Finding families through federal taxes

finding families
Tax records can help with family history research.

Although they are often overlooked, tax records can be a valuable source for genealogists. National taxes are due April 15 on our income tax returns. However, the power to levy taxes on individuals was not part of the original Constitution as it was written.

It wasn’t until the Sixteenth Amendment was ratified in 1913 that Congress was officially given the power to tax incomes. However, a law passed by Congress in 1862 actually authorized the first income tax. This act was passed as an emergency measure to finance the Union cause in the Civil War.

Taxes were levied on residents of all states and territories not in rebellion. States that seceded were included in the tax base as soon as Union troops established control.

Georgians paid income taxes in 1865 even though their state was not officially readmitted to the Union until 1870. The income tax collected during the Civil War period was the first tax paid on individual incomes by residents of the United States.

An annual tax was levied on all income in excess of $600, and legacies, inheritances and distributive shares of personal property were made taxable. The country was divided into collection districts. Each district had a collector and an assessor. The assessor was the cornerstone of the internal revenue system. He divided his district into divisions and assigned an assistant assessor for each division.

All persons, partnerships, firms, associations, or corporations submitted to the assistant assessor of their division a list showing the amount of annual income, articles subject to the special tax or duty, and the quantity of goods made or sold that were to be charged with a specific tax or duty.

The assistant assessors collected these lists and compiled two general lists, each in alphabetical order: (l) a list of names of all persons residing in the division who were liable for taxation and (2) a list of names of all persons residing outside the division who were owners of property in the division; and under each person’s name, the value, assessment, or enumeration of taxable income or items and the amount of duty or tax due. These lists were delivered to the assessor, who examined them in detail, corrected any errors, and approved them.

These taxes were not repealed until 1872. The National Archives at Atlanta holds the original assessment lists for the states in this region as well as the microfilmed copies of these records. (Adapted from a LOC article).