Friday, November 8, 2013

Using Early Tax List for Genealogy in KY, VA, and TN

Census Substitute

VA Tithable
As a family researcher or genealogists have substituted tax lists for those missing census records or for county/state enumerations between census?  At a3Genealogy we find that we use Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia tax lists the most, so we wanted to share this topic with our readers with a few helpful links.

What Types of Tax Lists?
There were poll tax, real property tax (land), and personal property tax (slaves, cattle, horses). And let’s not forget the tithing states, like Virginia; and early quit-rent taxes paid by landowners before Revolutionary War in Colonial America. Again these can be analyzed.

In Virginia the 1790 and 1800 census schedules were lost (ever wonder how that happened?), but tithable men were enumerated. Tithable monies were important to pay for the maintenance of the local churches and parishes. It was through a tithable Virginia list that we located Tim McGraw’s ancestor Isaac Chrisman in VA. 

Since tax lists were created annually, with a bit analysis, the researcher can…
  • Narrow birth years of males (when are they initially named on the tax lists).  Know your states’ laws for the year as to when a male (son) must be listed individually and not enumerated with the father. 
  • Differentiate men of the same names.  .
  • Track families that were not landowners.  If they were not landowners, researchers rarely find a probate or will.
In addition to substituting census records, we find that tax lists are especially useful when paired with pre-1850 census records.

A great article on analyzing tax lists and the possibilities of solving research problems is provided on the Wiki: Kentucky Tax Records Even if you aren’t researching in Kentucky, this article is helpful. Here’s a small excerpt:
A study of tax lists across time would reveal which of the three men named John Jones owned land. The land could be identified by location and tract. The acquisition and disposal of the land can be tracked for each man. With this knowledge, deeds and land grants can be checked. Deeds may reveal the wife’s name. This may now have helped pinpoint which John Jones married Sintha Smith. John Jones’ relationship to the other Jones men in the neighborhood can then be studied.

Where to Begin

Here are three key points to tax lists analysis:

Virginia Early Laws
  1. Know the law of the county/state of interest
  2. Also, stay mindful of the state and county map formations. As noted, Kentucky and West Virginia were in present day Virginia in 1783.
  3. Obtain copies of the original lists.  Transcribed copies may not be exact: are the names in order as recorded?, typos?, etc.  Researchers may find copies of original records on line, on subscribed websites, or order the microfilm copy from the Family History Library (FHL). Be creative when using keywords on the FHL. A recent search for “tithable” led us to the following title: The 1787 census of Virginia : an accounting of the name of every white male tithable over 21 years, the number of white males between 16 & 21years, the number of slaves over 16 & those under 16 years, together with alisting of their horses, cattle & carriages, and also the names of all persons to whom ordinary licenses and physician's licenses were issued. This title was used in lieu of “1787 Tax Lists of Virginia.” (Note: to activate link, login may be necessary) 

For More Information (and Case Studies)
Tennessee Early Tax (
Other States
Mississippi County Tax Rolls, 1818-1902. Recently the a3Genealogy researchers were able to use these tax rolls to identify the correct slaveholder and slave family.

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, accessible answers


  1. Hi Kathleen, here are tax rolls (personal, land and combined) for Mississippi

    1. @Tara G: we have added this link to the article. I was saving it for an article on researching slaves and slaveholders in Mississippi, but you are right...let's make a running list of tax rolls within one blog post. Thanks

  2. You're welcome. If I ever find more, will send them your way. Eagerly awaiting the post on finding Mississippi slaves/slaveholders.