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Governments have collected taxes in the United States since the colonial era. Tax records vary in content according to the purpose of the assessment. They may include the name and residence of the taxpayer, occupation, description of the real estate and name of the original purchaser, description of some personal property, number of males over 21, and the number of school children, slaves, and farm animals. Annual tax lists can help establish ages, residences, relationships, and the year an individual died or left the area. They can be used in the place of missing or destroyed land and census records.
Some of the early records are called quitrents, tithables, and poll (head) taxes. Quitrents are records of property taxes paid to a proprietor or the crown. Tithables and poll or head taxes are lists of persons subject to taxation regardless of their personal assets. Depending on local laws, males were usually taxable at the ages of 16, 18, or 21 through about age 50 or 60, with some exceptions for veterans, ministers, paupers, and others. Most tax records were eventually based on personal property, real estate, and income.
The federal government directly taxed citizens in 1798, 1814 to 1816, 1862 to 1866, and at other times until 1917 when personal income and other taxes were introduced. Most of the existing 1798 Direct Tax records are at state historical societies, the National Archives, and the Family History Library. Other federal tax records are at the National Archives and its branches. The federal Internal Revenue Assessment Lists tax records for 1862 to 1866 are listed in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under [STATE] - TAXATION.
County clerks (and town clerks, in New England) maintain local tax records. The Family History Library has some tax records, particularly for areas where they are needed as substitutes for land and census records. These are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
[STATE], [COUNTY] - TAXATION
[STATE], [COUNTY], [TOWN] - TAXATION
You can find further information about tax records in many of the FamilySearch Wiki articles for each state.
- Anne Roach, Courthouse Records Overview (35 minute online video) FamilySearch Research Classes Online, 2010.