County Records and Genealogy

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Genie Jargon

A power of attorney is a legal document allowing someone else to act on an individual's behalf.

Acting on Behalf

Powers of attorney can contain marvelous genealogical information. Seek them out when you visit the courthouse. Though they are sometimes recorded in the deed books, often they are a separate set of books with their own index, or each book may be individually indexed.

Powers of attorney were often given by individuals who were settling land transactions at some distance from their residences. The individual who inherited property in another state and wanted to sell it might not have been willing or able to travel to that state. The person often appointed someone to act on his or her behalf. The document appointing an agent, often a relative or close friend, might provide details of what was being sold.

In Kentucky, in 1807, Hugh Rose, “a native of Amherst Co., Virginia, now a surgeon in the 1st Regiment of Infantry,” gave power of attorney to two individuals to convey property that was part of his father's estate, and “my Sister Paulina's Estate who died Intestate and without an heir, also my properties … left by my grandfather Robert Rose, left to his sons, John, Hugh, Henry, Patrick and Charles ….”

The document was executed in New Orleans where Rose was stationed. Look at the details: his birthplace; his current residence and occupation; the location of the property; and the names of his grandfather, uncles, and sister. The information is important in and of itself, but it also offers many leads for continuing research.

Taxing Matters

Tax records are important to genealogists. There were poll taxes, a tax on all free white males in a community over a specified age, and property taxes, both real and personal. Personal property tax records can document the existence of ancestors who owned no land. They verify that an individual was in a particular place at a particular time. If the person remained there, he should appear on the tax rolls year after year. Property tax rolls reflect the acquisition or divestiture of land. The tax information may guide you to more records. If an individual disappears from the tax rolls, you'll know that he reached an age (or condition, such as blindness or poverty) of exemption from tax, died, or left the area. Any one of those reasons is valuable to your research.

Tax records are best used not in isolation, but in a series. If you find your ancestor on a tax list, follow him year by year back to his first appearance and forward to the year he disappeared from the roll. There may be some gaps in the existing records, but try to follow your ancestor throughout the rolls. Occasionally, abstracts of tax records are published and indexed, but original tax records are not indexed.

Waving the Flag—Vote!

If your ancestor participated in the political process, you may find voter registration records. These records may be in the county along with current registrations, or they may have been transferred to the state archives. Voter registration information varies from state to state but can include such vital information as birth date, marital status, residence, telephone number, citizenship data, and physical description. More current registration rolls have residence and telephone number, and may have party affiliation. Accessibility to voter registers depends upon the laws of the state in which you are researching. A few voter registrations are online; see “Voters, Poll Books, Electoral Records” at

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy © 2005 by Christine Rose and Kay Germain Ingalls. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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