White Males between 16 & 21 Years; the Number of Slaves over 16 & Those Under 16 Years; Together with a Listing of Their horses, Cattle & Carriages; and also the Names of all Persons to whom Ordinary Licenses and Physician's Licenses Were Issued (in three volumes). (Springfield, Va.: Genealogical Books in Print, 1987).
5. Virginia Tax Records from the Virginia Magazine of
History and Biography, the William and Mary College Quarterly, and Tyler's Quarterly (Baltimore,
Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1983).
*Tax and Fiscal Records, Montgomery County, Virginia, Original Records, Archival and Information Services Division, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.
Carroll, Cornelius. The Beginner's Guide to Using Tax Lists. Baltimore, Md.: Clearfield Company, Inc., by Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1997.
Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy (2nd edition). Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1990.
Linn, Jo White. Rowan County, North Carolina Tax Lists 1757-1800: Annotated Transcriptions. Salisbury, N.C.: the author, 1995.
Szucs, Loretto Dennis & Sandra Hargreaves Luebking. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy (3rd edition). Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry, Inc., 1997.
Woodson, Robert F. and Isobel B. (compilers). Virginia Tithables from Burned Record Counties (Buckingham, Gloucester, Hanover, James City, Stafford). (Copyright 1970 by Isobel B. Woodson; reprinted by Southern Historical Press, Inc., Greenville, South Carolina, 1982, 1990.) [This compilation includes tithable lists, tax accounts, and rent rolls from the Library of Virginia, as well as a 1763 Hanover County quit rent roll from the Public Record Office in London, England.]