On the day before the 15 April tax deadline, there arenâ€™t a whole lot of people with the â€œwarm and fuzziesâ€ for the IRS, but this year family historians may soften their opinion of that particular government institution thanks to a new database at Ancestry.com. In last weekâ€™s newsletter you may have seen links to a new database–U.S. IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918.Â (Click on the image to enlarge a sample from this collection.) This week I had a chance to dig deeper into this database and Iâ€™m ready to share what Iâ€™ve learned.
About the Records
Because of the cost of the Civil War, the American government was in need of money. As a result, the first income tax (for individuals) was enacted by Congress in July of 1862. Most of the Confederate states were not initially taxed, but as they came under federal
control, taxes were imposed.
This income tax was challenged after the war, but it was not until 1895 that the Supreme Court ruled that the tax was unconstitutional. (In 1913, the sixteenth amendment would re-impose the income tax.) Upon the 1895 ruling, the individual tax returns of our ancestors were destroyed, but the assessors’ lists were retained because they included references to licenses and other taxes. Those that survived the years were eventually microfilmed by the National Archives. Within these records–in addition to income taxes–you’ll see taxes on watches, pianos, carriages, estates, silver, billiard tables, and
securities, as well as various other items.
Putting the Records in Perspective
The National Archivesâ€™ Prologue magazine ran an interesting and very helpful article on this collection in its Winter 1986 issue–Income Tax Records of the Civil War Years, by Cynthia G. Fox. You can find it online through the Archives.gov website.Â
The article provides background information and discusses what items were taxable. It also includes some information that can help to put your ancestorâ€™s wealth in perspective. In it I alsoÂ found the following information about the average costs of consumer goods in Maryland in 1869.
â€œ. . .the average rent on a six-room house in Maryland was $10 per month. Consumer goods and food were also very reasonable in Maryland. Extra fine flour sold for $8 per barrel, roasted coffee was 35 cents per pound, beef was 15 cents per pound, butter was 40 cents per pound, eggs were 22 cents per dozen, coal was $8.50 per ton, medium quality satinets were 50 cents per yard, and men’s heavy boots could be had for $5.25 a pair. In 1865 gold sold for $145 per ounce.â€
(You can also compare the value of the 1860s dollar to todayâ€™s value at MeasuringWorth.com.)
Searching the Database
The database doesnâ€™t have a lot of search options, but you can narrow down your search by state. Records are arranged by assessment districts–each district representing a particular geographic area. You can find out what counties are included in a particular district by first checking the microfilm catalog of the National Archives.
Access the catalog and click the blue â€œMicrofilmâ€ button. On the following page, you can search for films. Enter the NARA microfilm number for the state youâ€™re interested in. For example, for Indiana, youâ€™d enter M765. (Iâ€™ve posted the film numbers for each state at the end of this article.)
Since you have entered a specific film number, youâ€™ll likely only get one search result. Click on it. On the next page youâ€™ll see a publication details PDF that includes geographic descriptions of each district. (Note: One exception I notedÂ is New Jersey. It is bundled with New York and only gives the record type–annual, monthly, special, etc.–and the dates it covers by district.)
Now, when I look at the search results at Ancestry.com, I just hover the mouse over each entry and Ancestry will show me a summary of the record that tells what district the entry is located in. I only have to check entries for the districts I’m interested in.
Here are a few more tips you may find helpful when searching this database.
- Because the records in the collection vary quite a bit, you may find multiple records for the same individual, as I did with my relative James Kelly. Donâ€™t stop with the first entry you find; there may be more out there.
- Within the district, pages are arranged by geographical divisions. Looking at the addresses I found another person listed with the same address as my ancestor, and several others within a few house numbers. These lists give a unique look at the neighborhood and the types of people living around our ancestors.
- Be sure to read the headers on each page; they will help you better understand the contents. I found James on a list with the heading â€œAlphabetical List of Persons in Division No. 12 of Collection District No. 9, of the State of New York, liable to a tax under the Excise laws of the United States.â€ On this page taxable occupations or items were listed.Â
- In the example I posted with the announcement on the blog last week, I found my Kelly clan listed together as they were taxed on the estate of the family patriarch. In this case, they were listed in a district other than the one in which James lived–perhaps the district in which Elizabeth Kelly (co-executor of the estate) lived. Finding the family listed together was very cool, and had I not known when the family patriarch (another James Kelly) had died, this would have helped me narrow it down.
I spent an interesting couple of days searching through these records and Iâ€™ll probably revisit them again when I get the chance. I gained some insights into the Kelly family and the neighborhood in which they lived. Although we may dread â€œwhen the taxman cometh,â€ itâ€™s nice to know he also leaveth records.
Here are the NARA Film numbers, and states and years covered:
- M754, Alabama, 1865-1866, 6 rolls
- M755, Arkansas, 1865-1866, 2 rolls
- M756, California, 1862-1866, 3 rolls
- M757, Colorado, 1862-1866, 3 rolls
- M758, Connecticut, 1862-1866, 23 rolls
- M759, Delaware, 1862-1866, 8 rolls
- M760, District of Columbia, 1862-1866, 8 rolls
- M761, Florida, 1865-1866, 1 roll
- M762, Georgia, 1865-1866, 8 rolls
- M763, Idaho, 1865-1866, 1 roll
- M764, Illinois, 1862-1866, 63 rolls
- M765, Indiana, 1862-1866, 42 rolls
- M766, Iowa, 1862-1866, 16 rolls
- M767, Kansas, 1862-1866, 3 rolls
- M768, Kentucky, 1862-1866, 24 rolls
- M769, Louisiana, 1863-1866, 10 rolls
- M770, Maine, 1862-1866, 15 rolls
- M771, Maryland, 1862-1866, 21 rolls
- M773, Michigan, 1862-1866, 15 rolls
- M775, Mississippi, 1865-1866, 3 rolls
- M776, Missouri, 1862-66, 22 rolls
- M777, Montana, 1864-1872, 1 roll
- M779, Nevada, 1863-1866, 2 rolls
- M780, New Hampshire, 1862-1866, 10 rolls
- M603, New Jersey, 1862-1866, rolls 1-17 (with New York)
- M782, New Mexico, 1862-1870, 1 roll
- M603, New York, 1862- 1866, rolls 18-218 (with New Jersey
- M784, North Carolina, 1864-1866, 2 rolls
- M787, Pennsylvania, 1864-1866, 107 rolls
- M788, Rhode Island, 1862-1866, 10 rolls
- M789, South Carolina, 1864-1866, 2 rolls
- M791, Texas, 1865- 1866, 2 rolls
- M792, Vermont, 1862-1866, 7 rolls
- M793, Virginia, 1862-1866, 6 rolls
- M795, West Virginia, 1862- 1866, 4 rolls.
Juliana Smith has been an editor of Ancestry newsletters for more than nine years and is author of “The Ancestry Family Historian’s Address Book.” She has written for “Ancestry” Magazine and wrote the Computers and Technology chapter in “The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy,” rev. 3rd edition. Juliana can be reached by e- mail at Juliana@Ancestry.com, but she regrets that her schedule does not allow her to assist with personal research.