How much does proximity of two individuals in tax records really indicate?

+3 votes

From your experience, how much does the proximity of two individuals in tax records indicate about their relationship?

Here's my specific scenario if anyone is interested...

People referenced below:

  • William Roberts: Roberts-23901
  • John Roberts: Roberts-29996 
  • Polly Roberts: Turpin-823

1. William Roberts b. ABT 1801 shows up on the 1822, 1823, 1826, and 1827 Pulaski Co., KY tax records without any property, next to John Roberts.  

2. Deed records show that when William purchased land in 1831, John Roberts was actually the one that reported the sale to the county clerk and signed William's behalf.

3. After William Roberts's death in 1836, his widow,  Polly Roberts, begins showing up in tax records next to John Roberts and John's (now grown) children (John Jr., Absolem, Isaac, James, etc.).

To me, this would seem to indicate a family relationship between John and William...  However, in records from the 1810 and 1820 census for the household of John Roberts, all members of the household can be accounted for with previously known children (I'm not seeing a body that represents William).

Can I be reasonably confident that a family relationship exists between the two based on tax and deed record evidence?  

Maybe the relationship is something other than father/son... possibly uncle/nephew?  Or maybe one of the other children of John Roberts died as a child... and William is actually accounted for in census records?

Just thinking out loud there on that last part...  Any thoughts or experience with tax record proximity would be much appreciated!

WikiTree profile: William Roberts
in Genealogy Help by Joshua Roberts G2G Crew (740 points)
You need to analyze the record before you can start thinking about relationship. (1) Is the list alphabetical?  If so then proximity of names may mean nothing more than having same spelling.

(2) A lot of tax lists give the date the tax assessor came around. If two names appear close on same date then they definitely lived near each other and so could be related.

(3) Are the lists for a very small region, township or village or for a larger region, the whole county, or district? Again if people of the same name are living in a small community, there is probable relationship, especially if it is not a common name like Smith or Johnson. But unless the lists specifically say "son of" or "son-in-law" etc. You will still need to find other records to confirm relationship.

The point is you always need to study the document, its origins, context and purpose before you even start making conclusion about the people mentioned.

4 Answers

+7 votes
Best answer

By themselves, they aren't sufficient to be proof but are good, strong hints, especially if John was involved with a land transaction. Where else have you looked for information?

  • Probate records
  • Early census records
  • Court records (our ancestors went to court for lots of things)
by Doug McCallum G2G6 Pilot (341k points)
selected by Pip Sheppard
A lot of people ignore the early census since they don't list all names but they can identify a lot about families. If you can get a potential son identified in only one possible family, then that is more evidence. If that family has the potential father as head then that leans one way. If it is a different family, it says different things. Usually means coming up with tables (spreadsheet) of people vs the census "buckets" You do use them but try to map other families with same surname.
Thanks for your reply!  I've been through probate, land, tax, and early census records.  Will start diving into court records to see if I can find anything there.
+7 votes
Were you able to access enough of the tax records to determine if one of the gentlemen paid a poll tax for the other one? That usually denotes a relationship. Many times a father paid the first poll tax when a son reached 21 years. In the absence of a father, an uncle might pay for a nephew.

Just a thought and I have experienced this when researching my family.
by Virginia Fields G2G6 Pilot (281k points)
I agree. Likely family but the relationship can't be confirmed without more info.

Thanks for the reply!!  I’m unsure about the poll tax.  William first appears in the 1822 tax records which appear to be when he was 21 based on subsequent census data.  The records are in bad shape, though, and it’s difficult to make out much of anything.

+6 votes
Good hints but not proof by themselves.  It could be that they were neighbors or maybe they were just good friends, buddies who fished together and walked to the tax office together.  

Sometimes, tax rolls where alphabetized.  As these all have the same last name, it is possible they are grouped solely by spelling.
by SJ Baty G2G6 Pilot (767k points)
Right, SJ, This alphabetizing I’ve seen in a few census records. Can’t tell who lived next to who, and that’s frustrating. I’ve also seen those alphabetized tax rolls, too, but I kinda would expect that.
+4 votes
I would say there is an indication of a family relationship, but it could be just cousins.  The exact relationship is unknown.
by Kathy Rabenstein G2G6 Pilot (198k points)
I do not know about the Roberts family in Kentucky, but my Roberts ancestors in the Bahamas liked to marry their cousins and family names were often repeated. It is hard to get a complete picture even with ALL available records. My great × 2 grandmother Matilda Roberts, daughter of John Roberts, Jr. married her uncle William Roberts, Sr. My Family Tree DNA results are very skewed with so much inbreeding, making 5th cousins on the family tree genetically like 2nd or 3rd cousins. Even my 5th cousin Peter J. Roberts, head of the Bahamas Project is not sure who's who. Ben Roberts, for example, is my predicted 2nd cousin with 394 centimorgans, yet he is not on my family tree. It's a wonder that we do not all have congenital abnormalities.

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