Saturday, December 9, 2017

Tax Lists and Provenance

Tax lists are a favorite source of mine. I've found ancestors on the lists who appear nowhere else. If an ancestor never owned property, or was a woman, they may only be found on tax lists. Widows are found on tax lists. From my experience Kentucky has the most surviving Tax Lists. I'm mainly familiar with tax lists in the Midwest and South,  I'm not sure about tax lists in North East States?

Tax lists tell you when males came of age, because that is when they first appear on tax lists. Sometimes they appear on tax lists at 18, and sometimes 21, depending on local laws. They also tell you when males died, or aged off lists, or left an area. Sometimes they state relationships. I did find one case where an ancestor was described as the son of someone.

You can now find many of these lists online at sites such as Ancestry and FamilySearch. The digitization of the Family History Library microfilms is adding to the online Tax lists.

I got back into Tax List research when I learned my immigrant ancestor, who was granted a travel pass in Germany, never appeared in American records. I had assumed he had been found in Colonial American records,  but only was made aware of the fact he didn't appear from a blog post I found about the Brower DNA project. This ancestor's name was Hubert Brower.  He traveled to America with his wife and children. He definitely isn't in deed records or court records. I decided to look for him on Tax lists which tended to cover a larger percentage of the population. Although landless males did appear on tax lists they were sometimes living as paupers so were exempt from taxation, which might be a problem as Hubert Brower and family probably arrived in America with very little.

The ancestor, Hubert Brower, I was looking for most likely would have settled in Pennsylvania where his children lived, and descendants continue to live, from the 18th Century to present. The family lived in Vincent and Coventry Townships, Chester County, Pennsylvania, for many generations. Hubert's travel pass was dated May 1726. There are surviving tax lists covering that time period.

Finding the original tax lists copies required sorting through several digitized films covering that time period. The digital film titled "Tax Transcripts 1715-1900" contains the original tax lists. These lists are sorted by township.

Tax transcripts, 1715-1900
Author:Chester County (Pennsylvania). Board of County Commissioners

There is an index for lists from 1715-1799 here

The other tax list microfilms for Chester County are just later indexes, basically.

A later index to Tax lists actually misses some Brower phonetic spellings

Another typed copy which lists individuals in alphabetical order
The original tax lists are much more helpful because they list people by township, making it easier to find relatives and neighbors living near an ancestor.

 I'm finding that the names, especially German names, were often phonetically spelled and varied with different tax collectors and different years. The indexes weren't helpful in several cases because the names were badly misspelled.

Here we find Christian Brower's name spelled correctly, listed with his stepfather John Road, in Vincent Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania.

His stepfather's name can be found in the records spelled Road, Rode, Rod, and Roth.

Christian's name is badly misspelled on the 1739 list below. I couldn't find this 1739 entry in the indexes for Christian because of the misspelling.

At this point his mother Ann was a widow and appears as Ann Rood on the same 1739 Vincent Township list.

Unfortunately these tax lists aren't complete for every year, and some years are missing altogether. Only a couple lists survive for the year 1726. Hubert Brower never appears on any tax lists. There are a few complete tax lists for years around 1726, and he doesn't show up on any of them. We do know that Hubert's wife Anna remarried in the 1730's. I'm not sure when the 1726 taxes were recorded and paid? The family left Germany around May 1726. Even if Hubert made it to Pennsylvania in 1726 he may not have been there in time to be recorded on a tax list. It looks like he died on the voyage to America or soon after arriving.

While I didn't find Hubert Brower on any of these lists I did learn more about his son, and my own ancestor Christian Brower. Later tax lists, which are available at also, give additional facts about Christian, including the number of acres of land he owned, his livestock, and the fact the family had one servant.

Without any record of him having lived in America I wondered what the proof was that Hubert Brower, wife Anna and children were the ancestors of the Browers of Chester County, Pennsylvania? According to witnesses the travel pass, letters, and other documents were found in a trunk in Henry Brower's attic. The Brower line is based on the provenance of these documents. There are no documents stating Hubert Brower or Anna were the parents of Christian, Henry. and John.

This is my first line proven based on provenance of documents found in an attic. I'll have to look up a citation for that.

Early Tax lists for Chester County, PA, from 1715 to 1900, are available online at FamilySearch when using computers at the FHC's (find one near you) or a Family History Library. Many Chester County, PA records are available for research at home through FamilySearch, unfortunately the tax lists are not searchable from anywhere.

Pennsylvania Tax lists from 1768 to 1801 are available at Ancestry.

What I've learned with this research is badly misspelled names may not show up where you expect in an index.

I was able to resolve a problem I didn't know existed until this week with the help of Tax lists and a descendant at a Brower family group on Facebook. The descendant had seen the trunk with the documents so could vouch for their provenance and authenticity. The problem is resolved to my satisfaction.

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