Back to the Basics with Tax Records: Part 1
Have you used tax records in your genealogy research before? What are these records, how do you find them, and what good are they? I recently used tax records to establish three generations of a family in early Maryland and today I’m going to show you how I did it. If you’re stuck in your research, perhaps a study of the tax records is just what you need.
Why Search Tax Records
As genealogists, we rely on the census records to track our families every ten years. But what about the interim years? So much can happen in between the census enumerations. That is where tax lists can be extremely beneficial. Tax lists were generally taken annually and can help establish ages, residences, relationships, and the year an individual died or left the area.
Do you have a burned county? A county where the courthouse burned and the marriage, land, and probate records were all destroyed? Tax records can come to the rescue because copies often were sent to the state auditor. A listing for your ancestor in a tax list can provide evidence of his residence and land ownership in the case of missing or destroyed records.
What about the years before the 1790 census? How can you track your ancestor in the Colonial period of the United States? Although tax records may not be available for every year your ancestor lived in an area, even one listing can give you evidence of ancestor actions. While tax records do not provide detailed genealogical information, collectively they can provide information regarding ages and give you clues for other sources to search. Changes in an individual’s taxes can indicate land sales, inheritance, or other information.
Some Information in Tax Records
Here is a sampling of what you could find in a tax record:
-description of the real estate and name of the original purchaser
-description of some personal property
-number of males over 21
-number of school children
-number of slaves
-number of farm animals
-can include rented property
Using Tax Records
The trick to using tax records once you’ve discovered them, is to organize them in a way that allows you to analyze the information. I like to do this in a table. Using the case study of the Charles Ballard family of Somerset County, Maryland, I’ll show how I used tax records in conjunction with probate records to sort out three generations of the family.
Step 1 Extract the Data
Once I’ve located the tax records, I enter the information into my research log. This is where I create my source citation, track the year, include a link to the collection if online and give the details. As you know, in the research process, you often need to go back to the original source of the information and having the link saves time. The nice thing about tax research is that you can often create a citation once, then copy and paste it in your research log for each entry, changing the year.
In the screenshot below, you can view how I structured my research log for the Ballard project.
The categories for my research log and a sample entry:
Date: 20 Nov 2018
Repository: Maryland State Archives
URL / Call # / Microfilm #: https://msa.maryland.gov/msa/coagser/c1800/c1812/html/tax1723.html
Searching For: 1723 Tax List
Locality: Somerset County, Maryland
Source: Somerset County Court, 1723 Tax list, MSA C 1812-1, Maryland State Archives (https://msa.maryland.gov/msa/coagser/c1800/c1812/html/tax1723.html: accessed 19 November 2018).
Jarvis Ballard, Manokin, 25, head-taxed
Charles Ballard, Manokin, 105, head -taxed (Wilks, Betty, Will, Mingo, Scipio, tom)
Henry Ballard, Manokin, 105, dependent
Charles Ballard, Wicomico 73, head – taxed (Jack, Meareah, Mary Moll,)
Charles Ballard Wicomico, 73, dependent
For more help with research logs, see my posts: Research Logs: The Key to Organizing Your Family History and Research Like a Pro, Part 5: Where Did You Look and What Did You Find. Nicole and I also devoted a podcast episode to research logs.
Step 2 Create a Table
The tax lists for Somerset County covered the years 1723-1759 and yes, I have an entry for each year in my research log. To make it easier to view the years, names of individuals, and names of slaves in the information, I created a table. Tables are invaluable for analyzing tax data.
In the screenshot below you’ll see that I bolded the Ballard individuals living in Wicomico. This separated out the two groups of people in two different areas of Somerset County, Maryland. Notice three Charles Ballard’s taxed in 1723. This family used the same names repeatedly and the tax records helped to sort out the correct relationships.
In Somerset County, Maryland, the poll tax was levied on free males over the age of fifteen and slaves of both sexes over fifteen. The lists from the Maryland State Archives are abstracted with a household number assigned to each individual and the Hundred where the individual resided.
As researchers, we use each bit of information as evidence. For example, in these tax lists any individual listed as a “dependent” in the same household would likely be a son. Noting when a dependent began to be taxed is a sign of his turning fifteen.
You’ll need to know the laws of the time for the tax listings. The Maryland State Archives listed this information on the website, so it was easy for me to discover. You may need to do a bit more digging if your tax collection doesn’t readily explain who was to be taxed. The FamilySearch Research Wiki is always a good place to being learning about taxes for your specific location. View the country, state, or county to get more information.
For more ideas on creating tables, see my post Put it in a Table: Understanding and Organizing Research Findings.
Step 3 Analyze the Data
How do you put the data together once you have it extracted into your research log and organized in a table? By writing a research summary or report. This is where your research comes together and you make sense of the findings. In my report I used the tax records in conjunction with the will of Charles Ballard where he names his children and bequeaths land as well as slaves to each one.
Using the data from the tax records table I was able to determine three generations of men named Charles Ballard and define each one in my 17 page research report. The naming of slaves in the tax lists proved to be the key point in identifying the individuals. Without tax lists, it would have been impossible to correctly put the family together.
Here is a sampling from the section on the third Charles Ballard (1709 – 1790). To clearly designate each generation, whenever I referred to a Charles Ballard I included a number after his name.
Charles Ballard (3) first appears in the tax lists of 1723 in the household of Charles Ballard (2) of Wicomico. From 1723-1759 Charles (3) is consistently listed residing in the Wicomico Hundred, presumably on the land bequeathed to him by his father, Charles (2). No marriage record has been found for him, but he likely married by 1730. A John Ballard is first listed in his household in 1745 as a dependent. This is likely his oldest son, born about 1730.
In summary, because tax lists can be the key to breaking down you brick walls, taking the time to learn about tax records could be just the thing you need to do. Stay tuned for Back to the Basics with Tax Records Part 2 where you’ll discover the various types of tax records and how to locate them for your family.
Best of luck in your genealogical endeavors!
(1) Benjamin Franklin and David Hall (printers), three pence note of paper currency issued by the Province of Pennsylvania, 1764; image online, digital image by Wikimedia Commons user Godot13, Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org : accessed 11 January 2019). Permissions: Public Domain. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_American_currency#/media/File:US-Colonial_(PA-115)-Pennsylvania-18_Jun_1764.jpg
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