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.

Google for Genealogy: Google Keyword Search Tips

These Google keyword search tips can help you harness the incredible power of Google to search for your ancestors across trillions of webpages!

The Genealogist's Google Toolbox Third edition Lisa Louise Cooke

Click here to get my book on using Google

Do you use Google for genealogy? This free, powerful web browser will scan over 30 trillion webpages for information we request: our ancestors’ names, messages from those with common ancestors, or pictures and stories relating to our relatives’ lives.

However, it’s all too easy to run a Google search for an ancestor’s name–and then become discouraged when we see a quarter million search results. Especially if the first few results don’t seem relevant at all! We may give up, unaware that the gem we’re after is among our results, but much further down the list.

Certain Google keyword search tips and tricks can help you get exactly the types of search results you’re after. Once you learn Google search strategies for genealogy, you’ll find yourself using the same strategies to find other things online, from recipes to how-tos to old car manuals or anything else you need!google for genealogy keyword search tips

Here’s how to get started

1. Go to the Google home page and enter a few keywords relating to a piece of information you hope to find online. Say, an ancestor’s full name and hometown such as Andrew Larsen Scranton PA. Or a type of record you need and the location (probate records Lackawanna County PA). As you see from these examples, you don’t need commas in between your words or any other punctuation, at least to begin with. After entering a few keywords, hit Enter.

2. Look at your search results. The first few may be sponsored search results, or results that appear on websites that are paying for you to see them first. These results may or may not be what you’re looking for. Scan them, but keep looking!

3. Do you see too many search results? Too few? Not quite on target? Add or subtract keywords as needed, and search again. For example, if your search for probate records Lackawanna County PA just brings up current probate records, add the word genealogy. If Andrew Larsen Scranton PA doesn’t bring up any relevant results, try omitting his first name from the search. Then results for anyone with that surname will come up.

4. Still not quite right? It may be time to start adding little codes to tell Google exactly what you want.

5 Google Search Strategies That Get Better Results

Search operators are symbols and words that instruct Google on what to do with the keywords you provide in your search query. Get ready to talk Google’s language with these 5 strategies:

1. Quotation Marks (“ ”). One of the quickest ways to improve your search results is to use quotation marks. Using quotation marks around a phrase ensures that this exact phrase appears in each and every result. For example: “U.S. Federal Census” returns websites featuring that exact phrase, and no variation. “Jehu Burkhart” returns only webpages that include the exact name Jehu Burkhart somewhere on the page. Keep in mind though that if Jehu’s name appears as Burkhart, Jehu on a web page it will not appear in your results list.

2. OR. Use this to provide for more options in Google search results. For example, we can solve the last name first, first name last problem like this: “Jehu Burkhart” OR “Burkart, Jehu”. Not be sure whether Great Grandmother Smith is buried in Manhattan or Brooklyn?  Search for cemeteries in either city: Cemeteries Manhattan OR Brooklyn.

3. Minus Sign (-). Let’s say that you are searching a Harold Carter from Springfield, Ohio and there happens to be a prominent man named Harold Carter from Springfield, Missouri who keeps popping up in your search results. Ask yourself: “what’s unique about this other person that I could eliminate from my Google search?” If the unwanted Mr. Carter was married to Mabel and owned a steel factory, you could try this approach:“Harold Carter” “Springfield” Missouri -Mabel -Steel. By using the minus sign operator you can sweep this Mr. Carter from Missouri out of the way and off your results page.

4. Numrange (00..18). The numrange command adds a range of numbers to your search parameters. To enter the command, type the beginning number, then two periods (no spaces), then the ending number. Use this feature to include the timeframe of your ancestor’s life in your online search. “Harold Carter” “Springfield” 1865..1934

Google for Genealogy Search Strategies

Google Search Example

5. Mix and Match. As you can already see in the above examples, it is perfectly acceptable to mix and match search operators. Here’s a search query that makes use of our first four strategies:  “Harold Carter” OR “Carter Harold” “Springfield” Missouri -Mabel -Steel 1865..1934 

Resources for Success

Use Google Search Operators to Define Old or Unfamiliar Words

Can Google Help Me Search Digitized Newspaper Pages?

Google for Genealogy: New Search Operators and More (podcast episode, available to Premium members)

The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox

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Available in the Genealogy Gems Store

The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox has become the “Google bible for genealogists.” Now in its second edition, the book was fully revised and updated in 2015. A lot has changed since the first edition was published in 2011, and it’s all documented step-by-step in this new edition.

This brand new edition includes:

  • Google Search
  • Google Alerts
  • Gmail
  • Google Books
  • Google Translate
  • YouTube
  • Google Earth
  • Brand new chapters on Google Scholar and Google Patents

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