Thursday, 12 June 2014

The Taxman Cometh

1539 Painting by Jan Massys titled “de Beim Steuereinehmer” or At the tax collector

There have been wars, rebellions and riots over taxes forever, notably the Guelders War, the Whiskey Rebellion, the Boston Tea Party, and the India Salt Tax Protests. Historically the government collected taxes to pay for war and improvements to their environment, like roads, water supply and utilities, and the running of the government. Through the ages there have been taxes levied on different things, not just income and land. There has been a carriage tax, hearth tax (fireplace or stove), horse tax, window tax, tax on watches and clocks, lottery tickets and billiard tables, etc. And.... don't forget the Death tax. There have also been taxes on people, notably taxes on slaves, and a head tax on Jews and Chinese immigrants.

As prescribed in Exodus (30:11-16) Jewish law imposed a poll tax of half-shekel, payable by every man above the age of twenty (“the rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less”)

Special Taxes were levied for things like building a gaol (jail) or a dam etc. You have your Federal Tax, your State or Provincial Tax, your County Tax, and your Town or Municipal Tax. They all need your tax dollars. Look for digests of statutes and laws for different counties or states to see what was taxed and what the rates were. Being a tax collector (or tacks collector) was not a popular profession, although some seemed to relish their job.

Tax records will hold valuable information for researching your ancestor.  In the UK Tithe records, if your ancestor didn't own land, he may still be listed as the renter of that land. Personal income tax records are NOT public, but you will find records for land tax, poll tax, hearth tax, etc. Also look up records of old castles and plantations.

ScotlandsPlaces website is free and has old tax records by place. You can also search by surname and any place with that name will come up. I put in the town of Ellon, where my ancestors lived, and these are the options that came in the results..

Censuses were often used for tax purposes, so don't trust all the dollar amounts you see on census records. The 1871 Census of Canada had other schedules you don't see on Ancestry, but they are available to view (browse only) at the LAC website. There is a help page to give you tips on searching. Here you will find nominal deaths in past year, number of dwellings owned, number of carriages and horses not on a farm, etc.

Relevant Links


Poll Tax list - Town of Andover, Mass 1892

Tax Records, Hatfield, Mass 1819 (hand written)

List of persons assessed for a Poll Tax in Dedham, Mass 1891

The rising in East Anglia in 1381, w/ appendix of the Suffolk Poll Tax List for that year

Providence RI Poll Tax 1688

Historic Georgia Digests and Codes

The laws of the State of New Hampshire 1797 - incl tax rates

Canada Head Tax for Chinese Immigrants

Where to find Scotland Tax Records

Local Taxes of the UK 1846

Assessment and Collection of Taxes in New Jersey 1901

Digest of Revenue Act of 1918 - US

Tithe Apportionments - Devon

Kent Maps and Tithe award schedules, apportionment

Cheshire Tithe and Apportionments

Scotland Historical Tax Rolls $$

Scotland Tax Records available at Family History Libraries

The Case of the Revival of the Salt Duty

The British Tariff for 1853 (+ others)

The Guelders War info

New York Tax Records available at Family History Libraries

Derry Ireland Tax Records and census substitutes

PRONI Valuations revisions book (free search)

Ireland Records - Griffiths Valuation and Tithe Applotments

Census, Assessment and Poll Tax Records of Nova Scotia

The 1828 Hungary Property Tax Census Database

1871 Canada Tax Records other schedules - browse, not indexed

Leicester and its inhabitants in 1664; transcription of the original hearth tax returns

Tax assessment of the it of Newport, RI

A list of persons, corporations, companies and estates, town of Burillville, 1909

Tax lists Adams County, Ind - 1846

Assessment roll, 1889-90, municipality of the city of Toronto

Street list of persons assessed for poll taxes, Reading, Mass 1919

List of persons and Corporations who were Taxed on Twenty Dollars+ in Boston

Boyd's New York City Tax Book - 1856-57

List of persons, copartners and corporations who were taxed on seventeen thousand five hundred dollars and upwards in the city of New York in the year 1850

Kent Hearth Tax Assessment - 1664

Tax Lists - District of Narragansett, RI

Assessors' report of the polls, valuation and taxes of the town of Acton, Mass

Valuation and assessment of taxes for h town of Hamilton, Mass

Names of residents of New Britain, Conn in the year 1799 who paid taxes w/amount

Names of tax payers of Hingham, Mass 1711 from the original manuscript

Pedes finium: or Fines, relating to county of Cambridge, levied in the King's court from the seventh year of Richard 1 to the end of the reign of Richard III - 1891

Historic Property Taxation in the Britain and Ireland

The Norwich rate book - Easter 1633 - Easter 1624

List of Pollable Persons within the Shire of Aberdeen - 1696

The Income Record; a list giving the taxable income in 1863 of every resident of New York

List of the Tax Payers of the City of Charleston for 1860

List of persons, copartnerships and corporations taxed in the city of Boston (various years)


  1. Very helpful! Thanks, Dianne!

  2. Very relevant post today for Michigan readers, as it is not only primary election day, but we voted on transportation and park and recreation taxes. It's been going on for quite a while....

    1. Future genealogists will be saying... "Oh wait! There's a tax for that!!" :-(

  3. It always pays to look behind the obvious, something I always try to encourage others to do... and who would have thought the humble tax collectors could teach us so much?
    Thanks, Dianne..

    1. They usually kept pretty good records of taxes, the trick is to find surviving ones!

  4. In the US, we often use tax records to find people that we can’t find in a census. They are helpful in determining a person’s age and tracking where they moved and when.


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