14 April 2018


April 13 2018

Week 15—Taxes

A Taxing Time in Georgia
By Myra Vanderpool Gormley, © 2018

It is frustrating to lose an entire family between the 1860 and 1870 censuses, but it happens. Tracing Southern ancestors in this time period can be a challenge. Many families were displaced in the aftermath of the Civil War due to the war’s destruction, crop failures, miserable weather, and in Georgia, with the death of about one-third of its soldiers. Records that might solve genealogical mysteries simply are not always extant.

Reuben Kirby and his bride, Nancy Adeline Holley, were married early in 1854 in DeKalb County, Georgia. They appear in the 1860 census in Campbell County, Georgia, with their two young sons, Charles and William. The war comes along and they all vanish.
Campbell County, Georgia, ca 1895

Because Reuben was born about 1823, it is likely that he enlisted or was drafted in the military, but nothing has been found yet to prove conclusively that he participated. Because his parents and most of siblings removed to Alabama about 1860, that state’s records were successfully searched for his two brothers who served in the Confederate forces, but there’s no indication that Reuben moved to Alabama. There is another man of a similar name and age living in Georgia in this time period, but he is enumerated in the 1870 census and does not match my Reuben.

 It took a search in the Georgia Property Tax Digest, 1793-1892 to come to the rescue. Reuben appears in 1849 DeKalb County, Georgia next to his father, John, but with no property at that time. He is shown being taxed on the same 40 acres in 1861, 1862, and 1863 in what was then Campbell County, Georgia. A search in the U.S. IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918 was negative for him.

Was he killed during the war, or did he die soon after 1863 (last found tax record for him)? What happened to his wife and two sons? No probate or guardianship papers have been found and none of this family has been located in the 1870 census — so far. In 1880, there is no sign of Charles or William, but a John Kirby, age 18, and listed as a nephew, is in the household of Nathaniel and Edna Humphries in Cobb County, Georgia. Edna turns out to be the sister of Nancy Adeline Holley who married Reuben Kirby. So, if this John Kirby, born about 1862 is a third son of Reuben and Nancy Adeline, where has he been for 18 years, where are his brothers, and how can I make the links?

The Georgia Property Tax Digest for 1890 reveals a Charles M. Kirby and a William Kirby assessed for property in Atlanta, but there’s no proof that they are sons of Reuben and Nancy Adeline. However, a search in Atlanta death records turned up a record on Charles Kirby. He died in 1925 and his death certificate lists his parents — Reuben and Nancy. His obituary in The Atlanta (Georgia) Constitution on 9 March 1925 mentions his wife, two sons, and a brother, Judge J. J. Kirby, of Douglasville (Douglas County, Georgia). The latter county adjoined old Campbell County.  

The Georgia death certificate of Judge John Jordan Kirby has a number of “don’t know” answers, including names of his parents, but with the cause of his death listed as “suicide” in 1932, additional digging uncovered information from a news article posted at Find-A-Grave website:




Monday morning about 9:30 o'clock the town of Douglasville was shocked, when the news came from the county jail, where he was confined, that Judge J. J. Kirby had taken his life by shooting himself through the heart. Judge Kirby had been put in jail several days before on a rum charge. Judge Kirby had been Justice of the Peace here for the past 20 years. He came to Douglasville from Villa Rica. He was twice married and leaves eight grown children by his first wife and one small son by his last wife.

As Benjamin Franklin supposedly said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Both can be invaluable to family historians.

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