I don’t know anyone who likes paying taxes. I certainly don’t and I’m pretty sure our ancestors didn’t either. But Uncle Sam must get his due. I’m sitting in my office this weekend getting all our tax documents ready for the CPA.
So, is there a reason to like taxes? Yes!! They produce records and we love records! There is so much genealogical information to gain from tax records.
By looking at many tax years in a row, you can see if an ancestor came of age (usually 21) and had to start paying. You can also notice if someone fell off the tax rolls. If you find them somewhere else the next year, you have an estimate as to when they moved. If you don’t find them at all perhaps they died.
Looking through tax records can also lead you to other record sets. If your ancestor was taxed for land, go look in the deeds for that parcel. You might also find them in probate records.
Unfortunately, many tax records are alphabetized, so you don’t get a sense of the neighborhood as in census records. But they are usually separated by town or township which makes them manageable to search page by page.
When I looked for the parents of Susanna Krewson Bothell, a 10-year span of tax records helped me to distinguish between two possible candidates for Susanna’s father.1 Both men were named John Krewson, but their occupations (mason and carpenter) always helped tell them apart and eventually pointed me to the right person. (The carpenter was my guy).
When you’re just starting out in genealogy, you stick with the easier records…census and vital records. Branching out into new documents, like tax records, will open your eyes to learning all you can about your people. Give it a try!
Genealogy tip: The old saying “Follow the Money” holds true when searching for ancestors. Make sure to include tax records when doing thorough research.
1 Bucks County, Pennsylvania, U.S., Tax Records, 1842-1851, unpaginated entries arranged alphabetically, all years read for entries relating to John Krewson, carpenter and John Krewson, mason; digital images, “Bucks County, Pennsylvania, U.S., Tax Records 1782-1860,” Ancestry (www.ancestry.com: accessed 10 Oct 2022); citing Bucks County Historical Society (BCHS) microfilm, 76 rolls.