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.

Season Four

The Genealogy Gems Podcast Episodes
2009 Season Four

Scroll to the bottom of each Podcast Show Notes Page and click the episode mp3 file to download the episode for listening.  It will take a minute or two for the episode to download, and it will open in your computer’s audio program (for example: Quicktime or Windows Media Player.)

Episode 61 Listen & Show Notes
A sneak peek at the new website GenSeek with Steve Nickle, President of Familylink.com.  And Part 2 of Lisa’s interview with Darby Hinton where they discuss the Hinton Family History.

Episode 62  Listen & Show Notes
Go Genealogical Channel Surfing:  Part 3 of Lisa’s interview with Darby Hinton about his new TV pilot Hintons Living History.  Hang Ten with Ken Marks, executive producer of the new TV series Legend Seekers.

Episode 63 Listen & Show Notes
Lisa conducts an exclusive interview with Dr. Tukufu Zuberi, star of the hit TV series The History Detectives.

Episode 64  Listen & Show Notes
New Online Newspaper Databases, An answer to a listener’s Family Tree Maker software question, A Gem of an Idea: Online Downloadable Source Citations, Interview with Maureen Taylor, and the History of Casey Jones

Episode 65  Listen & Show Notes
Interview with George Morgan, Mother’s Day, Odometer History

Episode 66  Listen & Show Notes
An Important Anniversary:  D-Day, Upcoming Genealogy Conferences, Genealogy Records Update, Interview with Kathy Meade of Genline.com about new features at the Swedish records website, and Paper of Record at the Google News Archive.

Episode 67  Listen & Show Notes
Jamboree Highlights, News, Interview with Genealogy Blogger Randy Seaver of the Genea-Musings blog

Episode 68  Listen & Show Notes
GenealogyWise, Lisa on the Genealogy Guys Pocast, Paper of Record Update, Interview with Genealogy Blogger Thomas MacEntee, 40th Anniversary of Apollo 11, A Special Collection at the DAR Library, Lisa to Teach Family Tree Magazine Webinar

Episode 69  Listen & Show Notes
The First U.S. Census, Interview with author and genealogist Tony Burroughs, “My Mother Was a Quilter” by Lee Drew,

Episode 70 Listen & Show Notes
Resources for understanding the U.S. Federal Census, Member Connect Tour with David Graham from Ancestry.

Episode 71 Listen & Show Notes
The new Genealogy Gem rhinestone pin, The Mailbox, Member Connect with Ancestry, Part 2, Family History Thoughts with Lee Drew “Choices & Consequences,”

Episode 72  Listen & Show Notes
Civil War Records, The Mailbox, Probate Records with Jana Broglin, Sorting Your Bookmarks Alphabetically in Safari,

Episode 73 Listen & Show Notes
It’s All About You and Genealogy!  New Digitized Newspapers, Premium Episodes.

Episode 73 Video Cast  Show Notes
Genealogy News Segment

Episode 74 Listen & Show Notes
An Amazing Story Featuring the DeadFred Web Site (Interview with Joe Bott)

Episode 75 Listen & Show Notes
The New Free Genealogy Gems Toolbar, The Mailbox, Interview with David Rencher, Head Genealogist at FamilySearch About the Digitization of Records and the Future of FamilySearch.

Episode 76 Listen & Show Notes
News, Mailbox, The 1810 Census, Part 2 of Lisa’s Interview with David Rencher Head Genealogist at FamilySearch.org, the Free Genealogy Gems Toolbar.

Episode 77 Listen & Show Notes
News, Mailbox, Interview with Maureen Taylor “The Photo Detective” about ancestral hairstyles, Family Storytelling During the Holidays.

Episode 78 Listen & Show Notes
News, Mailbox, the New Genealogy Gems Podcast App for iPhone and iTouch, Adoption research, 45 History, and a video of Mona Golabek and the inspiring story of her family.

