Family historians are a notoriously nosey bunch. Who else wants to find out names, dates, places and stories about everyone in their family’s tree? And those of us who engage in one-place studies take it a step further. We want to find out everything there is to know about entire communities, villages and towns. Most of us know about national registration or vital statistics records. We all are comfortable using census records. But have you thought about using some of the oldest and most religiously made and maintained records that governments produce? Those records would be the tax records. Think about it: a government may skip a census year due to war, individuals might fail to register births, marriages or death (certainly during the early years after registration was first introduced). But very few people fail to satisfy the tax man and neither death, disease, war, nor natural disaster halt the imposition or collection of taxes. The famous saying that “in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes” is actually a very good thing for family historians.
There are three main types of direct tax records – taxes levied upon a person, taxes levied upon a person’s land, and personal property or income taxes. In addition, direct taxes are levied from time to time for particular purposes – highway and bridge taxes, rent taxes (either to landlords or a government), national defense or to defray war costs, taxes for government buildings – including local courthouses and libraries. For the intrepid know that oftentimes tax records go back to the 1300s – including lists with such catchy titles as “The Poll Taxes of 1377,” “The Tithe Applotment Books,” or “Griffith’s Valuation.” And who can forget the 1765 Stamp Act or the Tea Act of 1773 – two taxes passed by the British Parliament that served as the basis for the rallying cry “no taxation without representation” and helped set the stage for the American Revolution.
Taxes have been collected and tax records (both payment and failure to pay) have been maintained for far longer than vital records or most census records. You can find tax records in a variety of places (on the local, state or regional and national level). Tax records can provide much information and answer several questions about people and places. Oftentimes parentage, age, marriage, location, arrival in a country, or migration to another places in country, occupation, value of real and personal property, and date of death can all be gleaned from tax records.
Please join us this Friday as the Society for One-Place Studies discusses tax records in general and where to look for tax records in the United Kingdom and the United States. We will tell you why we say Thank Goodness for Taxes (or maybe tax records). Our Google+ Hangout-on-Air begins at 8:00 pm London time (British Summer Time) and will be co-presented by Kim Baldacchino and Tessa Keough. Do you use tax records with your research? Are you familiar with tax records in other locations? Please come share your knowledge and join in the discussion on Friday.