An Example of What You Can Do With the Personal Property Tax Lists

I shared last week’s post, Personal Property Tax Lists for Rockbridge County, Virginia, to several genealogy groups on Facebook for counties in Virginia and West Virginia. I added a comment to each with the link to the appropriate county’s PPT list. It was a tedious procedure as I searched for the county in the catalog, opened up the category for taxation, clicked the PPT collection to check if it was restricted or not, and finally copied the link to the catalog entry as a comment to my post in each group. I found at least one county had a camera with a key, normally meaning it is restricted, but I was able to access the images.

While preparing to write this post, I found a way to generate a complete list of all of the Personal Property Tax List collections for Virginia counties (including West Virginia counties once part of Virginia). Go to the FamilySearch Catalog and search for the author of the PPT collections: Virginia. Commissioner of the Revenue.

Or click on the door below to go directly to the list of Virginia and West Virginia counties with PPT lists in the Family Search catalog! FamilySearch is free but you need to create an account if you are a first-time user to be able to view the records. If you have already created an account, be sure to log in to view collections.

Use the PPT to fill in the pre-1850 census years

The personal property lists now available on FamilySearch cover the period 1782-1851 on average. Some counties have a larger range and some a smaller range. Although there are variations from county to county, for the most part, they cover a period in which the census includes only the head of household’s name and tick marks for the other persons in the household.

Comparative analysis of early personal property tax records from year to year is useful in drawing conclusions about the residence, property, and status of our ancestors.

I’ve been wanting to work with the PPT lists for two decades. I have ancestors who disappeared after a census and didn’t leave a death record or any of the other records that would help determine an approximate date of death.

Dennis CLONCH of Kanawha formerly of Mecklenburg

Dennis CLONCH lived in Kanawha County, (West) Virginia when the 1810 census was enumerated.1 He moved there from Mecklenburg County about 1806 after marrying Nancy BEASLEY in Mecklenburg in 1803. By 1820 his wife Nancy was the head of household in Mason County, (West) Virginia. Dennis died without a will or probate records. His death, up until now, has been estimated between 1811-1820. No known children were born to Dennis and Nancy after about 1811 when their daughter Sarah was born. This is a large gap in his and his family’s lives.

Using the Personal Property Tax List to Calculate a Year of Death

The PPT lists for Kanawha and Mason counties were checked and helped make a better calculation of when Dennis CLONCH died.

From 1806 to 1809, except for 1808 when no tax list was prepared for Virginia, Dennis was in Kanawha with one male older than 16, 0 blacks 12 & not 16, 0 blacks over 16, and 0 horses & cattle.2, 3, 4

By 1810 Dennis had acquired a horse or a head of cattle.5 From 1811 until 1814, he was the over 16 years old male listed on the tax list with one horse or cattle and no enslaved persons.6, 7, 8, 9

In 1815 the column for horses & cattle was split into two categories on the tax list. Dennis, still the only male, had no blacks, one horse, and seven heads of cattle.10 His surname was spelled CLAUNCH in 1815, the spelling used by his father and siblings when they lived in Mecklenburg County.

In 1816 horses & cattle were once again counted in one column. Dennis, the only male over 16, had no blacks and two horses &/or heads of cattle.11 In 1817 the number of horses &/or cattle went up to three.12

In 1818 and 1819 Dennis CLONCH did not appear on the Kanawha personal property tax list nor did he appear in the same tax list for Mason County where his wife Nancy was enumerated on the 1820 census.13 Since he is missing on the 1818 and the 1819 tax lists and his wife was on the 1820 census, this could mean that Dennis died about 1817-1818 or at least during the time period between 1817 and 1820. I can now list his death as between 1817-1820 instead of between 1811-1820. More precisely between 17 March 1817-7 August 1820 as the 1817 visit was on March 17 and the 1820 census was officially enumerated on the first Monday in August.

How affluent were your ancestors?

What else was learned by analyzing the personal property tax lists? Most of the early years did not include much information but in 1815 the Kanawha County PPT list included many categories helpful in establishing the wealth of an ancestor.

1815 Personal Property Tax List column headings.

In 1815 Dennis CLONCH didn’t own any of the following:

  • Any kind of carriage (two-wheeled, stage wagon, public stage, phaeton, or other four-wheeled riding wagons)
  • A mill, tool barge, ferry, or tanyard
  • A silver or gold watch
  • A stable to accommodate even one horse
  • A house exceeding in value of $500
  • An icehouse
  • A clock with wooden or metal works, with or without a case
  • A coal pit
  • A printer or have revenue from an annual subscription to the paper
  • Bureau, secretary or bookcase, chest of drawers, wardrobe or clothespress, dining table, bedstead, sideboard without drawers or doors, tea table, card table in whole or in part of mahogany, sideboard with drawers or doors, settee or sofa, chairs, carpets, window curtains or Venetian blinds within the window of any house
  • Portraits, picture, print or engraving, mirror or looking glass, pianoforte, harpsichord, organ, or harp
  • Bureau, secretary or bookcase, chest of drawers, wardrobe or clothespress of any other wood other than mahogany
  • Urn, coffee or teapot, candlestick, lamp, chandelier, decanter, pitcher, bowl, goblet, washbasin stand or salver, tankard, cup, or waiter

The only thing my ancestor Dennis owned in 1815 was seven head of cattle.

