Although tax season is over for most Americans now that we are a couple of days past April 15th, it doesn’t mean that records generated by annual levies from long ago aren’t of interest. In fact, one of the Historical Society of Cecil County research volunteers, Jo Ann Gardner, has been pouring over volumes of those financial transactions for several days, carefully checking the rolls for personal property inventories, tax assessments, addresses, and the names of people living here in earlier centuries.
Jo Ann isn’t an auditor with the Internal Revenue Service pouring over what might appear to be mundane pages. She is a library volunteer, helping a patron from Colorado who is trying to identify some long ago, elusive ancestors in the public records.
Although those citizens from the past may not have been excited about paying the county levy, someone looking for evidence for putting together a family tree can be delighted to find ancestors listed in those aging, financial schedules written in a flowing script. While there are many ways to go about family history research, these vital governmental documents, while often neglected, have great value for historical and genealogical information. Jo Ann has been at it for some time going page by page through the volumes as the colonial, early federal, and 19th century tax records at the Society are extensive.
The other day while pouring over those yellowing pages, with an auditor’s like eye for detail, she tripped across a surprising item penned in the detailed, dry listings of figures, inventories, assessments and levies. The county clerk (or someone) did a little fancy doodling, drawing a well-dressed man and also the face of another person. Perhaps it was just a little absent-minded sketching as the clerk sat silently listening to the commissioners review the assessments and make adjustments while waiting for them to complete their deliberations so he could permanently record the details in the county’s public record.
Whatever the case, we have had many doodlers in our nation’s history, as great leaders and other have been known to draw on the margins of a sheet during meetings. So the county clerk from the end of the colonial era was in good company as he performed that most essential function, official recording the business of Cecil County while also taking care of filings and legal instruments.
Jo Ann has named her colonial sketch artist, “Yankee Doodles Dandy,” and in those lists, tabulations and levies, sources that have great potential for the genealogist probing for that elusive ancestor, “Yankee Doodles Dandy,” stands out. And the over 200-year-old random drawing has been getting lots of attention, as it adds a little color to the public record.
This is just one of the many ways that the volunteers at Cecil County’s history and genealogy library serve the public. Nearly forty years ago, the County Commissioners determined that our local heritage keepers should also serve as the county archives for records that no longer have day-to-day relevance, but have historical value.