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Nothing Is Certain but Death and Taxes

taxes

April 9, 2018

While I was doing my income taxes, the history nerd in me surfaced, and I wanted to know when people started paying income taxes. The librarian in me decided I had to look it up. I learned that the first personal income tax was imposed during the Civil War, but it wasn’t until 1913—when the 16th Amendment to the Constitution was passed—that the modern income tax was developed. I don’t remember learning about that amendment in school, but I do remember studying all the colonial taxes and tariffs. I began to wonder; if nothing is certain but death and taxes, then shouldn’t there be tax records out there that could help me with my genealogy?

I’m amazed at how many different types of tax records exist—school taxes, land taxes, tithes, poll taxes, road taxes, excise taxes, quitrents, and direct taxes. So how can tax records help with genealogy? Tax records help you place an ancestor in a certain place at a certain time. It may help you differentiate people with the same name in the area. Tax records can be valuable census substitutes or replacements for records in “burned counties.”

So where do you find tax records? Try searching MCPL’s catalog using the state or county name followed by the word “taxation.” Ancestry Library Edition (in-library use only) has IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918, as well as many tax lists from various states and counties dating back to the 1700s. If you have some procrastinators in your family tree, try searching for them on delinquent tax lists. To learn more about delinquent tax records, listen to My Taxes Were Due When?, a genealogy CD. The good news is that taxes are due a couple of days later this year since April 15 falls on a weekend. Just remember—your ancestors had taxes to pay too!

Jolene C.
Midwest Genealogy Center

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