Genealogy Tips: Find Ancestors in Tax Records

It’s time to pay taxes in the United States! Tax RecordsIs it any consolation that our ancestors paid them, too? Here’s a brief history of U.S. federal taxation and tips on where to find tax records for the U.S. and the U.K.

History of Tax Records

According to the National Archives (U.S.), the Civil War prompted the first national income tax, a flat 3% on incomes over $800. (See an image of the 16th Amendment and the first 1040 form here.)

The Supreme Court halted a later attempt by Congress to levy another income tax, saying it was unconstitutional.

In 1913 the 16th Amendment granted that power. Even then, only 1% of the population paid income taxes because most folks met the exemptions and deductions. Tax rates varied from 1% to 6%–wouldn’t we love to see those rates now!

Where to Find Tax Records

Ancestry.com has indexed images of U.S. federal tax assessment lists from the Civil War period (and beyond, for some territories).

Here’s a sample image from Arkansas:

Arkansas tax record 1867

Of course, the U.S. federal income tax is just one type. Taxes have been levied on real estate, personal property and income by local, regional and national governments throughout the world.

Some tax records can be found online at the largest genealogy websites. 

Here are examples of tax records that can be found at Ancestry:

  • tax records from London (1692-1932);
  • the U.S. states of Pennsylvania, Tennessee, New York, Ohio, Georgia and Texas;
  • and many from Scotland, Ireland, Canada and Russia (there’s more: see a full list and descriptions here).

FamilySearch.org hosts over a million records each of U.S. state tax records from Ohio and Texas.

FindMyPast hosts a wealth of U.K. tax records, from local rate books to Cheshire land taxes and even the Northamptonshire Hearth Tax of 1674.

In addition to genealogy websites, here in the U.S., look for original real estate and personal property taxpayer lists in county courthouses or state archives.

It’s also a good idea to consult genealogical or historical organizations and guides. A Google search for “tax records genealogy Virginia” brings up great results from the Library of Virginia and Binns Genealogy. And here’s a search tip: Use the keyword “genealogy” so historical records will pop up. Without that term, you’re going to get results that talk about paying taxes today.

If you still haven’t found the tax records you are looking for, there are two more excellent resources available for finding out what else might be available within a particular jurisdiction.

The first is the FamilySearch Wiki. From the home page you can drill down using the map, or try a search in the search box. Search for the jurisdiction and the keyword tax. Click through to the page for that jurisdiction. Typically you will find a table of contents that includes links to the section of the page covering various topics. Look for a link to tax, taxes, tax records, or taxation. They will list known sources for tax records in that area. 

tax records at the familysearch wiki

Tax records at the familysearch wiki

The second resource for finding out what else might be available is the free USGenWeb site. Like the FamilySearch Wiki, it’s organized by location / jurisdiction. Drill down to the place and then look for the section listing the known records for that area and look for tax related links. 

find tax records at usgenweb

Find information about tax records at USGenWeb

Why It’s Worth Finding Tax Records

I’ll leave you with this tantalizing list of data gathered in the Calhoun County, Georgia tax list of 1873. It enumerates whites, children, the blind/deaf/dumb, dentists, auctioneers, and those who have ten-pin alleys, pool tables and skating rinks. Then, real estate is assessed in detail. Finally, each person’s amount of money, investments, merchandise, household furniture, and investment in manufacturing is assessed.

As you can see, it can pay you big to invest time in looking for your ancestor’s tax records! Just make sure that if you’re here in the U.S., you’ve got your own taxes out of the way before you go searching for someone else’s.

4 Tips for Getting the Most out of Ancestry.com

When you invest your money in a genealogy website, you want to ensure that you’re getting the most value possible. Here we share tips for getting the most out of Ancestry.com.

how to get the most out of Ancestry

I noticed recently that Ancestry subscribers’ attitudes run the same gamut as attitudes of big-box retailer shoppers. Some people {heart} them unabashedly: they’ll spend hours strolling the aisles and share every great find on social media. Others dash in and grab just the items they can’t live without.

Whatever your stance toward the site, Ancestry is still the big-box retailer most genealogists need at some point. Take your cue from top big-box store shopping strategies for getting the most out of Ancestry.com:

1. Grab first what you can’t get anywhere else.

Learn what exactly you want from Ancestry versus other sites, the same way you’ve learned whose house brand of spaghetti sauce you like and who carries your favorite protein bars.

A few examples for U.S. researchers:

  • Ancestry has the most U.S. census non-population schedules online. (They’ve padded HeritageQuest Online with several of these but they didn’t give them everything.)
  • Ancestry’s collection of digitized U.S. city directories (over a BILLION) is second to none.
Norman Rockwell in the Berkshire City Directory

Beloved illustrator Norman Rockwell in a city directory. (Massachusetts Berkshire 1959 Berkshire, Massachusetts, City Directory, 1959)

2. Stock Up on Items that are Easy to Reach

While your subscription is active, stock up on easy to find items.

One way to do that is with Ancestry’s hints. Ancestry’s hinting system taps the most popular Ancestry collections (about the top 10% of the most popular collections). Watch your Ancestry tree for hints and check them all. When you first log in, note whether anyone new has taken an interest in your tree (if it’s public)–and see if they are relatives worth contacting.

 

3. Watch for New Products! 

We’ve written about Ancestry updates that have stopped us in our tracks, like the recent U.S. Wills and Probates and Social Security Applications and Claims databases and the AncestryDNA Common Matches Tool.

We also update you regularly on new records collections that go online throughout the genealogy world: Ancestry databases are often among them.

You can also sort by “Date Added” in Ancestry.com Card Catalog. This is a great way to see the collections most recently added. Look for the green “NEW” tag. 

New Records at Ancestry.com sorted by Date Added

4. Avoid the Parts of the Experience that are Frustrating

Those who hate battling lines avoid big stores on peak shopping days and during the after-work rush. I avoid returning things at certain stores because their customer service desk is not worth the hassle.

Similarly, if the way Ancestry handles photos, sources, or Life Story timelines drives you nuts, ignore as much as you can except for your direct ancestors and closest relatives.

Perhaps you simply download each record you find and work with photos and timelines on your family history software (Lisa recommends RootsMagic–click here to read why). Or use Evernote’s newly updated web clipper (you can even make notes on top of your screen captures!) and store all your sources there.

Resources

Want to learn more about how to get the most out of Ancestry? Here are two additional resources:

Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast Episode 125: Using Ancestry Library Edition and other tips from a public library genealogist (available to Genealogy Gems Premium members only)

3 Things This Gems Follower Loves About the New Ancestry Site

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