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Volume 4, Number 12 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 August 8, 2012
Author's Notes In this article we discuss trying to find information from the tax listing. These tax listings can put a particular person in a particular place at a certain time in history and you may be able to find other relatives. From the older records you can even reconstruct the Militia Listings for a county if you are willing to look over many years.
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James L. Douthat
It is said that there are only two things certain in this life - death and taxes. We all say this in jest, but then we know they are true. Paying taxes has been a way of life since most of us came onto the earth. We also find taxation in the Bible as a part of their life as well.
In the field of genealogy, the tax listings of an area are one of those often overlooked resources. They are not always easy to find, and in most cases, they are not alphabetical or indexed. This makes us want to shy away from them. In fact, every location has some form of tax that is collected. You can find a listing of those paying the tax or if it was paid for them. Our job is just to find them where ever they may be hiding.
From the earliest day of the country, the tax collector has been at work. In truth, these might be about the earliest records found for a given area. The county, as such, will have tax records. Some of these will be in book form at the courthouse. Many of the very earliest records are loose on single sheets of paper. These latter forms frequently get scattered and lost. No matter what you find, you will find a wealth of information in them.
In the earliest days, the taxes for a county were collected by the militia officers in charge of a certain location within the county. It is not uncommon to find these early records in the personal papers of that family. These listing are extremely important for the listing of the heads of the households within the militia unit as this might be the only record of that company. These militia companies were very useful in the past as they served for the collection of taxes, for protection when a muster call was made for military service or even for voting.
In fact, a listing can be reconstructed if you have access to the tax listing for a couple of years. Even if you do not have the listing, a fairly complete listing can be constructed from the “Fines” listing of those soldiers. These “Fines” listings are usually kept on the state level and tells if a soldier fails to show up for one of the various muster calls during each year. The man would be “fined” for his failure and the list turned over to the sheriff for collection. These listed were then sent to the state in the general audit of the county records.
One of our books, “The Militia of Washington County, Virginia” is a reconstructed listing of those units in that county. All of the information was found in the Virginia State Archives in their Audits Reports. The writer spent years looking through the countless boxes of these records to find the one sheet each year for Washington County.
As the counties matured through the years, the need for a different approach became apparent. So in the fall of 1835, the Tennessee Legislature enacted a bill to make each county in the state request the commissioners to divide the county into civil districts. They were to submit a sketch of the county showing these districts and a written description of those districts. It was interesting that the commissioners were not to employ a map maker or surveyor to do the drawings. This meant that these drawings are somewhat crude, but there are enough land marks present to given a person the idea of where the district might be located. Usually in the written description, a persons name within the district is mentioned and the place for holding an election is given. These local districts were subject to change from year to year and this sometimes causes trouble for the researcher as few of the counties keep a record of these changes except in their quarterly minutes.
In a later time, these Civil Districts became the area for schools to be constructed, elections to be held and other small events. Once the Militia Company time period ended, the local residents failed to experience the old ‘muster’ time when the whole company gathered for a day or so of socializing. As years passed, the only gathering like that for socializing was on Election Day when most of the district came to the polling place. Even that is gone now as their might be a dozen polling places within a certain District.
The real value of the tax listings is to put your person in a specific time and place. This is often important for a number of reasons. Study the listing carefully as within that area, you might find others that fit into your family like spouses, grandparents, aunts and uncles as well as in-laws. You need every little scrap of information that you can get to build your family tree.
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