Earlier this week, and just in time for Tax Day, we launched a collection of IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862 – 1918. Income tax was established in 1862 to help fund the Civil War, and most of the records cover the mid-1860s. Beyond stated income values, these assessments on Ancestry.com document personal property – pianofortes, gold watches, silver, billiard tables, carriages, live stock, even cotton – are listed by value and tax owed.
Individuals whose income was below $600 a year (roughly $12,700 today) were exempt from taxes. Even then, our ancestors may have fared better with the tax collector than we do today. In 1862 the tax topped out at 5%; 10% in 1864.
Because these were annual lists, many individuals appear in more than one tax assessment, which can be helpful in learning more about ancestors between the 1860 and 8170 censuses. But they also offer some intriguing insights into the financials of the nation’s historical icons as well as the ancestors of today’s.
In December 1864 (four months before his assassination), Abraham Lincoln declared an annual income of $25,000. That’s equivalent to $350,000 today, surprisingly in line with the president’s current salary of $400,000. What is not in line is Lincoln was taxed only $1,296 (roughly $17,000 today) instead of the $140,000 he would’ve been taxed today.
In 1865, Andrew Carnegie owned a carriage (for which he was taxed $1), a gold watch ($2) and a pianoforte ($4). Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemens), who lived in San Francisco in 1864, apparently owed a penalty on his taxes.
Senator John McCain’s great-great-grandfather William Kidwell was taxed $.10 for cotton in his possession. Hillary Clinton’s great-great-grandfather John Monk was a cigar maker assessed 10% on his $2,800 income in 1865. And Barack Obama’s great-great-great-great-grandfather George Overall was taxed on a Stallion and a Jack – in other words, a donkey.
Finally, it’s not just individuals. Businesses were taxed as well. So if your ancestors were business owners in the mid-1800s, it might be worth looking for their business as well.
Check out the IRS Tax Assessment Lists here.
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