Kentucky tax lists are valuable genealogical sources. Because they were taken yearly, they supplement census records, which were taken every ten years.
Each county in Kentucky was divided into tax districts or precincts with a tax commissioner responsible for making a list of all those required to pay taxes. These lists from each district were combined and a copy was sent to each of the following: the state auditor, the county tax commissioner, the county sheriff and the county clerk. Caldwell County clerk's office still has some of these lists, but they are in delicate condition.
The requirements for tax list information varied depending on the time period, but generally included the names of all free males 21 years or older, slaves 16 years or older, number of horses or mares, the amount of property owned and the nearest watercourse or location of a town lot. It was not necessary to own land to be enumerated on the tax lists. For some years, the name(s) of the person who entered, surveyed and patented the land was listed. Also, some years listed the number of children of school age. If the taxed person owned a carriage or watch of gold or silver, that was also indicated. Some years also showed the amount of wheat, tobacco and corn grown.
The age at which a person could be exempt from paying taxes varied from state to state. In Kentucky it was on an individual basis with the exemption being granted by the county court because of infirmity and often combined with age. The following entry appears in Crittenden County Court Order Book 1, page 155, 14 December 1846: "It appearing to the court that Richard Posthlethwaight is aged and infirm, it is ordered that he forever hereafter be released from paying poll tax."
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when using tax lists. If a man suddenly appears on the tax list and you know he had been in the area for some time, he may have just turned 21. If he disappears, but his property is listed under the name of someone else, he probably died. It would be wise to then check for a will or the appointment of an administrator of his estate. If he disappears for one year and returns the following year, check the county court minutes to see if there is mention of "failing to turn in taxable items." This is then followed by a list of his taxable property.
Tax lists are readily available on microfilm in Kentucky libraries and often in genealogical collections in other states. The microfilm is also available for purchase from the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives in Frankfort, Kentucky.
Copyright on text and photographs
by Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG
Western Kentucky Genealogy Blog