Using Pennsylvania’s Early Tax Lists
I recently received a review copy of a new CD-ROM from Retrospect Publishing:
Pennsylvania Archives, Third Series, Volumes XI thru XXII: Pennsylvania Tax
Lists. This includes scans of pages from these volumes of the published Pennsylvania
Archives with tax lists from the Colonial period for seven eastern counties,
the "Northern Tier" (Northampton and Northumberland Counties), and the
"Western Frontier" (including Armstrong’s parents counties) dating
from 1765 through 1791. Note that you will not find 20 tax lists for each
county; there are anywhere from one to eleven for each county within this time
Why would this data be important to genealogists? Most of the lists give only
a person’s name, sometimes his occupation, and the amount he was taxed—not a
huge amount of information. But it can still be useful. These tax lists come
from a time before the first federal census, and can help you locate an ancestor
on a particular date, and learn a little about him. A few of the lists give
additional information beyond the name and tax amount, including in one case,
number of inhabitants in the household. If you don’t know where your ancestor
was before he came to Armstrong County, a search of these tax list may locate
someone of the same name in an eastern county. While you must beware of the
"same name, must be same person" fallacy, this will suggest a place to
begin your search. If you find your ancestor on a tax list with other people of
the same names as people he associated with in Armstrong County, the clue is a
very strong one. Although most of the people listed in the tax lists are men,
there are some women, as well.
You may find a person in more than one location, stopping along the way on
the move from eastern Pennsylvania to Armstrong County. Finding someone with
your ancestor’s name designated as "single" may be a clue as to when
he married. If he was an "inmate," don’t panic! He wasn’t in an
insane asylum. At that time, the term "inmate" meant a person who
rented land. A man wouldn’t be taxed until he was 21, so his appearance on a
tax list may be a clue to his age.
The amount of money a person was taxed can give you a relative idea of his
worth in the community. Compare his tax rate with those of other people on the
same list. Was it more, less, or about the same? If acreage is given, you have
an idea of the extent of his land.
The viewer software for this CD-ROM loads quickly. It’s compatible with
Windows 95, 98, ME, NT, 2000, or XP. The CD was easy to use, but it’s still
wise to read the well-written instructions. It wasn’t clear to me how I could
access the helpful chart showing the tax years included for each county or the
maps showing county development; the publisher told me that in the
"Publisher’s Notes > Evolving County Boundaries" section, I
should click on the "Next" icon to get to them.
While the print volumes have indexes. Retrospect has produced indexes for the
CDs that will maximize your search success. For example, whenever possible, when
words are abbreviated on the lists, they have expanded them to the full word in
the index. So you don’t have to know that your ancestor William Altman’s
first name appears on various lists as Wm., Will’m, or William; one search
will find all of them. However, occasionally an abbreviation is ambiguous (does
"Christ." stand for Christian or Christopher?) and they have made an
educated guess. The indexers also had to work with names as they appeared in the
text, which may include misspellings, typographical errors, and
misinterpretations by the typesetter (Jost changed to Joseph, for example).
Soundex and wildcard searching may help you find ancestors affected by ambiguous
abbreviations and spelling errors. If a spelling variant changed the first
letter of the ancestor’s name, it may be very difficult to find. If you don’t
find your ancestor with obvious spellings of the name, you may have to be
creative in misspelling it.
The CD offers three levels of searching, which allow for very flexible
searches. In the simple search, you can simply search for a combination of as
many three words near each other (e.g., William and Altman).
In the moderate search level, you can search for a name, but you can also
choose to use a Soundex search. As you type in a name, the Soundex code is
generated; to search by it, click on "Sndex [code]" and then click on
"Search." Searching for Heilman brings up only the spelling Heilman,
but searching for its Soundex code brings up Heilman, Hileman, Hilman, Holman,
etc. You can specify that the words you’re searching should appear on the same
line. You can also do an "OR" search, which gives more flexibility in
In the advanced search level, you can click on the "OR Set" button
to bring up a dialog box that allows you to search by wildcards. A ? can
substitute for one letter of a name that may have spelling variants (Milli?on
would bring up Milliron or Millison). A + can substitute for any
number of letters (to search for Schreckengost, I used Schrec+).
Wildcards will bring up a maximum of 25 variants, showing all occurrences of
each variant. The program shows the list of variants and allows you to exclude
those you aren’t interested in.
You can search the whole CD for a name, or in the moderate and advanced
searches, you can limit your search to one county. If you limit by county
because that is where you think your ancestor was, be familiar with the dates
the counties were formed. You won’t find tax lists for Armstrong County
because it was formed after the time period covered by the CD, but you will find
tax lists for the counties that covered the land now in Armstrong County.
Choose a magnification for viewing the scanned pages by clicking icons at the
top of the screen. The name that produced the hit is marked with a green stripe
at the side of the page. You can bookmark the entry with a label (such as
"Altman, William 1773 Bedford) so that you can return to it easily.
Bookmarking isn’t hard, but I found it annoying that the dialog box for
bookmarking appears over the list of names, so I had to move it each time to
position my bookmark.
People who prefer to use keystrokes to navigate can click on "Page"
in the menu bar to see options and hot keys. I also discovered a set of hot keys
not included on that list, <Ctrl>+<Page Up> or <Ctrl>+<Page
Down> to move from hit to hit.
This CD-ROM is available from Retrospect Publishing, 1307 Warrington Place,
Alexandria, VA 22307-2055, http://www.RetrospectPublishing.com
for $98.85 plus shipping. It’s a cumulation of data that appeared on
individual CDs for the counties, so if you know you’re only interested in a
particular county, you might investigate these other disks. Retrospect
Publishing has also published several other CDs that include scanned, indexed
versions of county history materials from Pennsylvania counties (including
Allegheny, Butler, and Westmoreland); they plan to produce one for Armstrong
County in the near future.
Christine Crawford-Oppenheimer’s ancestors have been in Armstrong County
since its beginnings, down through her mother, who was born in Kittanning.
Christine has been doing research in the area since 1979. Articles she has
written have appeared in several national periodicals, and she has spoken at
national conferences. Her book, Long-Distance
Genealogy, was published by Betterway Books in 2000.
©2004 Christine Crawford-Oppenheimer
146 Roosevelt Road, Hyde Park, NY 12538