Scattered Pieces: Assembling a King and Queen County, Virginia, Taylor

Family from Scanty Records

By William M. Litchman, Ph.D., CG


The challenge of narrowing a migrating ancestor’s point of origin to at least the county level can frustrate genealogists, especially if common surnames are involved. When researchers find the county and learn that its record losses are significant, they may admit defeat and never discover the treasure that may remain. Even when records are scarce, however, confidently identifying an ancestral family can be possible.

            Fortunate is the genealogist who finds a record pinpointing a migrating ancestor’s place of origin. Luck doubles when the ancestral starting point is rich in records. Such fortune, however, is unusual. Typical ancestors migrating in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries rarely recorded their origins more precisely than naming a colony, state, or nation. In the case of ancestors who emigrated from Virginia – as did many settlers in the Midwest and Southeast – researchers may be faced with an extreme poverty of records. “More than 40 percent of Virginia’s county courts have suffered records losses” according to the Virginia State Library and Archives, which also reported that “about half of those have lost all or almost all of their records; the others have had less extensive but still significant losses.” Footnote

            Vincent Taylor, an ancestor found in Missouri in the 1830s through the 1860s, presented the above problems and more for researchers trying to locate his parental family:

          Imprecise origin. Several records point to a Virginia birthplace for Vincent, but none specifies a county or other locality.

          Common surname. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that Taylor was the tenth most common surname in the United States in 1990. Footnote

          Burned records. When Vincent’s county of origin was located with reasonable certainty, it turned out to be King and Queen County, one of the 20 percent of Virginia counties that had lost all of their early courthouse records. Footnote

            When research on Vincent Taylor began, he was known to be a Missouri citizen with origins somewhere in Virginia. After the case was built, he was placed securely in a reconstructed parental family in a specific community. The research leading to this outcome demonstrates resources and reasoning that many genealogists can use to locate ancestors despite destroyed courthouse records.


            Vincent Taylor appeared in Warren County, Missouri, by January 1836, when he purchased a lot in Warrenton, the county seat. Footnote He apparently lived out his life there. In May 1865, his widow petitioned the Warren County court to administer his estate and named his surviving children as heirs – Fountain Taylor, Katy Briscoe, Eli Taylor, Bernard Taylor, and Miranda Morris. Footnote

            Few Missouri records contain information related to Vincent’s origins. Together the 1850 and 1860 censuses show that he was born in Virginia between 1797 and 1799. Footnote Judging from the 1850 census, his youngest child was born in Virginia, 1832-33, so Vincent probably migrated between that time and his January 1836 appearance in Missouri. Another of Vincent’s sons, in a late-in-life marriage record, named his parents as Vinson Taylor and Sarah Derm (possibly a phonetic spelling of Durham). Footnote

            Vincent’s daughter, “Katy,” married in Warren County, Missouri. Footnote Her descendants possess a sampler that she stitched, probably while still living in Virginia. The sampler provides her birthdate as 13 January 1820, refers to her as “Kitty” and “Kiturrah” Taylor, and includes the initials of her parents an siblings. It also has a puzzling notation – “Maly Watts John Watts bo April 1830" – that proved to be a clue to her father’s parental family. Footnote


            Because Vincent Taylor moved from Virginia to Missouri apparently in the 1830s, research turned to locating him in Virginia’s 1830 census. Only two Vincent Taylor households were found in the state that year, one in Fauquier County and the other in King and Queen County. Footnote Two factors rule out the Fauquier County Vincent as the Vincent who settled in Missouri by January 1836:

          The 1830 configuration of the Fauquier County household is incompatible with what is known of the Missouri Vincent’s family. (For example, the only adult male in the Fauquier County household is in his fifties in 1830, when the Missouri Vincent would have been in his early thirties.)

          The Fauquier County Vincent was enumerated there in the 1840 census, while the Vincent in question was living in Missouri. Footnote

In addition, unlike the Fauquier County Vincent, the age range indicated for the Vincent Taylor in King and Queen County in 1830 and the ages of his apparent wife and children are consistent with the configuration of the Vincent Taylor household in the 1840 census of Warren County, Missouri.

