Sometimes you will see reference to a poll (head) tax. Particularly in colonial and the pre-Civil War era, free adult males were taxed a set amount that was due when they became twenty-one. In some areas it was levied at age sixteen or eighteen. Older men, such as those in their sixties, were no longer taxed. Look for a notation of the man and approximate age in court minutes, noting that he should no longer be taxed.
If you search consistent tax records for a specific location, you may be able to determine when a young man became of age and was taxed. Through the years some states changed the age for poll tax, making research rather complicated but not impossible.
Using poll taxes with property tax lists provides a profile of a person and household where there are missing census years or between the census years. Missing censuses have been reconstructed from tax lists, such as the 1790 Kentucky "census."
Depending upon the time period and location, tax records may provide:
name of person taxed
name of free men of color being taxed
number and sometimes names of taxable free white males in household
acres of land owned (sometimes the location is given)
sometimes the name of the original grantee of the land
number of slaves
number of horses, cattle and other farm animals
value of land, slaves, other taxable property
amount of tax paid
By using a tax list you can view information on neighbors and people with the same surname in that area. Thus, relationships, deduced or suggested, can be determined from the tax list. When a person is no longer on a specific tax list, you can deduce that they had either died or moved. Begin your research in other records, such as the court minutes, probate files, land records and guardianship records.
Tax lists are normally kept within the county courthouses. However, many of the older ones have been placed in state archives. Some have been transcribed and are on Internet. Do a Internet search for "tax list" and your area of interest. There are many tax lists that have been transcribed and published in periodicals. Microfilm of originals can be found in the Family History Library (LDS) in Salt Lake City. Check their Family History Library Catalog at FamilySearch International.
Newspapers provide a good deal of information regarding tax lists. Sometimes the lists, with names and statistics were published in newspapers. These will also include delinquent taxes, sometimes with notations that the person owning the property moved west or east or to a specific state. You should also check the newspapers and court records for sheriff's sales of delinquent land.
Tax records provide significant information. Unlike other records that are specific in names and dates and family structure, they still provide details that fill in the gaps of our research.
Source Information: Tracing Lines, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2010.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.
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