What are ratables?
Ratables are lists of heads of household compiled in order to levy a tax. Heads of household were typically males and in some cases widows. These taxes were levied periodically from 1773-1822.
Tax rates were based on a number of variables set by the New Jersey General Assembly, such as how many “improved” (i.e. arable) acres were owned, how many and what type of livestock, whether you owned a carriage, and how many servants and enslaved persons were contracted and owned.
The specifics of what was taxed and at what rate changed when each new tax was issued. Information collected about the taxpayer varied based on what was being taxed for the period of that ratable.
What can you do with ratables?
Ratables are an important primary source for pre-1830 genealogy research in New Jersey.
The first set of ratables was issued in 1773-1774, while New Jersey was a province, then regularly until 1822. There was no statewide census of colonial New Jersey. The federal census returns for New Jersey conducted from 1790-1820 are lost; the first available statewide census return for New Jersey is 1830. There are less census returns available for New Jersey than any other state. Genealogy researchers use ratables as a census substitute.
Lists of all known taxpayers in a town and lists of all known taxpayers with the same surname facilitate cluster genealogy, name studies, local history studies, and brick wall research.
Revolutionary Census of New Jersey
There are several published transcriptions and compilations of tax lists. The Revolutionary Census of New Jersey compiled by Kenn Stryker-Rodda is the most used. This index groups individuals by last name from three different ratables: 1773-1774, 1778-1780, and 1784-1786. There is no complete set of ratables for all regions in this time period, so by using these three sets, all townships are covered.
“For the revolutionary period there is at least one list for each of the townships into which the thirteen counties of the colony/state were divided… Two successive lists have been incorporated into this index whenever possible, as individuals were sometimes omitted from a list, and because names were spelled differently even by the same assessor.” (Stryker-Rodda, p. v.)
The index is alphabetical by last name, and includes their township. For the financial details and to see all taxpayers of the same town listed together, you can refer back to the transcriptions of the ratables published in the Genealogical Magazine of New Jersey. A “code” in the front of the book indicates which issue of GMNJ contains the transcription. The New Jersey State Library has a complete set of the Genealogical Magazine of New Jersey available for in-library use.
What can you learn from ratables?
The account of the taxpayer’s property lists several features of his wealth. Tax was calculated by multiplying these numbers by rates. For example, the tax burden for a householder in 1773/1774 ranged from 2 shillings to £4. Those who owned a furnace or glass-house could be taxed up to £10. There are a number of carve-outs and exemptions, similar to modern tax policy.
Information Contained in Ratables
Other Indexes to Ratables
- Jackson, Ronald Vern, ed. New Jersey Tax Lists, 1772-1822. five volumes. American Tax List Indices. Salt Lake City, Utah: Accelerated Indexing Systems, 1981. This work is an alphabetical index of taxpayers and includes the taxpayer’s name, town, county, and date they appeared on the tax list. It is not comprehensive, does not include all lists or even all counties. The contents are also searchable as part of Ancestry’s database New Jersey, Compiled Census and Census Substitutes Index, 1643-1890.
- Norton, James S. New Jersey in 1793: An Abstract and Index to the 1793 Militia Census of the State of New Jersey. Salt Lake City, Utah, 1973. This is a transcription of ratables created as a result of an NJ Law of 30 Nov 1792 “to take a list of all and every free and able-bodied white male Citizen, between the ages of eighteen and forty-five Years.” Those who did not serve and paid a $3 tax, as well as certain occupations, are listed as “exempt.” There are no extant 1793 ratables from Bergen, Cape May, Salem, and Somerset, but the author reconstructed a list of these men from other sources.
Access to Ratables at the New Jersey State Archives
Of the total number of ratables recorded, only about a thousand (4% of the total) still exist. Almost all original extant ratables are in the collections of the New Jersey State Archives and are available on microfilm.
The Tax Ratables Collection Guide published by the New Jersey State Archives lists all extant ratables and microfilm copies available at the NJSA. “This series includes original tax ratables from the period 1773-1822, as well as photocopies of several tax lists currently in the custody of various historical societies.” Ratables are part of the New Jersey General Assembly Collection.
These collection guides (also known as finding aids) include the microfilm reel as well as the citation to GMNJ if a transcription has been published.
- Miscellaneous & Bergen Counties
- Burlington County
- Cape May & Cumberland Counties
- Essex County
- Gloucester County
- Hunterdon & Middlesex Counties
- Monmouth & Morris Counties
- Salem, Somerset & Sussex Counties and Transcripts
Questions about access to microfilmed ratables should be directed to the New Jersey State Archives. Researchers are welcome to browse the print indexes listed above and issues of the Genealogical Magazine of New Jersey in the State Library Information Center on the fourth floor of the New Jersey State Library.