It’s time to pay taxes in the United States! Is 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
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:
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).
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.
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.
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.
Are you a FamilySearch indexer, or have you considered joining this worldwide volunteer effort? FamilySearch has just launched a new website that’s all about making indexing EASIER.
If you’re already an indexer, here are the highlights of the new site, according to FamilySearch:
- Getting started with indexing just got easier. With an easy-to-navigate Overview page and an all-new Get Started page, the new website is the perfect introduction to indexing.
- Looking for more indexing help? Check out the completely redesigned resource guide. Now called Help Resources, this page guides you to the help you need.
- Find projects you want faster. In the old indexing website, you had to scroll through over 200 projects, now you can click on an interactive map and filter the project list based on language and country.
But wait, there’s more! According to FamilySearch, “The change in the indexing website is just the first step in a total redesign and improvement of the indexing experience. The coming year will see the all-new indexing program become more integrated with FamilySearch.org, bringing indexing to your Internet browser, enabling indexing on tablet devices, and much more.”
They plan to announce more at RootsTech next month, where there will be a session on FamilySearch indexing and where the FamilySearch booth will have hands-on opportunities to try out the new system. (Haven’t registered for RootsTech yet? Register here! Early-bird pricing has been extended until Monday, Jan. 27.)
P.S. WHY INDEX?
Indexers for FamilySearch have already generated more than a billion names that are free to search at FamilySearch.org. The company’s press release points out that improvements to the indexing site have in the past accelerated the pace of indexing and they expect that to happen over the coming year, too.
Here’s my favorite tip for the researcher who wants a little more out of indexing for themselves. Use indexing to become more familiar with different record types. Do a few batches of naturalization records, border crossings, church registers, etc., from different places or time periods, and you’ll quickly become more familiar with that record type. You’ll also become more adept at reading old handwriting, picking out the genealogical details from the legalese and other skills that will help you in your own research.
Many of you are reading (or have already finished) our Genealogy Book Club featured book for the quarter, She Left Me the Gun: My Mother’s Life Before Me by Emma Brockes. In the just-published November episode of the Genealogy Gems podcast, Lisa and I talk a little more about this fantastic book from the family historian’s point of view. We get a kick out of how she uses her mother’s dog-eared address book as a family history source.
What do YOU think of the book? On Thursday, December 4, we invite everyone to post comments on She Left Me the Gun on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page. We welcome comments for a full 24 hours (12am-12am Eastern Standard Time, USA) for our worldwide audience. But we’ll monitor the page and give feedback from 9am-9pm EST. Emma Brockes herself hopes to pop in with comments and responses to your questions. (So start thinking of what you want to say!)
Of course, I’m really looking forward to the December podcast, when you’ll hear my conversation with Emma about the book. Here’s my favorite quote from the interview:
“When [your] parent dies…your relationship with their history changes almost overnight. It suddenly becomes much more relevant to you because you feel like you are the only one left who is in a position to remember it. So having never wanted to know anything about my mother’s life, suddenly after her death it seemed imperative to me to find out absolutely everything….It felt to me that I couldn’t…stake out the parameters of what I’d lost until I knew everything there was to know about her.” -Emma Brockes, on She Left Me the Gun
Meanwhile, we have two more books to recommend this quarter for our no-fuss genealogy book club, based on YOUR feedback:
One of our listeners, Mary, wrote to us about The Woman in the Photograph by Mani Feniger. She said, “I just ordered this book and thought you might be interested in reading it. I am looking forward to reading it myself.” Here’s a little blurb I found on the book: “Mani Feniger wanted nothing to do with the relics of her mother’s life before she escaped from Nazi Germany in 1936. But when the fall of the Berlin Wall exposed the buried secrets and startling revelations of her mother’s past, she was drawn into an exploration–of history and family, individuality and identity, mothers and daughters–that would change her life forever.”
And here’s a suggestion from Mike: “Here’s a book I found that you and your listeners might also enjoy. The Lost German Slave Girl by John Bailey recounts the story of a poor emigrant family and what happened to one of the daughters. I found it fascinating. The story is non-fiction and takes place around New Orleans in the first half of the 19th century. There is much family research involved, some heart-wrenching descriptions of what the emigrants suffered, and delightful insights into the New Orleans of that time period. It’s the kind of research that we family historians love to do but is more dramatic than many of the personal stories we work on.”
Mark Your Calendar: Thursday, December 4
We invite you to post comments on She Left Me the Gun on the Genealogy Gems Facebook page.