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Tax Records in North Carolina: Genealogical Value

Introductory information on tax records in North Carolina during the 1700s-1800s.

Genealogical Value

Tax records are very important and offer a lot of insight into people on the lists, especially in the 1700s and 1800s. Federal census enumeration began in 1790 every 10 years and continues through today. From 1790-1840, information in census consisted mainly of the name of the head of household, age ranges, and number of enslaved people. County tax information can. Tax records can show how much land is owned; livestock owned, particularly horses, cattle, and sometimes mules; sometimes you can learn the value of the land or other property owned; and if land is owned with a larger town (Raleigh for instance) you might be able to learn which lot was theirs and compare against a map of the city during that time that shows the different lots and their locations.

Another advantage of using tax records in addition to census records is the census was only taken every 10 years, but often tax lists were taken annually or bi-annually.; This can help with a few different things:

  • Tracking migration within a county or even out of a county. Tax lists were often taken yearly or every other year. Following your ancestor in tax lists can help narrow down when they left an area.
  • Changes in amount of land owned, which can give clues to when they bought or sold land and that information can be used to look in the deed books to see who purchased or sold the land.
  • Learning your ancestors neighbors. This may be useful if a tax year is close to a census year and your ancestor cannot be found then look for the neighbors and you might find your ancestors with a misspelled name.
  • If you are looking for an enslaved ancestor and see the amount of enslaved people increased or decreased during tax years, that can give a clue when an enslaved ancestors was purchased and/or sold between enslavers.
  • If you are looking for an ancestor's parents, tax lists in the early 1700s tend to name all taxables. If your ancestor was taxable, or known siblings, you may find them listed in their parent's household. Alternatively, your ancestor may be living next door to, or a few houses from, a relative. It's good to pay attention to others living in the same tax district with the same surname.
  • Some situations arise with multiple men of the same name are living in the same county.

Tax records can be a huge help in your research and should not be overlooked.