Types of tax records
Record Example: 1754 list for Bern Township, Berks County, Pa.
Record Example: Real and Personal Property Tax List
Finding tax lists
Understanding tax lists
- Coverage: Tax records date to colonial times. Since the American Revolution, residents have been taxed on local, county, state and (sporadically until the 20th century) federal levels. Most 20th-century income taxes are covered by privacy restrictions; property levies are generally public information.
- Jurisdiction where kept: Record locations generally follow the layer of government levying the tax: towns or municipalities for city taxes, courthouse or county archives for county taxes, state archives (which may include microfilms of local records) for state taxes and the National Archives for federal taxes.
- Primary source details: names of individual taxpayers; description of land or personal property being taxed
- Secondary source details: neighbors’ names and property; shifts in ownership of property; estimated birth dates of single men; death of ancestor; whether an ancestor moved
- Search terms: name of the government unit issuing the tax (such as Pennsylvania state) plus “tax lists” or “tax records” or taxation
- How to find in the FamilySearch catalog: Run a Places search for the names of the state, county and/or town of interest, then look for the Taxation category. If you search for just the state, you may miss some potentially helpful entries.
- Alternate and substitute records: city and county directories; federal and state censuses; probate records; land records
- Cyndi’s List: Taxes Locality Specific
- Ending the Poll Tax
- The Good News About Taxes: Finding and Using Tax Records in Your Genealogical Research
- Income Tax Records of the Civil War Years
- Known, Extant 1798 Direct Tax Lists
- The Quit-Rent System in the American Colonies
- Red Book: American State, County and Town Sources
- Tax History Museum: Tax History Project
- The Beginner’s Guide to Using Tax Lists by Cornelius Carroll (Genealogical Publishing Co.)
- Courthouse Research for Family Historians by Christine Rose (CR Publications)
- Federal Taxation in America by W. Elliot Brownlee (Woodrow Wilson Center Press)
- The Genealogist’s Guide to Researching Tax Records by Carol Cooke Darrow and Susan Winchester (Heritage Books)
- Genealogy and the Law: A Guide to Legal Sources for the Family Historian by Kay Haviland Freilich and William B. Freilich (National Genealogical Society)
- Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920 by William Thorndale and William Dollarhide (Genealogical Publishing Co.)
- The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, 3rd edition, edited by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking (Ancestry Publishing)
- Tax Records: A Common Source with an Uncommon Value by Arlene H. Eakle (Genealogical Institute)
Quiz: Put it into Practice
2. Which of the following is the tax LEAST likely to reveal genealogically useful information about your ancestor
a. poll taxes
b. personal property taxes
c. income taxes
d. cigarette taxes
3. The general trend in taxation by local, county and state units was from:
a. income to tariffs
b. wealth to income
c. tariffs to real property
d. real property to personal property
Exercise A: Go to FamilySearch’s database of US Internal Revenue Assessment Lists (1862-1874), and look for Colorado, Arapahoe County from 1862 to 1863. Find image 14.
1. What are the names of the top two listed individuals?
2. Where did they reside?
3. What were their occupations and how much tax did they owe for licenses?
4. Write a citation for this record.
Exercise B: Pick an ancestor whose tax records you want to find using an online database of your choice. Use the worksheet and extraction form in the back of this workbook to record your results.
- Many tax lists are created by assessors, leading to spelling variations in your ancestors’ names from year to year. Think phonetically.
- Like other secondary sources, published tax lists may “edit out” some details in the original lists, and they are subject to copying errors. Once you find your relative in a compilation, use the details to look for the original tax record.
• Eight hints and hacks for searching FamilySearch.org
• 10 easy tips for using Ancestry.com
• County hunting
• Finding your family’s financial records
• Researching ancestors who were poor
• Tracing Irish ancestors in Griffith’s Valuation
• Courthouse Research Crash Course on-demand webinar
• Unofficial Guide to Ancestry.com
• Using Tax Records to Trace Your Ancestors download