Learning Leaves

Kentucky Tax Records

EnglishOakLores     Things you can find 

Looking for a birth year?  When a young man turned 21, he was listed in the tax records, for militia purposes and this was noted on the tax form. If you already have an idea of when he may have been born and want to verify with additional, supporting information, then looking for him in the tax list about the time he turned 21.  Oftentimes, his name will be listed on a line and the only item marked will be a tally mark in the ’21 and over’ column.

Looking for a parent?  It was common for young men to still be living at home when they turned 21.  Since he was old enough to be considered an adult, he was listed separately, but usually next to or very near, his parents. Therefore, when you find your 21-year-old you will note that there is little to no taxable items (sometimes there is some land and/or a horse) and you will see a tally mark in the Over 21 column.  Usually, in the line above (or near the name) will be another taxpayer, with the same surname, listed.  This taxpayer will likely have more land and other taxable items.  This can provide indirect evidence of a father – son relationship.

Looking for brothers? Apply the same concepts described above for the years they turned 21.  Sometimes we have a list of several potential candidates for brothers.  Looking for each one can help determine which family they may belong to.  Checking the tax lists a few years before and after your ancestor can also identify other possible brothers and their birth order.

Looking for a possible death year and/or name of spouse?  When a taxpayer stops showing up in the tax records, there are several possibilities:  He (or she in some cases) may have died, moved away, too old to pay, too poor to pay, delinquent or otherwise engaged (as in prison).  If he had died, then checking that year or the next may reveal the spouses name and/or refer to the heirs.  I have encountered there being a year between the last time a taxpayer was found and the time the spouse/heirs are mentioned.  It is always a good idea to check a few years before and after when dealing with taxes.  If you are looking for the death year, tax years can narrow down the time frame to within a couple of years.  If you are really lucky the spouse will be listed with her first name. But, don’t be too disappointed if she is listed as Widow Smith it happens… Don’t forget to check out the end of the book (or Supervisor’s List in later years-especially cities/towns) for a list of those to whom taxes were not collected-you may find out the reason and in some cases maybe even a death date!

Looking for property and location? 

  • Land was significant to early taxpayers and in Kentucky, the quality of the land was used in determining taxes.  There were three ‘grades’ considered with the first column identifying prime land – picture the Blue Grass region in central and northern Kentucky; the second column was good land but not as good as the prime – picture rolling hills with some good pasture land and the third column was less than prime -picture Eastern Kentucky.  Depending upon which column the amount of land was listed, gives an idea of the value of the land.
  • In Kentucky, land was determined via the metes and bounds method and water was a key landmark to the lands location.  Typically, the land was connected to the closest water course-even if the land was not directly on the banks of the water course.  Some of the tax lists identify not only the water course but also, especially in early records, the surveyor/patent owner.  This is helpful in not only locating land but also tracing land back to the original surveys.
  • Tax records can also identify land owned in other counties.  If an individual owned land in multiple counties, he could either pay in each county or pay in home county.  The tax lists would reflect the counties and land.  In some tax lists, the nearest neighbor may be named-another clue.

Knowing the acreage, tax value, nearest water course and/or neighbor can be useful in distinguishing people with the same name.  Oh, and lest I forget, some of the tax lists even list the number of children in the household under a certain age!  Think how helpful that can be when we are dealing with tally marks in census records!

EnglishOakLores      THINGS TO NOTE 

  • In the early days of Kentucky, tax collectors went out to the residences to collect taxes.  When that got to be too cumbersome, tax payers were required to come to the courthouse to pay taxes.  For many folks this change was a hardship-especially when farming, as it could take several days to get to the nearest courthouse.  As a result of this, Kentucky officials created a law that stated that a courthouse had to be within a day’s ride on horseback for every tax paying citizen.  So, Kentucky went from just a few counties to 120-which we still have today.  Keep this in mind when researching as it is always a good idea to check surrounding counties as well as parent counties when researching in Kentucky.
  • Each tax year may contain more than one book (picture each Tax Collector having their own book).  Unfortunately, these books are not always clearly identified as Book 1, Book 2 etc., and sometimes differentiating them is a bit of a challenge.  Just be aware that this can happen and look for more than one list in each year. Books are listed in semi alphabetical order as in all A’s together, B’s together etc.   Be sure to check the end of each book for notes which may provide a list of those who didn’t pay taxes that year and why. The individual may be too old to pay, delinquent, left the area or even died in that year (sometimes a specific date is provided).  In more recent tax lists, and especially in towns/cities, look for a ‘Supervisor’s List.’  You may find out that your ancestor was in prison that year!
  • In most cases the lists are somewhat alphabetical-but there are some that aren’t.  While those that aren’t are more challenging to examine, the big benefit is you have an idea of neighbors.  An advantage of semi-alphabetical is that you have the surnames together and this can help with family.
  • Check a couple years before and after the year you are interested in. If tax-payer stops showing up, and you think he may have died, check next couple of years for possible spouse name and heirs.  Don’t just do one year following-check 2-3 at least. You never know what you may discover.
  • In early years, look for the tax lists that list the number of children in the household under a certain age.  This is helpful when having to deal with the pre-1850 census records.  The tally marks cover several years, as in 0-5 years of age.  Following the tax years can narrow down the years a little bit.

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