Kentucky Taxation

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Tax records vary in content. They may include the name and residence of the taxpayer, description of the real estate, name of original purchaser, description of personal property, number of males over 21, number of school children, slaves, and farm animals. They are usually arranged by date and locality, and they are not normally indexed. Tax records can be used in place of missing land and census records to locate a person’s residence.

The first tax records of Kentucky were created in the 1780s while Kentucky was part of Virginia. For example, the 1787 "census" of Virginia contained an accounting of the name of every white male over 21 years (called "tithables"), the number of white males between 16 and 21 years, the number of slaves over 16 and slaves under 16 years, together with a listing of his horses, cattle and carriages, and also the names of all persons to whom ordinary licenses and physicians’ licenses were issued.

Many early Kentucky tax lists have been published, including:

  • [1782-1787] Fothergill, Augusta B. Virginia Taxpayers, 1782–1787 Other Than Those Published by the United States Census Bureau. 1940. Reprint, Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing, 1974. FHL book 975.5 R4f. This includes Fayette and Lincoln Counties, Kentucky. It is alphabetical and contains the taxpayer’s name, county, and number of slaves.
  • [1787] Schreiner-Yantis, Netti and Florence Speakman Love. The 1787 Census of Virginia. 3 vols. Springfield, Virginia.: Genealogical Books in Print, 1987. FHL book 975.5 R4sn. Kentucky residents are listed as being in Kentucky County.
  • [1700s] Early Kentucky Tax Records from The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society. Baltimore, Maryland.: Genealogical Publishing, 1984. FHL book 976.9 R4e. These tax lists contain the taxpayer’s name and county, the number of acres, males over or under 16, slaves, horses and cattle, and the water course near the property. An index is included.
  • [1790] Heinemann, Charles Brunk. First Census of Kentucky, 1790. Washington, D.C.: n.p., 1940. FHL book 976.9 X2ph 1790.
  • [1800] Clift, Garrett Glenn. Second Census of Kentucky-1800: A Privately Compiled and Published Enumeration of Tax Payers Appearing in the 79 Manuscript Volumes Extant of Tax Lists of the 42 Counties of Kentucky in Existence in 1800. Frankfort, Ky.: n.p., 1954. FHL book 976.9 X2p 1800/a copy 2

Poll taxes were paid by white males age 21 or over for the privilege of voting. Since this was an annual tax, the tax lists serve as censuses. Some were used to "reconstruct" the missing 1790 and 1800 federal censuses. They can help trace the migration of families from county to county between federal censuses.

There are two main microfilm collections of Kentucky Tax Lists available. The Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives collection and the Kentucky State Historical Society's collection. (The FHL films are credited with the Kentucky State Historical Society in their catalog entry.)

The Family History Library has copies of tax lists for most counties to the 1890s. Many of the original tax lists from 1782 to 1875 are at the Kentucky Historical Society. These are also available on 398 microfilms at the Kentucky Historical Society. An inventory of the films is:

  • Kentucky Historical Society Index to Tax Lists. Frankfort, KY: The Society, 1973. FHL book 976.9 R4k. This index is arranged by county and includes the year of the tax list and the Kentucky Historical Society reel and page numbers.

A list of persons taxed during the Civil War is:

  • United States. Bureau of Internal Revenue. Internal Revenue Assessment Lists for Kentucky, 1862–1866. National Archives Microfilm Publications, M0768. Washington, DC: National Archives, 1971. FHL book 1491176–99. This extensive tax list shows monthly and annual taxes on personal property and licenses to practice and do business, income, and those who produced and distributed goods. Kentucky was divided into nine tax districts. Each film has a full list of counties and the districts they belonged to.

Kandie Adkinson's "Researching Early Kentucky Tax Lists: 1792-1840" is an excellent article on Kentucky taxation. In the second half, she includes an example and "points to remember" when searching Kentucky tax lists. In the first half of her article, she covers the 1792-1840 Kentucky legislation envolved in the tax process. She continues her covering of the Kentucky legislative tax process to 1880 in the 2011 editions of the periodical Kentucky Ancestors.

Tax Lists for several Kentucky counties are available for purchase as digital images in PDF format on CD from Jeff Renner's Genealogical Resources. When the PDF files are viewed in a program such as Acrobat Pro you can bookmark pages/images with year changes, ancestors names, etc. You can also drag an image/page out of Acrobat Pro and throw it into Photoshop to enhance viewing or you can just save that extracted page/image to be used as an attachment to your ancestor in whatever Record Manager (ie: Legacy, RootsMagic, etc) program you use.

When looking through county tax books, make sure to check for divisions of the country in each year. In other words, the country is frequently split into multiple divisions that each have their own set of alphabetical records. Check in all divisions of a county for the name of the person you are seeking in any given year.

To locate Kentucky taxation records in the Family History Library, use a Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under: