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Saturday, October 3, 2020

Finding your ancestors using tax records


There is a saying that nothing is certain except death and taxes. As genealogists, we are always looking for death records but perhaps we have forgotten the other inevitability of taxes. Here is a shortlist of a few of the taxes that might be available and could be used as search terms. 
  • Personal Property
  • Poll Tax
  • Poor Rate
  • Real Estate Taxes
  • School Taxes
  • Social Security
  • Income Taxes
  • Estate Taxes
  • Excise Taxes
  • Head Tax
  • Church Taxes
  • Tea Tax
  • Wealth Tax

There are probably hundreds of taxation categories. 

Here is an example from the Catalog of sections about taxes in the category of the United States. 

Here is another example from the Catalog for New York taxation. 

You will need to do some research on the types of taxes that could have been levied during the time your ancestors were paying taxes and you may also have to do some research about the type of taxes and how they were collected. 

Here is what a search for taxes found in the Card Catalog. This is only part of the list. 

Land and property records are usually available through county tax assessors in the United States. In many states, the county assessor has maps showing the taxable parcels. Here is a tax map of one county in Arizona. Online, you can zoom in to see each of the individual parcels. 

Here is a zoomed-in view showing one of the parcels with its parcel number. You can click on the parcel to see the current owner. 

Exploring tax records adds a new dimension to locating and identifying an elusive ancestor. It was fairly difficult to avoid paying taxes. 


  1. Other taxes include hearth tax, the returns of which are extremely useful for finding out heads of household names in late 17th century England in the years where the returns survive (two I think) and window tax (yes they really did tax the number of windows a house had).

    1. There are a lot more also that could be added to the list. Such as New England pin taxes. The also had window taxes in New England and other locations, not to mention door taxes and closet taxes.