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Using Tax Records in Genealogy to Find Your Ancestors

Historic Tax Record with title US Tax Record Methodology for Genealogy

Discover the value of using US Tax records in your genealogy research. The next step is to develop a strategy to methodologically research the tax assessments.

In this video, I walk you step by step through my tax record research process.

VIDEO: How to Explore Tax Record for Genealogy Research

Watch this video on YouTube.

Set Up for Success When Researching US Tax Records

Before you begin researching in US tax records, prepare to organize what you want to find in the documents and what you discover.

I dislike research logs but instead prefer research reports. As such, I set up a research tracker (my precursor to a research report) to outline what I plan to investigate and what I discover along the way.

US Tax Record Research Plan
Sample US Tax Record Research Plan

Notice in this US Tax Record research plan, I have quick links to pertinent reference materials and quick facts about the location I’m researching.

You’ll notice that I currently have links to maps, Michigan Statutes, and probate records.

  1. The maps help me navigate as I browse through the digital tax books.

  2. The statutes help me understand what was taxed and how.

Below the quick links, I have a table to extract relevant information from the tax tables.

Your tables will vary according to the information available on your tax records. You’ll want to add different columns depending on what your county’s tax lists recorded.

Set up your table in a document or a spreadsheet before you dive into researching your records.

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Fingers typing on keyboard with title 10 Online Genealogy Resources You Have to Try

As I researched Michigan tax records, I noticed a strong correlation between tax assessments and land transfers. As such, I made a table with columns to reflect my need to record both records in one table. I created the following columns:

  1. Year

  2. Property location (Michigan has a township-section-range arrangement. I keep this separate from the specific property description.)

  3. Transfer

    1. Indicate when taxes were paid

    2. Indicate when land transfers happened

  4. Parcel

  5. Notes

  6. Taxes paid

  7. Land transfer notes (not shown)

When I discover an increase or decrease in taxable land, I investigate land and probate records for a possible reason.

As you find records to add to your table, save the files to your online family trees or in your genealogy database. That way, when you are finished assessing your research, your sources are already organized.

Steps For Researching US Tax Records

Since Tax Records vary depending on the location, you research, use the following research plan to guide you through the investigation process. Modify the plan as needed based on what you have available.

Genesee County, Michigan Map
Historical Map of Genesee County, Michigan

  1. Where applicable consult a map:

    1. For locations that tax property, a map will help you navigate through the tax books to find your ancestors.

    2. After finding your ancestor’s property, locate the land on the map for further insight and clues.

  2. Research searchable tax records on:

    1. Ancestry

    2. FamilySearch

    3. FindMyPast

    4. MyHeritage

  3. Research browse only tax records.

    1. Genealogy websites

    2. Collections in Archives and Libraries

  4. Extract Details to Your Tax Record Tracker

  5. Consult State Statutes to Better Understand Applicable Tax Laws.

  6. Expand Your Tax Record research using Land and Probate records.

Acts of the Legislature of the State of Michigan help genealogy tax research
Tax Law from the Acts of the Legislature of the State of Michigan

Acts of the Legislature of the State of Michigan

What Will You Find in US Tax Records?

Researching tax records does not have to be difficult, though the process can be time-consuming. Or at least it’s slow at the time of this blog post.

If you have avoided researching in US Tax Records because they seemed too difficult to tackle, it’s time you give them a try. You’ll be glad you did.

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