Blog 2022 07 17   When Census Records Don’t Exist 

We often wonder how we can track our ancestors between the census or when, for whatever reason, they do not appear in the census.  What other records might be available?

Taxes are my favorite go-to records.  Property Taxes and Poll Taxes have been around since before the Revolution.  Sometimes called Quitrents under the Colonial system, it was a tax.  While the Poll Tax took on new meaning post-Civil War, it also was a tax, typically on free men of militia age, and goes back before the US Revolution.

Wherever you are researching, you should look for tax records.

In many of the colonies, the landowners paid a Quitrent which was nothing more than a property tax based on acreage or cleared acreage.  One thing to keep in mind is to compare the date the land was granted by the King vs when the Royal Governor granted the land.  In one example, the King’s grant did not come until many years after the Governor and Royal Council granted the land.

The first federal tax levied against the population was in 1798 when America thought they might be going to war against France [i]and needed to raise $2 Million quickly.  The tax known as the Glass Tax or Window Pane Tax, taxed buildings based on square footage and heavily on windows. [ii] One example where this tax could be helpful is distinguishing men with the same name.  The information includes the person’s name, dimensions, and material of the main house and all other buildings such as kitchen, stables, and barns.

You may not know that the first Income Tax was between 1862 and 1872 for the northern states and 1865 – 1872 for the states who joined the Confederacy.  Congress needed to raise money for the war effort and instituted a tax on all income over $600 per year.  It was a progressive tax in that, all income between $600 and $10,000 was taxed at 3% and all income over $10,000 was taxed at 5%.  Then in 1864, it was raised to 5% for income over $600 and now less than $5,000 and 10% for all income over $5,000.

What we can glean from the Civil War Income Tax might continue to distinguish people with the same or similar names and can put them in a specific location.  This is because the source of the income, in detail, is listed.  Information such as, operating a distillery and paying for 3,755 barrels of Brandy made from grape, 2,901 barrels of Brandy NOT made from grape, and other types of liquor.  While another person nearby with the same name might have been a rancher with 126 head of cattle, 5 calves, 10 hogs, 75 head of sheep, etc.  If you knew the line of business your ancestor was in, you can determine exactly which tax record belongs to whom.

Property Tax records are among my favorites when they can be found.  These also asked about income but depending on what the Federal or State opted to tax, certain personal property was also taxed.  In California, they taxed items such as pianos, furs, horses, wagons, and watches.  Depending on the quantity the owner paid the tax.  In Georgia, the property tax was conducted in conjunction with the Poll Tax, so men between 18 and 60 paid the poll tax, if they owned real property (land) they had to list ALL property then owned in Georgia and which county it was in and the number of acres based on that it was used for such as pine for timber, grazing for livestock, or farming.  Here we often see where someone else is acting as an agent because the owner did not actually live there but was out of state, or was away for some reason and worth delving into.  Also, I could see where some of my family members were acting as administrators on the estate of their children who died and the probate case was still open.

Based on age, we can see where a male property owner is not yet 21 and pays on the property but not the toll, and once turning 21 we can determine the approximate age.  Same on the other end where they crossed the age limit whereby they stop paying taxes.  This is still true today in many places.  Property Tax records are public records and anyone can look up someone else’s property tax records.  If your state, county, or city has age benefits, you can tell when someone ages out of paying things like education tax or gets a reduced property tax.

If your ancestor ran certain businesses which required a special license such as an inn or tavern they were most likely required to pay a tax and obtain a license.  Additionally, if they ran a business, check with archives, historical societies, nearby universities, and libraries to see if perhaps they have copies of the company’s ledger listing customers, employees, and taxes collected.

I have probably said this before but in all records, taxes included, always check the last couple of pages to see if your missing ancestor was added as an addendum.