Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Personal Property Tax Records to the Rescue (Again!)

I have posted in the past on using tax records to help track my ancestors through the years when census records were not available or when for mysterious reasons I am unable to find an ancestor on the census record.  It seems I have one or two ancestors who "hid" when the census taker came around.  When I "lose" an ancestor in the census records, I now turn quickly turn to land and personal property tax records.  I find the personal property tax records to be more helpful in my research if I am unsure if my ancestor owned land or not.  I confess that researching tax records can be tedious and too many hours at the microfilm reader can cause a little motion sickness, but the results are often well worth the effort.

Jesse Haley is a great illustration on how I use personal property tax records.  Jesse is one of my GGGG grandfathers.  His lived in Halifax County, VA  and is easily followed in the records from 1845 until his death in 1869.  Before 1845, information on him is spotty at best.  He is estimated to have been born about 1803 in "Virginia".  He married Temperance Owen in 1826 in Halifax County, VA.  My search for information on Jesse for the years 1827-1845 proved fruitless.  Especially difficult was the fact that Jesse did not show up anywhere in the 1830 or 1840 census records as expected.  From this I concluded he was not a head of household, but I could not be sure where he was.  Had he stayed in VA or had he left the area?

Here is where I turned to the personal property tax records for Halifax County, VA from 1822-1844.  I started with the year 1826 (the year of his marriage) and worked my way forward.  No sign of Jesse was found for 9 years.  Then I almost missed it.  1835.  There he was: Jesse Haley paying tax on one horse in Halifax County, VA.  I followed Jesse through the 1844 tax records where he continued to pay tax on one horse.  Year by year, there he was. In two rolls of microfilm, I accounted for 10 years of Jesse's life and confirmed he was in Halifax County.  If you were in the library that morning, you would have seen a little happy dance!

So, where was he from 1826-1834?  I'm hoping the personal property tax records of neighboring Charlotte County, VA will shed light on these years.


  1. Lisa, where and how did you find personal property tax records? Where are they available? I've not used them before but they might be helpful.

  2. Nancy, Because I research in southern VA, I found the records through ILL at the Library of VA. Interestingly, when I visited the Halifax County, VA courthouse, they did not have their county's personal property tax records. For the NC counties I research, I find the records at the state archives. Good luck!


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