Episode 79 Listen & Show Notes
This episode is a broadcast of the LIVE Genealogy Gems Podcast presented at the Family History Expo in Mesa, Arizona on January 22, 2010 featuring guests Gena Philibert Ortega, Thomas MacEntee, Bruce Buzbee and Anastasia Tyler.

Episode 80 Listen & Show Notes
Lisa’s special guest is Irene Johnson (you know her from the PBS TV series Ancestors).  She worked at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City for 15 years and gives us her best tips and tricks.

Using the US Public Records Index for Genealogy

The US Public Records Index can be useful for genealogy–if you understand what it is and how to use it properly. Here’s an example and some tips.

Not long Russ sent in this tip recommending the US Public Records Index for genealogy:

“I was listening to Genealogy Gems Podcast 181 [in which] you were talking about where do we search while we are waiting for the 1950 Census….I recently discovered a wonderful resource, on Ancestry.com, that I have used along with city directories. The name of the record group doesn’t sound interesting but it can be a Gem for you: the US Public Record Index, 1950-1993, Volume 1 and 2. Volume 1 is far more interesting with more data. A search will return a name AND birth date, along with more than one address, zip code and sometimes phone numbers.”

Here’s a sample search result:

US Public records index

Russ kindly sent me Ancestry’s description of its online database for Volume 1, which says that original data comes from public records spanning all 50 states, such as voter registration lists, public record filings, historical residential records and other household database listings.

Collection Profile

What: U.S. Public Records Index

Where: Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage

Years Spanned: 1950-2009

Source Type: Lacking original source citations. “Hints to go on and follow up with further research into verifiable sources.”

Then he shared the following example of using the US Public Records Index to find recent relatives that he can’t look up yet in the 1950 census:

“I had a hint for a cousin in a yearbook. I know that she recently lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I didn’t know where she went to college and I know her birthday. The name is not unique, not also not common. At the same time, I had the hint for the Public Record Index. You know those things we can’t use in a proof argument, but there [she] was in Philadelphia. The yearbook had her picture and only her name, not spelled the way I know it, but the Public Record Index puts her in Philadelphia at the right time and place.

I have seen 2 or 3 addresses for folks in the 1980s and 1990s in these indexes. Not all addresses have dates, but some do. I have one cousin with 5 addresses since 1983 and he won’t be in a census until the 1960 Census Records are released.”

Russ blogs about his family history at worthy2be.wordpress.com/. Thanks for the tip!

The U.S. Public Records Index pops up in my search results sometimes, too. Both volume 1 and volume 2 are searchable on Ancestry.com, as Russ says, in separate databases. Each has over 400,000 records in it. There’s also a free partial version of this database for 1970-2009 at FamilySearch.org and yet a third version at MyHeritage, with 816 million records, with nearly the same time frame. The FamilySearch database says its data comes from “telephone directories, property tax assessments, credit applications, and other records available to the public.”

More on the US Public Records Index

Here are a few tips worth mentioning about the US Public Records Index. Some of these points come from the FamilySearch wiki:

  1. Not everyone who lived in the U.S. appears in the index, and you’re more likely to find birth information for those born between 1900 and 1990. What you’ll find is primarily where someone lived, and often when they lived there.
  2. It’s rarely possible to positively identify a relative in this index since there’s limited information and it spans the entire country for up to a half-century, and you can’t follow up on the record it comes from because the index doesn’t say where individual records come from. So as Russ says, this is a great resource to use in combination with other records. It’s a similar concept to the way you might consult family trees that lack sources: hints to go on and follow up with further research into verifiable sources.
  3. When you find more recent listings, you can sometimes find telephone numbers for living distant relatives. If the thought of cold-calling distant relatives seems a little intimidating, listen to my Family History: Genealogy Made Easy podcast, episodes 14-15, for tips–and to get your courage up!

1950s family historyMore Gems on Researching Recent Relatives

 

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