Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Question About Tax Rolls

Question from William:
"I am not sure I am getting everything I am supposed to be getting out of tax rolls. I saw that FamilySearch has the Hinds County [Mississippi] tax records online so I thought I would take a look. I am looking at a 1822 tax roll this is what it says:"

1 poll
10 slaves
Total amt. state tax $8.25
Amount of tax for literacy fund $1.37 1/2

"So how does this help me?"

It may not look like much but there is a lot of info there. Different states/counties will records different things on their tax rolls and it also varies by year. You will have real estates taxes and personal property taxes. I took a look at the 1822 Hinds County tax rolls and this particular roll does not list the real estate. You didn't say what this person's name was so we will just call him John.

I would follow John through every available tax record. Different years will give you different info and you may very well find out exactly how many acres of land John had. If you are real lucky, you will find the land description. I would also correlate the tax records with the territorial, state and federal censuses to make a more complete timeline for John and to narrow down his date of birth and death. 1822 is the earliest available tax record for Hinds County [Hinds was formed in 1821 from Indian lands]. John was at least 21 years old at that time. There are some exceptions when someone younger could own property and was taxed on it but that would be very unusual. Poll taxes were also age 21 and up. As you are following him through the tax rolls, if he suddenly drops off and the next year his wife is listed that is a big time clue that he has died. When men got to a certain age (different for different jurisdictions) they didn't have to pay the poll tax. In Perry County, not too far from Hinds, I have followed several men through the tax records, James Simmons being one of them. The last year he paid a poll tax was 1822. He would have been 58 years old that year. He continued to pay real estate taxes until 1839.

The Mississippi Territory was formed in 1798 and became a state in 1817. Hinds County was formed in 1821, The first place I would look for John in the state of Mississippi is the 1820 federal census. This is assuming that John was a bit older than 21 in 1822. We know he was at least that old but he could have been much older and listed as head of household in 1820. If he is there, you will know in which county to start looking for earlier tax records. You will start with the county tax rolls and then work backward in time to the territorial tax rolls. Of course it is possible that he came from a different state to Hinds County when the lands were opened up so you might have to widen your search. You always want to start with the narrowest search and then slowly move outward.

You can see that John had 10 slaves and he paid a pretty steep tax. $8.25 was actually a hefty amount of tax back then which leads me to believe he had a decent amount of land. Part of this tax was the poll tax plus the tax on the slaves but this is an amount that would indicate he owned land. Also, why would a man own 10 slaves if he didn't own any land. You can get an idea of how much tax was for each component by comparing the tax amounts of the different men on the roll. Since this was in Mississippi (a public land state) the first place I would look for land records is the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The next thing I would look at are the deeds. I checked to see what deed records are available for Hinds County at the Family History Library. They have deeds starting in 1823 on microfilm. John would have gotten his land prior to that so the BLM is your best bet at this point. If you find John in the BLM records you will get a complete land description and you will be able to plot it out on a modern map and see exactly where he lived.

There is one more great clue on tax records. You should be able to see who John's neighbors were and that can lead you to his relatives. Some tax rolls were recopied in alphabetical order with the originals destroyed. Those won't be quite as useful for this, however, if they are in alphabetical order, you will be able to see who all in the county had the same surname. If the land descriptions are listed (or if you get them from the BLM or county deeds) you will still be able to plot out the physical neighbors and the persons with the same surnames easily. Knowing exactly were everyone lived in relation to each other can give you even more clues.

You can see that even though there doesn't seem to be a lot of information on this tax roll there are a lot of clues that can lead you to other helpful records.

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

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