A census substitute

A few years ago, I was about to take my second academic sabbatical at NEHGS. My first sabbatical produced much of the research needed for the Vital Records of Stoughton, Massachusetts, to the end of the year 1850, published by the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants in 2008. For my second sabbatical I wanted to select a project that would benefit genealogists and historians alike. I had a conversation with our President D. Brenton Simons, and he made me aware of a little-known manuscript of Boston records at the Rare Book Department of the Boston Public Library. These fragile books contain the “Taking Books” (later renamed Valuation Books) for the town of Boston from the early 1780s through 1822. Sadly, the Boston “Taking Books” compiled before 1780 were destroyed by fire, according to the finding aid at the Rare Book Department. The remainder of the “Taking Books” – from 1823 to 1940 – are located at the Boston City Archives in West Roxbury, Massachusetts.

I assessed that the vast number of books available in the Rare Book Department collection could not be transcribed during the time of my three-month sabbatical. I decided that the most relevant set of books from this series would be those for the year 1800.

The taking books give an actual appraisal of Boston residents and the taxes and polls they were assessed.

There was once an 1800 Federal Census for the town of Boston (incorporated as the City of Boston on 4 March 1822). By the dawn of the twentieth century, no sign of this 1800 census for Boston survived. This census volume or collection of pages may have been lost in a fire, or accidentally discarded during the nineteenth century. Besides Boston, much of its parent county (Suffolk) is also missing.

Click on the image to expand it.

The taking books give an actual appraisal of Boston residents and the taxes and polls they were assessed. These books are arranged by ward and street, and then by order of the actual house by house visitation. On occasion additional information can include occupation or employment status; mental or physical disability; whether currently “at Sea”; whether the occupant removed to another location; and, sometimes, race or ethnicity. These books detail the valuation for individuals from all walks of life. Individuals range from Paul Revere the goldsmith to sailors who are renting one room while in port.

For the database I digitized these pages and transcribed the names of the head of household; the ward; and the description of the specific dwelling. These images are searchable now on American Ancestors. You can also browse the images from the 1800 Taking Book for Boston page by page as well.

If you are researching an ancestor from Boston, this small window on the dawn of nineteenth-century Boston may be of interest. I sincerely hope this work serves as a valuable census substitute for Boston for 1800. (You may also wish to consider consulting the 1798 Direct Tax for Massachusetts. The latter is also available on American Ancestors.) The Boston City Directory in many cases does not list everyone that the taking records listed. If you wish to consult a copy of the published 1800 Boston city directory you can do so online at the Boston Athenaeum.

David Allen Lambert

About David Allen Lambert

David Lambert has been on the staff of NEHGS since 1993 and is the organization’s Chief Genealogist. David is an internationally recognized speaker on the topics of genealogy and history. His genealogical expertise includes New England and Atlantic Canadian records of the 17th through 21st century; military records; DNA research; and Native American and African American genealogical research in New England. Lambert has published many articles in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, the New Hampshire Genealogical Record, Rhode Island Roots, The Mayflower Descendant, and American Ancestors magazine. He has also published A Guide to Massachusetts Cemeteries (NEHGS, 2009). David is an elected Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, Mass., and a life member of the New Hampshire Society of the Cincinnati. He is also the tribal genealogist for the Massachuset-Punkapoag Indians of Massachusetts.View all posts by David Allen Lambert