            Listed on the line below Vincent Taylor in the 1830 census of King and Queen County is Caleb Taylor. Footnote Although Caleb was not named in King and Queen County’s 1840 census, he appeared there in 1810 and 1820. Footnote The three censuses in which he was found are correlated in table 1. The correlation shows that Caleb was born in 1760-65 and that his apparent wife was born 1770-75. Both were of an appropriate age to have been the parents of Vincent, who was born 1797-99. As shown in table 1, the Caleb Taylor household included a male of Vincent’s age in 1810 but not in 1820. The Missouri Vincent, however, was married and had two children in 1820 so would not necessarily have been enumerated in a parental household. (Unfortunately, he has not been located in the 1820 census.)

Table 1 [See PDF file “Vincent Figure 1"]

            While the information from the census is compelling, it alone is not adequate to conclude that Vincent was a son of Caleb Taylor. Reconstructing Caleb’s family, however, should clarify whether Vincent fits into his family or not.


            Table 1 shows that the 1810-30 censuses imply that Caleb Taylor had six sons and three daughters. The fact that Caleb was not enumerated in King and Queen County in 1840 suggests that he could have died there in the 1830s. With such a possibility, researchers would be likely to consult probate records to verify Caleb’s death and to identify his children. The burning of the King and Queen County courthouse in 1864, however, would have destroyed all of its records of Caleb’s estate and heirs. Reconstructing a family in such circumstances presents special challenges. Researchers must collect pieces of information from scattered sources and integrate them to re-assemble an ancestral family. The many sources of information that genealogists might be able to locate and use for this purpose include the following:

          Surviving or reconstructed county records. Counties suffering heavy record losses sometimes made an effort to reconstruct their destroyed records. After King and Queen County’s disastrous fire, for example, the county assigned a committee of processioners to describe the boundaries of all land holdings in the county. Footnote

          State-level records. Records created by or submitted to the state often contain information on individual citizens. Sometimes this information is sufficient to help genealogists reconstruct ancestral families in burned-record counties. Examples include petitions to the governor or legislature, state censuses, state militia rolls or state copies of local militia rolls, local lawsuits appealed to state or district courts, and state copies of vital records or tax lists made at the county level.

          Federal records. Records created by the U.S. government are well known to genealogists and can be of great value when researching families in burned counties. These include federal censuses, land and tax records, local cases hear in federal courts (bankruptcies, for example), and sources related to military service.

          Records of non-governmental entities. Several bodies in most counties created records of individual citizens separate from official county records. These include churches, cemeteries, newspapers, and schools. Their records might be found in the hands of their successors at the local level today, or could be in an archive or historical society, perhaps distant from where the records were created.

          Records in private hands. Often found in state or local historical societies or archives, private records can include diaries, family Bibles, letters, merchants’ accounts, midwives’ and undertakers’ notes, ministers’ records, and other sources of information on individuals and families in counties with burned courthouse records. Like records of non-governmental entities, material in private hands might be located today far from the county where it was created.

          Later county records. Even though a courthouse fire may have destroyed all of the records made during an ancestor’s lifetime, descendants, relatives, or neighbors many years later may have created county records containing information about the long-deceased ancestor.

            Even though many resources may be available to researchers after a courthouse has burned, records pertinent to a particular family still may be scarce. The scattered items relevant to Caleb Taylor’s family are perhaps typical. A few of the record types mentioned above provided useful information, but most did not. The most helpful were tax lists, federal censuses, state copies of vital records, church minutes and membership rolls, and the hand-stitched sample mentioned previously, found in private hands.


            Tax lists are perhaps the most valuable resource for genealogical research in Virginia’s burned counties. Virginia has collected taxes annually since 1782 except for 1808 when the state failed to provide for taxation. Historically, Virginia’s tax commissioners were local officials, but they sent lists of taxpayers to the state each year. Consequently, tax records are available to researchers for most years and most Virginia counties, whether the courthouse burned or not. The lists consist of two series:

          Land tax lists, which show the name of each landowner, acreage, and tax. As the years progressed the information in the lists increased, including distance and direction from the courthouse, neighbors’ names, and basis for the assessment. Virginia’s land tax lists often include notations or appendices (sometimes called “alterations”) showing how a taxpayer acquired or disposed of a particular tract of land.

