As I get further back in my family tree, I have to do a lot more detective work to find my ancestors because of the lack of vital records. Census records only appear every 10 years, and in Kentucky, there is no 1800 census so there are 18 years between statehood and a census record. Once you get into available census records and an ancestor “disappears”, how do you know if he died or moved away? How can you find out where he went? When did he leave? Who else went? Land records are often helpful, but can be difficult to locate and don’t usually indicate if someone is selling land because they are moving to a new location.

Enter tax records! I’ve had great success in finding tax records on FamilySearch for counties in Kentucky. My library (Allen County Public Library) also has microfilms of tax records for every county in Kentucky through the 1850’s, so tax lists are my “go to” record when I’m stumped.

Kentucky began collecting annual taxes from the very beginning of statehood in 1792. Every male aged 21 and older was to be included on the lists as long as they owned at least 1 horse. This means that an ancestor (or his children) didn’t even have to own land to be included on the list.

Beginning in 1795, columns were added to the tax list to indicate who had entered, surveyed and patented the land – helpful when looking for the origin of an ancestor’s original land in a county. In that same year, they began tracking the number of white males above the age of 16 in addition to those above 21.  By 1821, the tax lists were used to track the number of school aged children between 4 and 14. In 1840, this changed to children between the ages of 7 and 17.

All this to say that I spend a lot of time looking at tax records! When census records indicate that someone has passed away since the last census, if I can’t find a death record, I go to the tax records to see when their name was included last. Often, you will find a person paying taxes for the deceased individual or their heirs. That’s an important name to have! If I suspect that an ancestor moved to a new location, I look at the tax records in each location to see if their name disappears from one list and appears on the other list at the same time. I also try to track the other entries for the same surname to see if they were joining family or if family traveled together.

This means a lot of information to track! So over the years, I developed an Excel worksheet to help me to keep track of the information. As I would collect information for different years, I would add appropriate columns to the database to keep track of it all. Every clue to track an ancestor is worth keeping!


I’ve decided to make the form available in the “Downloads” tab at the top of the blog. I’ve also made a new video to show the different features of the form as well as different things to help you make the most of it. I’m planning to finish that video today and to post it tomorrow wo be sure to check back then!