I'm browsing the Binns Virginia Personal and Land tax records from 1780s, 1790s, and 1800s to try and locate more sources in my research. In so doing, Binns has some indexing, but it appears to be incomplete, so I've been browsing the records to find ancestors. For example, looking at Botetourt County, Virginia Personal Property Tax Lists 1783 - 1810, I found William Samples in the index for his 1799 entry listed as 1799A on page 15, but browsing the non-free area, I find that same record under page 9. It appears to subscription area gives two pages at a time and the images are not identical.

What determines whether an item is in the index? Is it just random as they build the index, as to whether an entry is listed? Why is the same page available in two different images?

Did the collector go around the county in alphabetical order? What about the listing order of names in the record? It seems to be ordered by last name, did the tax collector follow any logic to their order? In the 1795B entry, I see William Samples again on May 9, 1795. Why was he with all the other last names beginning with 'S' but in the middle after names beginning 'Sh' on April 4th? Also, on prior page 8, the 'S's begin on March 25th after the 'R's section that ends with March 24th, but the 'S' begins with James Shackey. It seems all the 'Sh' names are together on dates near each other.

What are the patterns of entry in the tax books and how can this be used to help search for a given surname and not miss them by error. Was a person taxed every year, so if you don't find them, you should keep looking?

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    I would like to see this split up into two questions, one about search techniques and the other about the palaeography. P.S. Have you read the help on the site itself?
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 21:10
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    @JanMurphy Broken out into two questions. Help on the site does not appear to address my question.
    – WilliamKF
    Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 22:18
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    Something for you to mull and ponder -- you have two separate issues here, one concerning the original records, and one about the way the Binns have indexed/not indexed their publication. The questions you have about the way the Binns are indexing the material and how the website is organized are explained on the site -- while you're waiting for someone to answer, one thing you could do is to go back and re-read the site. Try to take the larger view -- as if you're explaining to someone else how to use the site -- instead of simply thinking "how can I find my ancestor?"
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 18:43
  • @JanMurphy Thanks for the suggestions and frame of mind to work from, I'll search the site again, but thus far I've found very little in terms of direction on the site itself. If you happen to have a URL in mind, please include it here.
    – WilliamKF
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 21:18
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    Whenever you get stuck like this, try a Google search and see if you can find out which repository holds the original records. Record holders sometimes have finding aids and descriptions of the records that will help you understand the arrangement, and/or research guides that help you find the records. I'm crunched for time this week, so feel free to write up a self-answer if you solve this. See this page lva.virginia.gov/public/guides/pptax.htm and the research guide lva.virginia.gov/public/guides/rn3_persprop.pdf
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 7:14

1 Answer 1


With respect to the question of how the records were manitained, the Library of Virginia (which holds many of these tax records) publishes a document entitled Using Personal Property Tax Records in the Archives at the Library of Virginia that includes these excerpts:

Taxes were assessed between March and April of each year and were payable by the end of December.

The earlier manuscript lists are small booklets, arranged by the initial letter of the surname, that record the names of property owners. There is a separate list for each district within the county, if the county was so divided. The district may be identified by the name of the tax commissioner for that district or by a geographical designation such as “upper district” or “lower district.” Local militia designations also were used, such as “First Battalion” or “District of Colonel Moody.”

The early laws required the tax commissioner in each district to record in “a fair alphabetical list” the names of the person chargeable with the tax, the names of white male tithables over the age of twenty-one, the number of white male tithables between ages sixteen and twenty-one, the number of slaves both above and below age sixteen, various types of animals such as horses and cattle, carriage wheels, ordinary licenses, and even billiard tables.

Therefore, it appears that the Binns designation of A or B means that a county was divided into two districts for the given year. It also appears that within a district and initial letter of surname, e.g., S, the commissioner had latitude to list white males over the age of 21 in any manner that met their needs. The date in the record appears to be the date the tax was paid, so since for a given initial letter of surname, the dates progress later chronologically, perhaps the commissioner traveled around their district in the county collecting the tax and recording it in their book as they progressed through the alphabet.

In summary, it appears when looking for a person, you need to review all entries for an initial letter of surname and look in all districts. I've found that the first name is much easier to skim for as these tend to be much more legible since the number of first names generally used is much less than the number of surnames and thus the first names tend to have clearly recognizable patterns than can be scanned efficiently with your eye.

That document also indicates that, starting in 1782, a person was taxed every year from age 21 and even after death until their estate was settled, but that in a couple years, no one was taxed, these tax-free years are 1808 and 1864.

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