          Personal property tax lists, which generally show the name of every male over the age of sixteen or twenty-one (depending on the tax year), except for the aged and infirm, and the basis for the tax. In the early years, taxable personal property was limited to livestock and slaves, but in later years various household and farm items also were taxed. Footnote

            In addition to providing information about Caleb Taylor’s land, King and Queen County’s land tax lists contain sufficient information to identify his widow and three of his children. Caleb paid taxes continuously from 1813 to 1839 on 54 3/4 acres of land located five miles north of the King and Queen County courthouse that he had purchased from “Ro.” Thurston. Footnote The “persons adjoining” were John Watts in 1814-19, John Watts estate in 1820, James Hart in 1821-23, and James Hart estate in 1824-39. In 1840-41, this property was listed as “Taylor, Caleb, Estate.” Footnote In 1842, two listings replaced it. One was a fee simple listing for 43 acres under the name of Francis Prince (four miles north of the court house). Footnote The other was a life estate of 11 3/4 acres (five miles north) under the names of Mary Ann and Frances Taylor. Footnote Both entries include explanatory notes. The Prince note states “transferred from Caleb Taylor’s Estate by deed from Nancy Taylor, admx.” The Taylor note reads: “Under the will of Caleb Taylor, decd, (and) 43 acres transferred to Francis Prince by deed from Nancy Taylor, admx of Caleb Taylor, decd.”

            The above notes apparently refer to a deed and other legal actions recorded in the King and Queen County courthouse before its destruction. The 1842 Taylor note mentions Caleb’s will but calls Nancy an administratrix. Either Caleb failed to name an executor in his will or the person he designated was unable or unwilling to fill that role. As a result, the court appointed Nancy to administer the estate. Because it is unlikely that a female other than a widow would have been given that responsibility, Nancy Taylor probably was Caleb’s widow. In addition, Mary Ann and Frances Taylor, to whom Caleb apparently bequeathed a life interest in about one-fifth of his land, probably were his children.

            From 1845 through 1854 the land tax books include entries for Nancy Taylor’s payment of taxes on 44½ acres thirty miles northwest of the King and Queen Courthouse that she had purchased from John B. Martin. Footnote An 1855 listing for the same acreage under the name of Philip Taylor contains the note, “by death of Mother.” Footnote As Nancy’s adult son, Philip apparently was Caleb’s son as well.

            Like the land tax lists, the personal property tax lists also aid in identifying members of Caleb Taylor’s family. Caleb first paid personal property taxes in Essex County, Virginia, 1801-02, Footnote then in King and Queen county continuously 1804-39. Footnote From 1801 to 1812, the only taxable white male in the Caleb Taylor household was over age sixteen – undoubtedly Caleb himself. In 1813 the number rose to two, which cuold imply that one of Caleb’s sons turned sixteen in 1812 and was born in 1796. In 1815, the number of taxable males rose to three, implying a son born in 1799.

            From 1816 to 1817, Caleb’s taxable white males decreased by one. In 1817, two Taylors – George and Carter – made their first appearance in the King and Queen County tax list. Footnote Because Carter was listed in a different district from Caleb Taylor, and because Carter had paid taxes in 1816 in Essex County, he probably does not account forthe decrease in the number of taxable males in Caleb’s household. Footnote In contrast, George Taylor paid taxes only after the decrease in the number of taxable males in Caleb’s household, and every time George paid taxes in King and Queen County (1817-20) he was listed next to Caleb – which might or might not indicate that they lived near each other. Footnote In any case, the personal property tax lists provide indirect evidence suggesting that George was Caleb’s eldest son.

            Between 1818 and 1819 the number of taxable males in Caleb Taylor’s household again decreased by one. The only Taylor newly appearing in the King and Queen County tax list in 1819 was Vincent Taylor. Footnote Altogether, vincent paid personal property taxes eight times in King and Queen County: 1819-20, 1823-25, 1831, and 1834-35. Footnote Except for 1819-20, both Vincent and Caleb paid taxes in the same district. In 1823, 1831, and 1834, their names are contiguous – which again might or might not indicate that they lived near each other. Nonetheless, the information from the personal property tax lists supports the possibility that Caleb Taylor was Vincent Taylor’s father.

            Between them, King and Queen County’s land and personal property tax lists appear to identify Caleb Taylor’s widow (Nancy), three of his sons (George, Philip, and Vincent) and two of his daughters (Frances and Mary Ann). Further research in King and Queen County tax lists, censuses, church records, and a reconstructed plat book produced seemingly random information on dozens of people named Taylor. The tentative identification of Caleb Taylor’s widow and five children from the tax lists, however, enabled selecting information related to Caleb’s family and using it to identify additional children.


