Tennessee Tax Lists

by deb - December 8th, 2009.
Filed under: Genealogy.

A tax list can be a useful record for placing your ancestor in a certain county of Tennessee in a certain year.   The earliest Tennessee tax lists were a list of names of men in a county in a certain year, usually ages 21 and up.

Next, tax lists were taken under a “captain” and were lists of  groups of men who lived near each other within the county.  Other information might include amount of land owned (for example:  50 acres) and where that land was located (for example:  Drakes Creek, Bledsoe Creek).   Additionally, if a man paid a white poll tax, he was white and approximately 21-55 years of age.   If a man was present on the tax list but did not pay the poll tax, he was usually over 55 or under 21 years old.    If he owned any slaves this would have been recorded as, for example, 1 BP (black poll).   By 1836 Tennessee counties were divided into districts and tax lists showed the men who lived and/or owned land in those districts.

Information from a tax list can also help pinpoint the death of an ancestor that owend land.  For example:  John Smith owned 50 acres in 1836 in Dist 9 of Sumner Co. TN.   He died in 1836 after the tax list was taken.  In 1837 the entry might read:  John Smith heirs 50 ac.   This would tell you that John Smith had died and the land had not been divided or sold.  At this point the tax lists could be read each year after 1837 until the 50 acres of John Smith heirs does not show up and then a check of deeds and other county records could give a list of his heirs.

Finally, other information that can be gleaned from tax lists:   men and women with the same surname as your ancestor, neighbors of your ancestor, widow’s name of your ancestor, approximate dates of death, approximate dates of land sales, approximate ages.

Tax lists are useful tools for genealogy research.   If there are tax lists available for the time period you are researching, check them out.

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