Those Deceptively Simple Tax Rolls



17 February 2014

When a tax roll is arranged alphabetically--or semi-alphabetically by first letter of surname—that makes it easy to find a person of interest, right?  Wrong! If we simply search under the "proper" letter of the alphabet, we'll miss much.

If, say, our person of interest has died, the estate may be taxed under the name of the administrator. When a minor inherited property, the land may be taxed under the name of the guardian. If we’re doing research on a pre–Civil War free person of color, in a state such as Georgia that required them to have legal guardians to “protect their rights,” the land may appear on the tax roll under the name of that guardian. If a widow with dower land remarried; her land would then taxed to the new husband. We may not know about the remarriage, but we might discover it by reading the land-description column of the tax roll to find her acreage.

Especially when researching a county whose records are largely destroyed, any surviving tax roll needs to be READ. That means every column, every addendum, and often every district within that taxing jurisdiction.