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The Genealogy Pages of the Meadows-White-Frank-Selletti Family

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Researching Your Own Family History

This month's focus: searching tax lists for genealogy information.

 Tax records are an often overlooked resource that can be especially helpful when census records are unavailable. Local, state, and federal governments each have collections which recorded information which can give you a window into your ancestors' world. 

What can I learn from tax records?

A researcher may get an idea of a family's financial status or may be able to link family members by checking for others in the area with the same surname. While searching them, it is important to keep in mind that the ages of individuals subject to poll taxes changed periodically. Some individuals, such as ministers, justices of the peace, militia officers, tax assessors, and some veterans of war, were exempt from paying taxes. Children, slaves, and indentured servants were also not included on tax lists.

Where should I look to find tax records?

Early direct tax lists which predate the Civil War are likely to be found in state historical societies and state archives. Federal direct tax lists from the Civil War on can be found on microfilm at the National Archives, a local Family History Center, or several places online.

County courthouses or archives are the best place to begin a search for taxes levied on the county level, such as poll and property taxes.

Some larger cities, such as Philadelphia, will have records in their city hall, archives, public libraries and historical societies.

Selected Readings:

Dilts, G. David. "Censuses and Tax Lists." Printed Sources: A Guide to Published Genealogical Sources. Ch. 9: 300-52. Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1998.

Eakle, Arlene H. Tax Records: A Common Source with an Uncommon Value. Salt Lake City: Family History World, 1978.

Pompey, Sherman Lee. Indexes to American and Western Canada Census and Tax Records, 1800-1900. Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1967. Microfilmed typescript.

Sittner, Kathi. "Tax Records." Ancestry Magazine 13 (3) (May/June 1995): 26-7.

Stemmons, John D. The United States Census Compendium: A Directory of Census Records, Tax Lists, Poll Lists, Petitions, Directories, etc. Which Can Be Used as a Census. Logan, Utah: Everton Publishers, 1973.

Research Tips

Here are some tips about researching a family tree, for example:

1) Remember, most everyone has two family names: your father's, but also your mother's. Don't feel you must restrict your research to just your paternal family tree.
2) Be sure to evaluate the source of your information. Remember, you can't believe everything you read!
3) Networking is the key to opening the door to new information and you'll make new friends.