My 4th great-grandfather Dennis CLONCH came to Kanawha County after several of his brothers went to Kentucky. He probably expected to make a good living. In the end, he died before he was forty leaving a widow with five children, three between 10 and 15 and two just under 10 years of age.

The personal property tax list didn’t include much information but enough to learn when my ancestor died and how difficult life must have been in the early 1800s in almost Heaven, West Virginia.

© 2021, copyright Cathy Meder-Dempsey. All rights reserved.


  1. 1810 U.S. Federal Census, (index and images), Ancestry, citing Third Census of the United States, 1810 population schedule, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C. NARA microfilm publication M252, 71 rolls, Roll: 69, Family History Library Film: 0181429, Virginia, Kanawha, image 411, page 135, line 10, Denis Clounch household. The official enumeration day of the 1810 census was the 1st Monday in August (6th). (https://www.ancestry.com/ : accessed 9 December 2014). 
  2. “WV Kanawha Personal property tax lists, 1792-1850”, FamilySearch.org, Virginia Commissioner of the Revenue (Kanawha County) (citing microfilm of original records at the Virginia State Library in Richmond, Virginia), Personal property tax lists, 1792-1832, Film 2024596, DGS 7849142, image 71 of 773, right page, 1806 Dennis Clonch. (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSQK-5992-L?i=70&cat=776502 : accessed 16 March 2021). 
  3. Ibid., image 103 of 773, 1807 Dennis Clonch. (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSQK-599N-2?i=102&cat=776502 : accessed 16 March 2021). 
  4. Ibid., image 123 of 773, 1809 Dennis Clonch. (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSQK-599V-8?i=122&cat=776502 : accessed 16 March 2021). 
  5. Ibid., image 140 of 773, 1810 Dennis Clonch. (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSQK-5996-6?i=139&cat=776502 : accessed 16 March 2021). 
  6. Ibid., image 159 of 773, 1811 Dennis Clonch. (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSQK-5998-S?i=158&cat=776502 : accessed 16 March 2021). 
  7. Ibid., image 176 of 773, 1812 Dennis Clonch. (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSQK-599Q-C?i=175&cat=776502 : accessed 16 March 2021). 
  8. Ibid., image 191 of 773, 1813 Dennis Clonch. (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSQK-599C-Z?i=190&cat=776502 : accessed 16 March 2021). 
  9. Ibid., image 224 of 773, 1814 Dennis Clonch. (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSQK-599H-B?i=223&cat=776502 : accessed 16 March 2021). 
  10. Ibid., image 239 of 773, 1815 Dennis Claunch. (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSQK-59M1-H?i=238&cat=776502 : accessed 16 March 2021). 
  11. Ibid., image 278 of 773, 1816 Dennis Clonch. (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSQK-59MR-3?i=277&cat=776502 : accessed 16 March 2021). 
  12. Ibid., image 310 of 773, 1817 Dennis Clonch. (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSQK-59MG-1?i=309&cat=776502 : accessed 16 March 2021). 
  13. 1820 U.S. Federal Census, (index and images), Ancestry, citing Fourth Census of the United States, 1820 population schedule, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C., NARA microfilm publication M33, 142 rolls, NARA Roll: M33_138, Image: 135, Virginia, Mason, page 121, first line, Nancy Claunch household. The official enumeration day of the 1820 census was the 1st Monday in August. (https://www.ancestry.com/ : accessed 13 December 2014). 

Author: Cathy Meder-Dempsey

When I’m not doing genealogy and blogging, I spend time riding my racing bike with my husband through the wonderful Luxembourg countryside.

20 thoughts on “An Example of What You Can Do With the Personal Property Tax Lists”

    1. Good morning, Amy. This was a simple example. His father’s PPT listings actually included the names of the sons who were included in the tithe count of males over 16. Good proof for the family group – at least the males.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Of course, the women didn’t count…. You focus on before 1850, but I assume this PPT continued after that date, right?

        Like

      2. They aren‘t available online after about 1851 for most counties. But this is a tax that is still collected in West Virginia. In a group I‘m in a link to a county site where you can search for recent taxes paid was posted.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I am so glad you shared this. I have an ancestor who I knew was in the 1801 and 1802 Kanawha PPT but hadn’t found him elsewhere. He was one of the founders of Gallia County and I have him in Ohio later and having looked at Mason County now, I found him in 1805 and I wouldn’t be surprised if I found him in more, as I know his youngest son was born in Mason County in 1810. At some point I’ll be posting about Daniel Faulkner and his family. Thanks Cathy!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cathy, Any additional information we can glean from our ancestors is always a plus…but when “genie” angels like you can bring it to the forefront in a way that allows others easier access, that’s a gift!! Brian

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for the tip on finding all the counties’ records together! I recently used the PPT to narrow down the year when a man in Monongalia County parted with his enslaved people (probably a mother and son), either manumitted or sold. I can think of a few other instances where these records will help with similar questions.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I wish mine had those! I think I have the ones I’m looking for, but I’ll have to scour the 1830 census, too. There weren’t really all that many enslaved people in that part of the state.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.