Publisher of Quality Genealogy Materials
Volume 7, Number 6 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 April 1, 2015
Publisher's Notes In this article we discuss using the census and tax listings together. You can definitely help narrow your search when using the two together and use them to find out more information about your ancestors. It is also good to use the two records to eliminate names that are not included in your ancestor line.
We will be at the Tennessee Valley Genealogical Society Spring Seminar on April 18th at the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library. We would love to see you there! For more information, click here.
We also enjoyed the Family History Institute of Southwest Virginia Conference in Wytheville, VA this past weekend. It was a great event and it even snowed on Saturday morning!
James L. Douthat
CENSUS RECORDS AND TAX LISTINGS The first place that most people turn in their research is the Federal Census. This is the quickest and easiest place to find your ancestors. We all take the path of least resistance. Now most of us know that prior to 1850, the only name we find is that of the head of the household in all of the census from 1790 through 1840. Most of us want more than this. Where do we turn?
Now comes the role of the Tax Listing for each area. You may not get the quick and easy answer, but you can get clues that might lead you forward. Look carefully at the tax list for the time period. In the older tax listings, they are primarily taxing someone on the amount of the property they own. Normally, this is the head of the household. You can cross check the name on both the census and the tax listing. This does establish a person in time and place. This can automatically lead you to other documents of importance, i.e. deed records, will records, settlement statements, etc. If they own property then they will be listed in the deed records, if those records have survived. Unfortunately here in the south, many courthouses were destroyed during the Civil War. However, in most cases, the county courts have tried to reestablish those records for various reasons since no one owns the land if that deed is not registered in their name. Many of the large plantations were taken over by the “carpetbaggers” after the war by this same action.
Go for the deeds first and research how that land is passed on to the heirs. Later tax listings will sometimes give the younger men as tax payers but without land. This is when the “Poll” tax went into effect in the south. This was a tax levied to keep poor and African Americans off the voting list. In some southern states, this lasted well into the twentieth century. I can remember having to pay a “poll” tax when I first started to vote as a young man myself.
If a person owned property, there has to be some distribution of that property at their death. They can sell it outright to some outsider, but usually it is sold to a family member. This is how a man takes care of his wife. There is sometime a clause in the will that gives her “life residence” on the property, or a son is given the property for taking care of his mother for life. The phrase “for the love I hold” normally indicates a close relationship the donor has with the recipient. Then there are the settlement records that will show a lot of names that live in the neighborhood. In a study of these names, you might be able to pick out some options for names of spouses as well.
In Tennessee, there is a system of tax listings for 1836 that covers the entire state. This was the first time that every county was required to divide the county into Civil Districts and then take the tax listing within each of the districts. This narrows the search down to a smaller area of the county and allows for a better choice of names within the local area. If we know that the father had property in a certain area in his lifetime and then there are two men with the same last name in that area later on, the chance of these being son/grandson is a high possibility. You may only have the head of household listing from prior census so this is a good chance to compare and make educated guesses. As we said, this was the first full tax for the state available. When you also realize that the 1830 census was the first full census for the state as well, then earlier tax listing are very valuable.
There are only two tax records that I know of for Tennessee around the 1790 period. Both of these are in upper east Tennessee. One is a 1796/97 tax listing for Sullivan County and the other was a listing of people living in Hawkins County about 1790. This latter was kept by a merchant in the area at the time. However, since the majority of people living in Tennessee at the time would have been in this area, these two are extremely valuable.
Now with tax listings, there are a few little quirks that are extremely helpful. On the list in an area where there are a large number of the same given names, the clerks often wrote in the blank “Vandergriff, John, s/o Edward”. This is a definite chance to get the name of two generations. It is not always done, but when it happens then make a special offering to the genealogy gods that guide us. At the same time, some clerks might add a note when there are several with the same given names that one is “on Grassy Creek”, thus giving the location and then with a little deed search, you can establish which of that name you are dealing with. This is a great way to eliminate the wrong family as well.
With the addition of Town Lots and School Taxes, the tax collector began to add extra space for those who did not own land, but they had to pay taxes. When this was done, then the sons and daughters’ husbands had to pay taxes and are included on the listings. Here is the opportunity to add information to your research. Now that you see some of the advantages of using the tax listings and the census together, your research can take on new meaning. Don’t be turned off by the “head of household” only situation with just the census. Expand your vision of what was going on at the time in the early centuries of our development.
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