Personal Property Tax Lists for Rockbridge County, Virginia

When I began doing family research on the internet, I connected with Robert N. Grant, author of Sorting some of the Wrights of Southern Virginia. I found him on a mailing list (pre-Facebook days) where he mentioned a couple of my surnames. This was back in May 2000 when he was working on the draft of his work on 1825 Achilles WRIGHT of Oldham County, Kentucky (the year before his name indicates the year of death in the said county). Bob sent me a paper version of this draft via snail mail (yes, it was that long ago) that included information on my LANDRUM and CRISP lines of Amherst County, Virginia as Achilles had lived in Amherst and Nelson counties in Virginia before moving to Kentucky.

Repaying an Act of Genealogical Kindness

The book is part of a series of books that are available on FamilySearch. Years later I was able to return the favor. In October 2014 I found chancery records involving a James WRIGHT and sent the link to Bob. I received a reply the same day thanking me. I’d caught him pre-retirement and in July 2015 he wrote:

I wanted to thank you again for the very helpful reference to the Nelson County Chancery Court cases involving James Wright.  They clearly identified James, the son of 1825 Achilles Wright of Oldham County, KY, as the James who married Lucy Crisp.  Thank you! 

In addition, the case clarified that Elizabeth Wright who married Elijah Skidmore was a daughter of James and not, as had been reported previously, a daughter of his brother 1845 George Wright of Trimble County, KY.  That rewrote a portion of my materials as well.

I have an updated version of my material on 1825 Achilles Wright and his descendants and would be happy to send that to you, if that would be of interest to you.  It includes a transcription of the chancery court case that lays out the family of James and the family of Lucy’s parents.

A Lesson Learned from Bob’s Research

When I found those chancery records I knew I had to send the information to Bob to repay him for sharing his work with me. I never forgot this act of kindness on his part as he also taught me the importance of personal property tax and land tax lists without knowing it.

By reading through his draft, I learned how the PPT and land tax lists can be used in our research. Although the annual PPT lists may appear to include very little information compared to census records, when they are viewed as a whole, the information can be used to fill in the missing years between the census. For persons of the same surname, relationships may have been expressly or implicitly stated. They can also help with determining when a person lived in a certain place and when he may have moved or died. Most importantly, the names found on the lists can help identify the male members of households in pre-1850 census listings.

The Library of Virginia’s “Using Personal Property Tax Records in the Archives at the Library of Virginia” (Research Notes Number 3) includes the following:

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 as well as all “tithables,” or taxable individuals and goods in the household. Included were 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 enslaved people both above and below age sixteen, various types of animals such as horses and cattle, carriage wheels, ordinary licenses, and even billiard tables. 

During the past five years or so, I’ve been checking the catalog at FamilySearch for collections that are available to all users on the site and not only at the Family History Library or associated libraries. Land tax records for several counties in West Virginia were found to be accessible in 2019.

Earlier this week in the Facebook group Rockbridge County Virginia Genealogy, I replied to a query. Someone asked if the tax lists were available online. Not knowing the answer, I checked the catalog and I discovered the Personal Property Tax lists for Rockbridge County, Virginia, are online on FamilySearch.

Rockbridge Couty, Virginia, Personal Property Tax Lists

I’d been waiting to be able to work with tax lists for many of my lines since I first read Bob’s draft. Discovering their availability for Rockbridge pushed me to do some browsing in these records.

One of my DEMPSEY brick walls began to crumble in 2007 when I found Wm. A. W. DEMPSEY listed on the 1841 tax list of Rockbridge County, Virginia. The initials are the same as those he used on the 1850 census in Fayette County, (West) Virginia, and in 1862 on the Provost Marshals’ List (a Civil War document). I am convinced these initials were very important to him.

In Section VII of A History of Rockbridge County, Virginia1 the taxpayers of the county for 1841 were listed. The numbers after their names refer to the road precincts in which the persons lived.

Image courtesy of Archive.org. (https://archive.org/details/historyofrockbri00mortrich/page/380/mode/1up : accessed 13 March 2021)

Appendix D in the book gives a description of the precincts.

Image courtesy of Archive.org. (https://archive.org/details/historyofrockbri00mortrich/page/552/mode/1up : accessed 13 March 2021)By searching through the taxpayer’s list for others who were in precinct 43,  I was able to put together this list of persons who were likely his neighbors.

1841 Taxpayers
Rockbridge County, Virginia
43 – Nathaniel Gaylor’s to Cumings and Carter’s, intersecting Gilmore’s Road
Dempsey, William A. W.
Others who lived in the same road precinct:
George Agnor, Jacob Agnor, Sr., Jacob Agnor, Little Jake Agnor, John Agnor, John H. Agnor, David Entsminger, Albert Gilliat, and William T. Ruley. (Note to self: Agnor was later seen as Agnew)

The problem was that the source was not a primary source. Finding the mention in the book was not the same as accessing a digital copy of the tax list collection: Personal property tax lists, 1782-1850, main author: Commissioner of the Revenue (Rockbridge County, Virginia).

I searched first for the image of the 1841 tax list naming William A. W. Dempsey.

Wm. A. W. DEMPSEY was enumerated on 29 March 1841. In the column for white males of 16, there is a 1 indicating one person 16 or older was tithable. It is my understanding that the person named had to be of age therefore 21 years old or older. William was therefore born about 1820 or earlier.

