The tax I love

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March 14, 2016 by auntkatefirmin

No, I’m not fond of paying taxes or preparing the paperwork for annual income taxes, and I’m certain my ancestors weren’t delighted with paying taxes either. The beneficial side effect of certain historic taxes is that they left a paper trail for family historians. In particular, in Wiltshire where the tax lists mentioned below survived, a series of taxes that took effect in 1695 have been very helpful in sorting out families, especially as the records act almost as a census.

From 1695 to 1706 one of the sources of revenue to support England’s war against France was a tax on births, marriages, and burials, which included charges paid by childless widowers and unmarried men over 25. There were no pre-printed forms for use by the local authorities who were collecting the taxes so the formatting seems to vary from place and what was included appears to vary from year to year. The act did require that the tax commissioners had to be supplied every year with updated lists of all the potential taxpayers, in essence the entire population, including each person’s status and relationships as the taxes were graduated in a rather complex way based on class standing and family relationships such as eldest or youngest child. I’ve never seen the records in their original forms, only in transcriptions, and while I’ve seen the notation that a man was a widower, I don’t recall seeing any person noted as a bachelor over 25.

In theory the annual tax list in combination with the parish registers formed a “dual entry” system of vital registration, and amendments to the tax laws were made to deal with the discrepancies, to insure that the parish records were complete, and to handle non-conformist records for groups such as Quakers. For example, prior to 1695 there were no penalties charged to the parish for gaps in the records caused when the register did not include a birth event when the parents did not baptize a child, or a marriage was performed outside the church (which was perfectly legal), or the burial of a parishioner occurred outside the home parish, or the clerk was simply careless with record-keeping. It was an interesting attempt at obtaining nation-wide statistics but the tax was not enforced consistently and did not remain in effect very long.

The Wiltshire records, like the later census records, are not without errors and omissions. Some of the areas simply list names without regard for households and others are more clear about who lives under one roof and how they were related. The later Wootton Bassett records do not list the children.

Recently where the records have been invaluable is in Tockenham and Wootton Bassett where I would not have otherwise known the names of the wives in the Skull and Horsell families as some of the marriages do not appear in the register and the baptisms list only the father’s name. I have some new unanswered questions, and I have made some assumptions based on the tax lists that may be overturned by further research but I feel that significant progress has been made!

Here is a sample of my latest conclusions:

SKULL of Tockenham and Wootton Bassett:

Without the tax list, Susan, the second wife of Charles Skull of Tockenham might have remained nameless. The lists also let us see that all of his known children were alive in 1697; as best as I can tell, all the lists show the children in order of age, oldest first, at least until young Charles married. Currently it is unknown whether young Alice married, died or moved into another household. Young Charles married in 1698 and remained in Tockenham (or Tockenham Wick, I’m not certain that the terms were always used consistently). In the 1701 Tockenham list, young Charles & Mary are listed before his father Charles, at least two of the three unnamed children (who are listed last) belong to Charles & Mary, and Ruth could be a child of either Charles as that baptismal record is not specific (though others are). While the tax list of 1705 does not include children, I am assuming that the entire family of the elder Charles moved to Wootton Bassett between 1701 and 1705. Even though there is no marriage record for Charles & Susan, it makes sense that they married between 1688 and 1691 and their first child was named for Susan or an earlier Susan in her family.


The family of Charles & Susan Skull in the tax lists for Tockenham (T) and Wootton Bassett (WB)


John HORSELL family of Wootton Bassett

The tax lists cleared up one mystery from the parish registers. In 1697 John & Mary baptised a child, Anne, but after that the mother’s name was not included in the baptism records. I will assume that baby Anne died prior to 1701 as her name does not appear after her baptism. Following earlier researchers, I had the name of the wife of “my” John Horsell as Judith, known only from her burial in 1749, and assumed to be the mother of his children starting with Mary in 1699. This clarifies that John had his own household by 1697 and the 1697 family of John & Mary was not some other John Horsell. I am now of the opinion that Judith was a second wife as it’s clear that his first wife, Mary, was alive as late as 1705. There is a large gap in the burial register for Wootton Bassett between 1702 and 1712 when the entries are illegible or missing. If Mary died shortly after the last children were born in 1708 then it is likely that John remarried quickly in order to have assistance in raising the children – but that is purely speculation as there is no marriage record for John and Judith. The only quasi-evidence to support Mary as the mother of all the children is that no daughter was baptised as Judith. While there is no will or surviving administration paperwork for John, if he lived to a fine old age and distributed all his property prior to his death no will was necessary.


The family of John Horsell as shown in the tax lists for Wootton Bassett.


Bartholomew HORSELL family of Wootton Bassett

Bartholomew’s family is a compilation of his will, parish registers and the tax lists. As the children reached 20 or so, they seemed to have either been omitted from the lists or they were living in other households. The Lidia/Edith mystery continues: there is no baptismal record for Lidia and she is only known based on the will; Edith was baptised in 1681, alive in 1697 but not mentioned in the will. Were there really two girls, or are Lidia and Edith the same person? There is no baptismal record for Ruben and he was always listed after William in the tax records but before him in the will, so I am uncertain of his age. There is no baptismal record for Ambrose and he was not listed in the will; I find it difficult to believe he was alive whenever the tax list was made in 1701 but dead on the 2 of October, 1701, the day Bartholomew wrote his will, especially since there is no burial record for Ambrose in 1701 but there is a burial record for Bartholomew. I suppose it is possible that Ambrose is the brother of Bartholomew, who would have been 61 in 1701, and possibly not able to care for himself before 1697, but that wouldn’t explain why he was not listed after 1701. After the elder Bartholomew died it looks like the “adults” in the household were considered to be the widow Mary and the brothers Bartholomew (with his wife Anne) and Henry – even though Henry was under 21 it seems he was classed as an adult on the list.


The family of Bartholomew Horsell in the Wootton Bassett tax lists.

Happily, after compiling the tax lists for these families I have more answers than new questions!

For further reading:

A table with details of the charges and a fuller explanation of the tax and its implications can be found at the Victoria County History.

A general discussion of taxation lists can be found at

Thanks to cousin Liz for the latest research work!

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