At first glance, researchers might conclude that Virginia tax lists contain very little family history data, though one soon learns that valuable genealogical conclusions can be deduced from these records, nicknamed "annual censuses," such as: relationships, approximate years of birth, socio-economic status, identification of neighbors, the ability to distinguish between persons of the same name, evidence of land inheritance, years of migration, and years of death.
Virginia began enumerating residents' payments of personal property and land taxes in 1782. These two types of taxation were recorded in separate registers. Personal property tax lists include more names than land tax lists, because they caught more of the population. The Family History Library has an excellent microfilm collection of personal property tax lists from 1782 (or the year the county was organized) well into the late nineteenth century for most counties, but only scattered land tax lists. Microfilm collections at the Library of Virginia include land tax lists for all counties and independent cities for the years 1782 through 1978, as well as personal property tax lists for the years 1782 through 1930 (and every fifth year thereafter). Taxes were not collected in 1808.
Some tax records are available online or in print, though published abstracts often omit useful details found only in the original sources. Statewide indexes can help genealogists identify specific counties where surnames occurred in the past, providing starting points for research.
The Library of Virginia has the originals or photocopies of most known tax lists and a checklist of all known lists. The Family History Library has microfilm or published copies of many existing tax lists up to the 1860s. Copies of tax lists are sometimes available at local courthouses. Tax records show where people resided.
Colonial Tax Records
Before the Revolutionary War, taxes were collected on the personal property of male residents aged 21 and older. Tithable lists, or lists of the taxable persons within each county, were created. Many of these tithable lists no longer exist, but some existing lists have been published in sources such as:
- Woodson, Robert F., and Isobel B. Virginia Tithables from Burned Record Counties. . . . Richmond, Virginia: Isobel B. Woodson, 1970. (Family History Library book 975.5 R4w.) This is for 1768-1775.
- Rental and quitrent lists identify individuals who owed taxes on lands held by a grant from a proprietor or from the Royal Governor. Only a few lists survive for this time period. The available quitrent lists for 1704 have been published in:
- Smith, Annie Laurie Wright. The Quit Rents of Virginia: Richmond: Expert Letter Writing, 1957. (FHL book 975.5 R4sa; film 1035761 item 4.)
Published tax lists reprinted from three Virginia periodicals are in:
- Virginia Tax Records: From the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, The William and Mary College Quarterly, and Tyler's Quarterly. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1983. (Family History Library book 975.5 R4v.) These tax records include tithables, election, quitrent, poll, vestry, and personal property lists to 1783.
Tax Records Since 1782
Taxes on land and personal property were assessed beginning in 1782. These records identify white males over 21 years of age and include references to real estate holdings, personal property, slaveholdings, and inheritances. For further information, see How can Virginia tax lists help me?
The 1787 lists have been published as a substitute for the 1790 census (see the “Census” section) in:
- Schreiner-Yantis, Netti and Florence Speakman Love, comps. The 1787 Census of Virginia: An Accounting of the Names of Every White Male Tithable Over 21 Years, the Number of White Males Between 16 & 21 Years, the Number of Slaves Over 16 & Those Under 16 Years . . . Three Volumes. Springfield, Virginia: Genealogical Books in Print, 1987. (Family History Library book 975.5 R4sn) The original tax records show neighbors who are often relatives.
Several lists from 1782 to 1787 have also been published in:
- Fothergill, Augusta B. Virginia Taxpayers, 1782-1787. 1940. Reprint, Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing, 1974. (Family History Library book 975.5 R4f 1974.)
Several tax lists have also been printed to substitute for missing portions of the 1810 census. These are in:
- Schreiner-Yantis, Netti. A Supplement to the 1810 Census of Virginia: Tax Lists of the Counties for Which the Census is Missing. Springfield, Virginia: Genealogical Books in Print, 1971. (Family History Library book 975.5 R4s.)
- "Using Land Tax Records in the Archives at the Library of Virginia," Library of Virginia.
- "Using Personal Property Tax Records in the Archives at the Library of Virginia," Library of Virginia.