Using the IRS Tax Assessment Lists at Ancestry, by Michael John Neill

Using the IRS Tax Assessment Lists at Ancestry, by Michael John Neill A while back I searched for some relatives in the database of IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918, at Ancestry. I was reminded that there are some extra steps you can take to get the most from this interesting database.

The Trautvetter Dilemma
One of my family surnames is Trautvetter. I’ve discussed this last name before and why searching for it is always problematic. Because I’ve found the name mistranscribed in various ways, I unchecked the Exact box for the last name, checked the Exact box for his first name, George, and for Illinois as the location. I went through the usual variants of Trautvetter, Frautvetter, Frantvetter, and finally found him with a Soundex variant of Trantvetter–Trontretler.

The Geography Factor
Viewing the results requires some knowledge of local geography. On the image of the record, the name of the individual’s post office should appear next to his name, and the district number will appear on the top of the page. For many of the lists the county name will not appear on the page.

When I saw the actual tax image for George in Warsaw, Illinois, I knew I had was the right guy. While George did not actually live in Warsaw, he did live near enough to it that it easily could have been his mailing address. Other residences listed on the same page were from towns located in the county where my George was known to have lived. The only heading on the page was for the district, so it is helpful to know the district number for the county where your ancestor likely lived.

What If I Don’t Know the District?
As Juliana mentioned in an article on these records she wrote back in April, the National Archives website has PDF files with descriptions of what counties are included in what districts. To obtain the descriptions for the state you first need the NARA Microfilm number for your state. Juliana included those numbers following her article, and it includes step-by-step instructions for determining what counties were in each district.  

While knowing the district in which the county is located is helpful, there are still potential problems for those who are unfamiliar with the local geography–the records are organized within a district by county, but the name of the county is not always shown on each page and when browsing through the records, there is usually no clear indication that a new county has started. For this reason users will need to be familiar with local towns in the county in which they are searching in order to make certain they are in the right portion of that district.

Fortunately there are ways that this can be done. There are a variety of maps and online geographic aids. Researchers need to take care that they are using a source that is contemporary with the tax records. Here are a few suggestions:

All of these sites have links to maps that should show small out-of-the-way places that may appear as a location in the tax lists.

Another Ancestor, Another Challenge
Finding the entries for Conrad Haase proved to be a little more challenging and required a different strategy. For starters some entries listed him as “C Haase” and others had his first name completely spelled out. His last name was listed in a variety of ways, including Hoose, Haas, Haase, and Howse. Most of these variants were caught by leaving the “exact matches only” option unchecked for both his first and last name. Because his name was more common than George Trautvetter, the difficulty was in determining which ones were for “my” Conrad and which ones were not.

In the case of Conrad, it only required looking at the district number in order to eliminate some of the matches as being from the wrong area of the state. The Conrad Haase for whom I was searching lived in Hancock County, Illinois, which was contained in district number 4. I could preview each entry in the list of database hits by hovering my mouse over each entry, saving me quite a few click through/click backs.

I also need to know the district numbers for surrounding counties in case the desired person moved and changed districts. Conrad’s likely area of residence was in the southern part of the county, relatively close to the Adams County, Illinois, border and to the Mississippi River. Consequently, Adams County, Illinois, and Clark County, Missouri, (across the river) should also be searched for additional references to Conrad if there are any “gaps.”.

Even If You Think You Know It All . . .
I almost didn’t bother to search for Conrad, but I’m glad I did. Every census listed him as a farmer; that was his only occupation I knew about. According to the tax records in the 1860s he also was a “retail liquor dealer.” Interesting.

Click here to search the IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918, at Ancestry.

Click here for a printer friendly version of this article.

Michael John Neill is a genealogical writer and speaker who has been researching his or his children’s genealogy for more than twenty years. A math instructor in his “other life,” Michael taught at the former Genealogical Institute of Mid-America and has served on the FGS Board. He also lectures on a variety of genealogical topics and gives seminars across the country. He maintains a personal website

1 thought on “Using the IRS Tax Assessment Lists at Ancestry, by Michael John Neill

  1. Michael..

    I would like to have a printer-friendly copy of this article for my files, but the link does not appear to be “live”. Thanks for fixing it.

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