Headers of the 1841 Personal Property Tax List for the South West District (Samuel Walkup) of Rockbridge County, Virginia. (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSKJ-Q3T8-Q?i=228&cat=694874 : accessed 5 March 2021)
1841 Personal Property Tax List for the South West District (Samuel Walkup) of Rockbridge County, Virginia. (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSKJ-Q3T8-Q?i=228&cat=694874 : accessed 5 March 2021)

In 1842, William was not found. In 1843 he was visited by Samuel Walkup in the southwest district on 5 April 1843. The entire list was viewed. I found William was the only person who was visited on that day. Is this an indication that he lived in a sparsely populated area?

1843 Personal Property Tax List for the South West District (Samuel Walkup) of Rockbridge County, Virginia. (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSKJ-Q3Y2-F?cat=694874 : accessed March 2021)

No Dempsey was found in Rockbridge County on the PPT for the years 1844 to 1851.

William A. W. DEMPSEY was in Fayette County at the time of the 1850 census. The PPT for Fayette County, available for the years 1831 to 1850, showed a William DEMPSEY in 1846, 1849, and 1850. No initials are noted.

Working backward, I checked in Rockbridge before 1841.

1839 tax list: John W. Dempsey (March 4) and William Dempsey (April 3), both in Samuel Walkup district.

William A. W. DEMPSEY was listed as 28 in 1850 and as 40 in 1860 on the census of Fayette County. If this William DEMPSEY was William A. W. DEMPSEY and only men 21 or older were named then he was born 1818 or earlier. He was visited a month after John W. DEMPSEY. If they had been closely related or living near each other, wouldn’t they have been visited within a day or two?

John W. DEMPSEY (1802-1873) married in Rockbridge in 1824. He was on the Fayette County census in 1840 and the PPT lists from 1840 to 1850. He has been proven to be the son of Tandy DEMPSEY who was in Rockbridge in 1820 (per census) and earlier (per tax list), in Logan (now WV) in 1830 (per census), and in Jay County, Indiana, by early fall 1835 until 8 August 1836 when his death was the first recorded in the township of Bear Creek.

1838 John Demsey (W.C. Lewis district) with 0ne horse, male, mule, or cattle. The W. C. Lewis district appears to be the same district seen as Samuel Walkup district in later years.

1837 John W. Demsey (W.C. Lewis district) with 0ne horse, male, mule, or cattle

1836 John Demsey (W.C. Lewis district) with one slave

If John W. DEMPSEY was the father of William A. W. DEMPSEY, the 1836 to 1838 tax lists (above) do not help to show this as male white tithables 16 and older were not noted. If this category had been included then John and all males 16 and older (possible sons in the household) would have been included in the count. Further, if John was the father, he would have had to have been married before his 1824 marriage.

From 1835 back to 1822 (W.C. Lewis district) no Demsey or Dempsey was found on the PTT.

Personal property tax books, 1824-1850 for Logan County are restricted at this time on FamilySearch. When they are available, I need to check if Tandy, John W., and other siblings were in Logan before 1835. Tandy was in Indiana by 1835, is known to have been in Logan for the 1830 census and the 1827 tax list (from a transcript).

Other Virginia Counties Need to be Checked

Rockbridge County is surrounded by the counties of Augusta, Nelson, Amherst, Bedford, Botetourt, Alleghany, and Bath. I’ve searched Botetourt and will be working through each of the other counties to find Dempsey individuals who may have crossed over the county lines. Formation of the counties will also be considered.

Botetourt had the expected Rev. Absalom C. DEMPSEY (1787-1872) on the tax list from 1809 to 1851. The Reverend was the son of another William DEMPSEY who died before June 1806 and grandson of a William DEMPSEY who died about 1806. The estimated deaths of Absolom’s father and grandfather were found in chancery records that also name children of the younger William, including William the 3rd who died intestate, unmarried, and without issue before 1822 (see images 4 and 5).

Montgomery has also been added to the list of counties to check as there is a connection between men found on the Botetourt tax lists and at least one known to have been in Montgomery. Hugh DEMPSEY (born 1785 or earlier) was not named as a son of the senior William mentioned in the chancery records. He was seen in Botetourt from 1808 to 1828, was on the 1830 census in Montgomery before going to Missouri before 1840.

Orange County will also be carefully checked as I have researched the DEMPSEY family coming out of this county in my process of elimination.

Recap for William A. W. Dempsey

My review of the Rockbridge County PPT brought to light two tax listings for my great-great-grandfather William A. W. DEMPSEY. Listed with the middle initials he used during his lifetime, he was found in the county in 1841 and 1843. The 1839 listings may or may not be for my William.

As other counties in Virginia (including present-day West Virginia) are checked, I hope to be able to sort all of the DEMPSEY individuals into their appropriate family groups.

As my William A. W. DEMPSEY went to Fayette County after 1843 and by 1846, it has been speculated that he may have been a son of John W. DEMPSEY who married Margaret FITZPATRICK in 1824. This John moved to Fayette County by July 1839 when he married his second wife, Amelia RIDDLE. I also once considered this possibility. As genealogy research has not so far turned up any supporting evidence for this assumption, I’ve turned to genetic genealogy and evaluating DNA matches. If my William A. W. DEMPSEY were the son of John W. DEMPSEY and the half-sibling of John’s children from both marriages, I should be seeing matches with some of their descendants. So far, none have been found.

And the search continues, for the parents of William A. W. DEMPSEY.

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


  1. Oren F. Morton, B. Lit.; A History of Rockbridge County, Virginia; published by The McClure Co., Inc., Staunton, Virginia 1920; pgs. 380, 552. Images of the pages in the book courtesy of Archive.org.