Thursday, December 1, 2016

Going to the Courthouse - Tax Records

Given the inevitability of death and taxes, it is also inevitable that taxes had to be recorded at the courthouse.  Most counties levied property tax on those who owned real estate and livestock and on other assets as well.  Property tax records are valuable for two reasons - first, they are annual, so they fill in the gaps between the decennial censuses and purchases and sales of land.  Second, they show the major property that a person owned.  So definitely don't skip the property tax records.

Usually the older property tax records are no longer in the county assessor's office but archived somewhere.  These records are less used, so they are a bit harder to find.  But ask at the county assessor's office first.  I've really dug into them one time, and that was for Fort Bend County, Texas, and there they turned out to be in the Fort Bend County library's genealogy room on microfilm.  I've also found them at the county seat's historical library.  And they are probably not indexed, so it will take a bit of time to search them.

Here is an example of a property tax record for my great-grandfather David Fast #86812 (1858-1932) when he lived in Fort Bend County, Texas, in 1903.
G. J. Fast, Peter J. Fast, and David Fast, lines #8-10, Form B, Tax Rolls, 1903, Fort Bend County, Texas, no page, Fort Bend County Tax Rolls 1838-1910, George Memorial Library, Richmond, Texas, reel #1079-03.
There are three brothers, Gerhard, Peter, and David, who are living next to each other in the Mennonite settlement.  It gives the legal description for their land, the number of acres and the value of the land, and how many head of each kind of livestock and their value.  The second page, which I have not included here, shows the number and value of wagons and carriages, the value of stocks and bonds, the value of business inventory and other taxable property, and the amount of each type of tax due.  So even one property tax assessment shows a lot about a family. 

But even more interesting is to compare the three brothers over time since I found tax assessments for them for 1898 to 1906.  David was the oldest brother, and he had significantly more than the other two.  But all of them improved over time.  David started with 2 cows in 1898 but had 23 by 1905.  Brother Gerhard started with 1 cow and built up to 11 by 1906.  Brother Peter started with 2 cows and eventually had 8.  But my other great-grandfather who lived there, Jacob Suderman #319370 (1856-1906), started with 13 cows in 1899 and had 61 at his peak in 1903.  He had three times as much land as David Fast did and many more cattle, so he was clearly a wealthier man.  In fact, he had the largest piece of land in the Mennonite settlement.

Here's a little piece of a spreadsheet I made to analyze the tax information from all my ancestors and relatives in the county.  Putting it all together like this really showed the contrasts between them.

I was living in Houston, Texas, at the time, so it was easier to go to Richmond and spend 3-4 afternoons there digging the property tax records out of the microfilm.  The records will help to show residence and socioeconomic status for each year that the family lived in the county and owned taxable property.  No doubt, they will take some time, but they are well worth finding.

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