            A wide-ranging search of vital records turned up direct evidence of one of Caleb Taylor’s sons. Wehn he married his second or third wife in 1866, Lewis Taylor of King and Queen County reported that Caleb was his father. Footnote Lewis also reported that his mother was “Ann Durham.” Because Nancy is a common nickname for Ann, Lewis almost certainly provided the maiden name of “Nancy Taylor,” who the land tax notations implied was Caleb’s widow.

            The information that Lewis was a son of Caleb Taylor prompted a review of Lewis’s tax listings. Lewis’s first land tax listing, in 1828, noted that his land was held “in right of wife who was Nancy Durham.” Footnote In 1861-63, Lewis paid personal property taxes for a second taxable male. In 1861 that person was captioned “nephew,” in 1862 he was “boy Joshua over 19,” and in 1863, he was “Joshua Taylor age 20.” Footnote In the 1860 census, Joshua Taylor, age seventeen, was enumerated in Lewis’s household. Footnote In 1850, however, Joshua was an eight-year-old in the Brooking Taylor household in King and Queen County, appearing to be Brooking’s son. Footnote Because Joshua Taylor appears to have been both nephew of Lewis Taylor and son of Brooking Taylor, Lewis and Brooking probably were brothers. Thus, Brooking Taylor apparently was another son of Caleb Taylor.

            The vital records search also revealed the connection between Caleb Taylor and Francis Prince, the grantee who obtained most of Caleb’s land. Catherine and Milton Prince, a brother and sister who married on the same day in 1875, reported that their parents were Francis Prince and Frances Taylor. Footnote Caleb’s land was not sold out of the family, because Francis Prince appears to have been his son-in-law. In addition, Milton’s bride was alice B. Taylor, whose reported father was Brooking Taylor. Theirs apparently was a first-cousin marriage – not unusual in this time and place – because both Frances (née Taylor) Prince and Brooking Taylor probably were children of Caleb Taylor.


            Caleb Taylor’s probable widow and five children, identified above, were enumerated in the 1850 census of King and Queen County, as follows:

          Nancy Taylor, age 70, living in the household of Philip Taylor in Drysdale Parish; Footnote

          Mary Ann Taylor, age 50, living in the household of Francis Prince in St. Stephen’s Parish; Footnote

          Lewis Taylor, age 43, living in St. Stephens Parish; Footnote

          Frances Prince, age 39, also living in the household of Francis Prince, her apparent husband; Footnote

          Brooking Taylor, age 36, living in Drysdale Parish; Footnote

          Philip Taylor, age 35. Footnote

            Enumerated six households after the household containing Francis and Frances Prince and Mary Ann Taylor was James Taylor, age 41. Footnote His age and location in the census suggest that James was another of Caleb Taylor’s sons. In addition, James’s occupation was carpenter – the same occupation reported for Brooking Taylor in 1850 and Lewis Taylor in 1860. Footnote Also, a child in James’s household bore the same name as one of Caleb Taylor’s known sons, Philip Taylor.


            Membership lists and minutes of the Mattaponi Baptist Church in King and Queen County name several individuals who appear to have been members of Caleb Taylor’s family in the 1830s through the 1850s. They were Frances A. Prince and her husband, Francis Prince, Brooking Taylor, James Taylor, and Lewis Taylor. Footnote In addition, an 1832 membership list includes “Mrs. Taylor, wife of Vincent.” Footnote Minutes dated September 1835 report that “sister Taylor who is about to remove to the west is dismissed from this church, and it is ordered that the clerk give her a letter of dismission recommending her to the communion of some sister church.” Footnote In isolation, these references – which do not mention relationships – appear to have little genealogical value. Nevertheless when considered in the context of the information from the other sources concerning Caleb Taylor’s family, membership in the same church supports the conclusion that the Princes and Brooking, James, Lewis, and Vincent Taylor were members of one family.


