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Volume 3, Number 15 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 September 7, 2011
In this article we discuss Tax Listings. Many times these records are overlooked, but they can give you clues into the people you are researching. The tax listings can give you information about those that live around your relatives as well as property they may have owned. Hopefully, the tax listings can help find another missing piece in your family history puzzle.
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James L. Douthat
The Tax Man Cometh
In doing genealogical research, we often find a reference to the “Tax Listing” of a particular area. Far too many overlook this very important listing because it gives such a small amount of information. However, several items of interest can be gleaned from the tax listing. Most will turn to the census first, yet sometimes this can be an inaccurate source of information. The tax listing is more accurate as the tax man works year round to gather the information and not just a few weeks as the census taker. The tax listing can be more accurate in listing those who live in a particular area, especially for those who own property. When you compare the census vs tax listing, you will find a number of differences. Here are some ideas for using the tax listing.
In the very first place, be prepared to spend more time than just the fifteen minutes you might spend on the census, especially if you are using a created index. Remember, this index may or may not be accurate. This search of the tax listing must include an understanding of what is contained in it as each state and county may have a different form than another state or county. Many of them give the name of the land owner, his age, his acreage and other information about the tax itself. Sometimes the listing is alphabetical in nature. If this is the case, make sure you read “all names” and not just the one for the name you are researching. For example, in the older records of Maryland the name Douthat, being German, is frequently spelled with a “T” instead of the “D”.
Study the listing completely as sometimes the tax man sometimes does add notes to the listing. When there are multiple people in a county with the same name, the tax man will frequently give some indication as to which one of these is the taxed one. I have found frequently when there is a common name in a county, the tax man will make a note such as - John Smith, Yellow Creek or John Smith, Clear Fork or John Smith, Walnut Mountain. When this happens you can then go to the Deed Records of a county and find additional information on the correct John Smith. You will have the location, acreage and other information from the Tax Listing, so the interpretation of the Deeds is more accurate. It is worth noting that when there are a number of similar names, the tax man sometimes will list John Smith, son of Wilson Smith vs John Smith son of George Smith to distinguish him. Be sure to collect information on all of them, since you never know when the other Smith may become important later.
When there is a non-alphabetical listing, then you can put neighborhoods back together. This is also vital when you are looking at the census, which are normally taken in household order. Many times, people who live in a neighborhood together may be related and current/future spouses may come from this area. Just a side note here, if you are lucky enough to be able to get the “road order listing” for the area, you can confirm the neighborhoods as well. A road order is the way most counties in the mid-nineteenth century took care of their roads. Each person living on the stretch of a road was ordered to help care for that road. There were no highway departments in the counties or states at this time.
As you spend time with the tax listing understand the “blank” spaces in the columns across the page. Sometimes it is well worth noting what your ancestor did not own or did not contribute to in his taxing. Many who did not have children would not pay to keep the schools up. Some counties allowed this and some did not. Make sure that you look at the entire tax listing, especially the beginning of the listing where some notes might be located and sometimes at the end of the listing. These side notes will help you better understand what is contained here.
In addition to what is owned and not owned there is also the value of land per acre so that when you read the census you can make note of the property value listing in many of the census after 1850. Each and every tidbit of information is vital in our searching so make sure that you keep down everything found.
When the Tax Man Cometh, you will be ready to research these records and attempt to understand the whole of the notations. Don’t let this vital record pass you by since there might be just the clue you need to complete the picture of those ancestors you are researching.
Tennessee Tax Listings
Virginia and West Virginia Tax Listings
North Carolina Tax Listings
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