Sunday, November 19, 2017

Rent To Own: A Land And Tax Record Quandary

With no surviving Ohio censuses from 1800 or 1810, locating and tracking the movements of Thomas Kirk was a challenge.

Fortunately, land and tax records filled the records gap, and helped me pinpoint my fifth great-grandfather's location.

But the records also raised an interesting question about property ownership, which may hint at a family relationship between grantor and grantee.

The Land Indenture
During a visit this month to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, I found a copy of the January 1812 land indenture between John and Margret Beard (grantors) and Thomas Kirk (grantee).

Thomas paid the Beards $175 for 100 acres in Licking Township, Licking County, Ohio. The property was "situated in the fourth section, first township and twelfth range United States Military lands..."

January 1812 Land Indenture Between John and Margret Beard and Thomas Kirk

This land purchase - Thomas' first documented acquisition in Licking County - indicated that he was in the area by 1812.

Could I refine my timeline and determine whether he was in the area before the land indenture? Area tax records did exactly that.

Tax Trails
Thomas appeared in the County's 1812 tax records, indicating he was in the area in 1811.
1812 Licking Township, Licking County, Ohio Tax Record

Curiously, Thomas paid $1.00 tax for 100 acres in Range 12, Township 1, and Section 4 - the exact same land description for the property he bought from the Beards. The tax record also attributed original ownership of the land to a man named Samuel Dick.

John Beard appeared in the same tax record, paying $1.96 tax for 196 acres in the same area - Range 12, Township 1, and Section 4. The land's original proprietor was also identified as Samuel Dick.

What was not specified for either plot of land was the specific lot number. My theory is that John Beard owned many acres in the range, township and section - all of it originally owned by Samuel Dick. John sold a portion - 100 acres - to Thomas in 1812.

But how long had Thomas Kirk lived on the land, and was he living on the land prior to ownership as merely a renter or guest of relatives? The records have me stumped.

Ownership vs. Rentership
Thomas appeared on the same land in Licking County's 1811 tax records. In the record's column denoting the type of title, his ownership was marked as "deed".

What does that mean? Did he in fact own the property prior to the 1812 land indenture, or was he renting to own?

1811 Licking Township, Licking County, Ohio Tax Record

Thomas appeared in Licking County's tax records each year back to 1809, living on the same land, with the title consistently noted as a "deed".

In fact, Thomas was on the same property several years earlier, pre-dating the existence of Licking County, which was formed in 1808 from Fairfield County.

Fairfield County tax records in 1808, 1807, and 1806 showed Thomas paid taxes for 100 acres of land in Licking Township: Range 12, Township 1, Section 4.

The 1806 tax enumeration is among my most prized genealogy finds because it is the earliest record I've found for Thomas Kirk. It suggests that he was in the area by 1805.

1806 Licking Township, Fairfield County, Ohio Tax Record

In 1806, John Beard paid taxes on 300 acres for property located in Range 12 and Township 1. This  confirmed my theory that he owned a larger portion of land in the area, and may have split it into smaller tracts and sold it for profit.

For the record, FamilySearch has digitized Fairfield County's land grantor and grantee indexes (dating to 1804), but I don't see John Beard, Samuel Dick, or Thomas Kirk mentioned in relation to the property in question.

The Family Deal
What should I make of Thomas paying taxes between 1806 and 1811 for land that he officially purchased in 1812?

Was it possible that he was renting to own?

Or was it possible that family cut him a good deal and allowed him to live on the land with the understanding that he pay taxes?

Some family histories state that John Beard's wife was Margaret Kirk (born in 1758), and there is speculation that she was a sister or aunt to Thomas Kirk (born in 1778). I have not been able to find documentation to corroborate this theory.

Would a family relationship matter when it came to matters of tax and ownership? Or did land ownership laws of the time stipulate that property residents - regardless of ownership status - were liable for the taxes?

Any tax and land specialists out there who can weigh in?


  1. You do have a quandary, or as explained in The King and I - it's a puzzlement. I personally haven't identified anyone paying taxes on land that he didn't own and don't know if that happened anywhere or not. I don't think most land purchasers were given an opportunity to pay in installments when buying from other people (non-governmental land sales), but I would think it likely that sale to another family member might easily have happened on a payment plan. However, I do think it's possible that Thomas Kirk had a land grant that you haven't located yet and might possibly have been lost to time. I've experienced that myself more than once. I'll be curious to learn if you are able to solve the mystery.

    1. But would he have a land grant and then a land indenture in 1812? I'm stumped. A puzzlement indeed!

  2. I don't have any insights for you on this, though I wonder whether he was homesteading? I don't know if people paid taxes while homesteading until they actually owned the land, and I don't even know if there was homesteading in Ohio back then. Just a random stab in the dark.....

    1. Oh, that's a good idea. I'll look into it. Thanks, Amy!