            As noted previously, table 1 provides a composite of the 1810-30 census entries for Caleb Taylor’s household implying that Caleb had six sons and three daughters. Tax records identified Caleb’s widow as Nancy Taylor. She headed a household in the 1840 census of King and Queen County, but that enumeration does not add to or conflict with the 1810-30 census information implying that Caleb Taylor had nine children. Footnote The non-courthouse sources described abovce identify two of these children directly. These records identify six additional children indirectly, although the degree of certainty varies. Table 2 summarizes those results.

Figure 2 [See file “Vincent Figure 2"]


            No record states that Caleb Taylor of King and Queen County, Virginia, was the father of Virginia-born Vincent Taylor of Warren County, Missouri. Nevertheless, the evidence strongly supports this conclusion. Specific points include the following:

          The maiden name of Vincent Taylor’s wife was reported to be “Derm,” probably a phonetic spelling of Durham. Both Caleb Taylor and one of his sons, Lewis, married women whose maiden name was Durham.

          Two Vincent Taylors headed households in the 1830 census of Virginia, one in Fauquier County and the other in King and Queen County. The Vincent in Fauquier County can be ruled out as having settled in Missouri by 1836. The enumeration of Vincent Taylor in King and Queen County immediately precedes that of Caleb Taylor,

          Vincent Taylor of Missouri was born 1797-99. In Virginia, he would have become a sixteen-year-old taxable male 1813-15. Caleb Taylor began paying taxes for an additional taxable male in 1815.

          Vincent Taylor began paying taxes under his own name in 1819, the same year that the number of taxable males reported by Caleb Taylor decreased by one. This was about the time that the Missouri Vincent Taylor would have become twenty-one years old.

          In six of the eight years that Vincent Taylor paid taxes in King and Queen County, he was listed in the same tax district as Caleb Taylor.

          Vincent Taylor’s wife was a member of the Mattaponi Baptist Church in King and Queen County in 1832. Brooking Taylor, James Taylor, and Frances Prince, children of Caleb Taylor, belonged to the same church. Their brother, Lewis taylor, was associated with the church.

          Vincent Taylor left Virginia between 1832-33 when his youngest son was born there and January 1836 when he purchased land in Missouri. Vincent’s wife very likely was the “sister Taylor” to whom the Mattaponi Baptist Church granted a letter of dismissal in 1835, when she was “about to remove to remove to the west.”

          King and Queen County tax records show that John Watts was a neighbor of Caleb Taylor. A sample created by a daughter of Vincent Taylor, probably while still living in Virginia, contains the name “John Watts.”


            Even where large groups of records are destroyed, researchers often can locate and assemble small scraps of evidence. By carefully studying the composite, they sometimes can place an ancestor into a parental family. In this way, the evidence presented here shows that the most likely father of Vincent Taylor was Caleb Taylor and that Vincent’s mother may have been Caleb’s widow, Ann or Nancy (née Durham) Taylor. This result relies on princples that authors have demonstrated in this journal many times:

          Leave no record unexamined. Even in locales with many missing records, gaps can be filled by bits that remain or have been reconstructed, including state and federal records and non-governmental sources like churches.

          Take advantage of whatever evidence can be found to reconstruct potential parental families for the starting-point ancestor. Use all of the identifying information – not just the ancestor’s name – to match the ancestor to the most likely parental family.

          Focus on family groups and potential family members, not isolated individuals. Locate and analyze all of the records for each person in these groups, including every record of their property and any related documents.

          Build a convincing case supporting the likely parental relationship. To be credible, the research and the resulting case should address the five elements of the standard of proof for genealogy: a reasonably exhaustive search for information concerning the relationship in question, complete and accurate citations of each source used, analysis of the collected information to determine its value as evidence of the relationship; resolution of any conflicting evidence; and a soundly reasoned conclusion. Footnote

            The challenge of narrowing a migrating ancestor’s point of origin to at least the county level can frustrate genealogists, especially if common surnames like Taylor are involved. When researchers find the county and learn that its record losses are significant, they may admit defeat and never discover the treasure that may remain. Vincent Taylor’s parental family demonstrates, however, that frustration and surrender may be unnecessary. Even when records are scarce, confidently identifying and reconstructing an ancestral family can be possible.

            © William M. Litchman, Ph.D., CG; 1620 Los Alamos Avenue, S.W.; Albuquerque, NM 87104-1122. Dr. Litchman, a professional genealogist and retired chemistry professor, has authored several genealogical articles and serves as a librarian in an Albuquerque family history center.