Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The funny thing about census and tax lists

I watch the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness - RAOGK USA Facebook page and someone posted a question about a 1820 Ashe County census that appeared to be alphabetized and it was throwing her for a loop.   After I explained some things to her she said that someone should do an article on this subject.  Ah, an opportunity.

Your Guide to the Federal Census for Genealogists, Researchers and Family Historians by Kathleen W. Hinckley is an excellent resource for all things census.  The information that the RAOGK poster needed is in Chapter 5.

For the 1790 through 1820 census TWO copies were made from the original to make a total of three.  One was sent to the federal district court and two were posted for public viewing so that they could be examined and corrections made.  Here is a quote directly from Kathleen’s book that give the RAOGK poster her answer.

“Some marshals also took it upon themselves not only to copy the record, but to rearrange the entries in alphabetical order—sometimes by the first letter of the surname and sometimes the first letter of [the] given name.  In most cases, the filmed version is not the true original but rather the second or third copy made after corrections were made by the citizens.”  [page 109]    

The same thing happened with tax lists.  After all the information was collected the lists would be recopied, sometimes in alphabetical order.  The good news is that it is usually easy to find someone on these lists, especially if the tax roll has not been indexed.  The bad news is that you have no idea who was living next to whom and in genealogy that is a very important piece of information to have.

Here is a screenshot from the 1812 Marion County, Mississippi Territorial Tax Roll as an example.  I am not including the entire page because it would be too small to read.  This is Page 1 showing the A’s and some of the B’s

tax"Mississippi, State Archives, Various Records, 1820-1951," index and images, FamilySearch (,212062301 : accessed 09 Nov 2014), Marion > Territorial tax rolls 1812, Box 140 > image 3 of 13; Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson.

So does the original exist?  Maybe, maybe not.  To find out you would need to check with the state archives and the local county courthouse for that county.  You might not find the original but you might find that both of the hand copied versions exist.  If so, you might want to compare them because the two copies could be different.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

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