We don’t always know which of our assumptions are false until we see something that outright contradicts them. Even then we might not realize that we are staring at something that flies in the face of something we believed without any knowledge, first hand or otherwise. I always just figured my landowning ancestors always went to the county courthouse to pay their taxes (or mailed a payment in). That was my recollection of what people did.
My research was never hindered because of assumptions I made about the physical act of paying taxes and my own life was certainly never impacted by my incorrect assumption. It’s one of those things that you can function quite well in genealogyland without knowing.
I never really thought about how my landowning ancestors actually went through the process of paying their property taxes. While there are genealogy questions that keep me awake at all hours of the night, this was not one of those problems.
And then I came across this item in the 1909 Warsaw Bulletin from Warsaw, Illinois. It indicated when the township collectors would be available to receive tax payments locally.
- Live in Warsaw and need to pay your 1908 taxes? Go to the Hotel Grant on Saturday.
- Live in Hamilton and need to pay your 1908 taxes? See James Shoman in Hamilton on Thursday (I guess everyone knows where he lives or has his office).
- Live near Elderville and need to pay your 1908 taxes? See James Shoman in Elderville on Tuesday (Elderville is small. If you can’t find James in Elderville, you probably shouldn’t be handling your own affairs any longer).
- Live in Wilcox Township and need to pay your 1908 taxes? See Robt. E. McMahon at the store of Henry Dross in Warsaw on Wednesdays or Saturdays.
The notice reminded me: how many things do we “know” because we just assumed them to be true? How many things do we think are true because we just assume that because it’s done that way today, it has always been done that way (aside from some technological changes)? How many things do we think are true across the board and in all families because “after all, that’s how my family does it and no one could be different from us.”
Some historical practices are difficult to find out, even with Google. It is easy to search the internet (or an online database) to find the date of a specific event, when a border changed, or where the courthouse records for a certain county are located. It can be a little more difficult to find out how often a rural family may have attended church, was it common to wait two months to christen a child, etc. And remember…just because some anonymous online person said that rural families attended church monthly or that two months to christen was really weird does not make it true.
Does not make it true.
Reading old newspapers, state statute books, well-written genealogical studies, more records in a series than just the one on your ancestor, historical studies by experts in their field, etc. can go a long way to finding some of these things out. And even then sometimes you won’t find the answer.
An unwritten, unstated, unrealized assumption could be hindering your research.
You might not even have to drive all the way to the county seat to find it.