Today is Tax Day! National news media have had little to say about it. Too much other news to report and comment on. Your ancestors had tax payment deadlines too. And the reason they interest us is the myriad of records left behind for us to compare and evaluate for identity and knowledge of those ancestors.
Almost every male over age 16 and many women, including young girls were taxed. Exemptions were set by law or granted by special decree. As a result, tax records became significant genealogy sources, because the majority of the population was tallied in these records. Here is a list of some of the evidence they contain:
Precise Identification of the Local Population–Males–age 16, over age 21. Status of Female owners—widows and heirs. Father/Mother–“…of John” included in the entry when more than one person had the same given name.
Proof of Residence–Poll tax, levied on residents to support the local government. Those who paid the poll were local, legal residents of that place Real estate tax–proof of ownership, not residency. Proof of location of property, not residency; non-residents usually stated or listed separately–“seated” meant principal place of residence; “non-seated” meant out-of-area owner
Previewed Spelling Variants of names–especially valuable for immigrant ancestors who modified their surnames in America. Keep track of the variants. For example, Martain indicates that the name was pronounced differently from Martin.
Identified Militia District where the company often mustered as a group. Militia officers were responsible for taking and recording assessments and local military censuses were recorded with the tax rolls.
Proved or Disproved Family Relationships and Traditions–fill in gaps on your family charts; verified probable places of burial for elderly parents; discovered surnames of spouses and married daughters, as well as missing maiden surnames.
Kept by Every Level of Jurisdiction–National, State, District, County, Local Districts, or Militia Companies. Duplicate copies ensured survival of the records even if the courthouse burned.
One of the Best Census Substitutes available: You can spot other family members and close associates; clusters of relatives in specific neighborhoods, residents on the same water course; where to begin your searches–you can use tax information to set the research dimensions of your searches. Missing census years: New Jersey–1790; Kentucky–1787, 1790, 1800; Virginia–1790, 1800; Tennessee–1790, 1800, 1810, 1820.
Searches in tax records will help you search land and probate records more effectively. And when your ancestor has a common surname, the tax rolls will uniquely set ancestors apart from all others by the same names–thus narrowing your actual research time in the original records.
Tax exemptions were made for age, physical condition, sex, color, military position, occupation, and public service. Exemptions were established by law, custom, petition, or court action. And recorded! And documented in the court records!
An Indiana statute, 1831, exempted “all persons who have served in the land or naval services of the United States during the Revolutionary War, upon payment of a poll tax and a tax on personal property. The soldier had to supply the court with a sworn affidavit before witnesses” providing details of his service. Revolutionary soldiers were also exempt from imprisonment for debt. (Tri-State-Trader, 1975)
Delinquent lists were printed in the newspapers with places of origin and subsequent settlement given for each name on the list. These lists link your ancestor to the places you have already searched. Genealogy editors love such lists to share with their readers—so also check current genealogy periodicals for these.
Read each list carefully and pay special attention to the amount of the tax paid: Papists (Roman Catholics) were taxed double in time of peace and paid triple or quadruple taxes in time of war. Quakers were also double-taxed. Some tax collectors stated specifically the religion of persons on the list whether they were charged more or not.
Property descriptions given in the tax rolls were often more precise and easier to trace than those given in the deeds. And the descriptions distinguished between men of the same name. When correlated with deeds and probates, you can observe from year to year, the property status of each man and it becomes easier to discern who is who when a death occurs.
Tax Records Research Study List for Georgia
Blair, Ruth, ed. Some Early Tax Digests of Georgia. Atlanta GA: The Georgia Department of Archives and History, 1926. 5 Vols, 1800-1817. Spartanburg SC: The Reprint Company, 1986. Compare Blair’s list of tax digests with those published by the R.J. Taylor, Jr. Foundation.
Cobb, Maud Baker. Checklist of the Georgia Archive Material in Certain Offices of the Capitol. 1917. Comptrollers-General Office: Tax Digests, 1792-to date.Note: These comprise thousands of volumes. They have been carefully arranged by years on shelves in a basement storage room. The earlier digests, some on large sheets, some in unbound volumes in need of binding…” [The Family History Library Catalog includes 210 entries Keyword—“Georgia Tax Lists.”]
Eakle, Arlene H., PhD, Tax Records: A Common Source With an Uncommon Value. 1978. Family History World, PO Box 129, Tremonton, UT 84337.
Geiger, Linda Woodward. “Georgia Tax Digests” Georgia Genealogical Society Quarterly 32 (#2): 81-84.