Tax Records and Genealogy - dummies

By April Leigh Helm, Matthew L. Helm

Some of the oldest records available for genealogy research are tax records — including property and inheritance records. Although some local governments have placed tax records online, these records are usually very recent documents rather than historical tax records. Most early tax records you encounter were likely collected locally (that is, at the county level).

However, many local tax records have since been turned over to state or county archives — some of which now make tax records available on microfilm, as do Family History Centers. (If you have a Family History Center in your area, you may be able to save yourself a trip, call, or letter to the state archives — check with the Family History Center to see whether it keeps copies of tax records for the area in which you’re interested.)

And a few maintainers of tax records — including archives and Family History Centers — are starting to make information about their holdings available online. Generally, either indexes or transcriptions of these microfilm records are what you find online.

Additionally, both and FamilySearch have some tax records available through their sites.

Here are just a few examples of the types of resources that you can find pertaining to tax records:

If you’re locating records in the U.S., try USGenWeb for the state or county. Here’s what to do:

  1. Go to the USGenWeb site.

  2. Click a state in the left column.

    Click the Pennsylvania link because you’re looking for tax records in Lancaster County.

    As a shortcut, you can always get to any USGenWeb state page by substituting the two-letter state code for the ‘us’ in For example, for Pennsylvania, you could type

  3. From the USGenWeb state page (for the state that you choose), find a link to the county in which you’re interested.

    On the Pennsylvania Counties page, click the Lancaster link to get to the Lancaster County GenWeb site.

  4. Scroll through the main page for the state you’ve selected and click any tax-related links that look promising.

    Click the link for Proprietary and State Tax Lists of the County of Lancaster for the Years 1771, 1772, 1773, 1779, and 1782; edited by William Henry Egle, M.D. (1898) under the Documents section.

The state and county websites in the USGenWeb Project vary immensely. Some have more information available than the Pennsylvania and Lancaster County pages, while others have less. The amount of information that’s available at a particular USGenWeb site affects the number of links you have to click through to find what you’re looking for.

Don’t be afraid to take a little time to explore and become familiar with the sites for the states and counties in which your ancestors lived.

One other strategy for finding tax assessment information is to search local newspapers for the time period in which your ancestor lived. A tax list was published on a yearly basis in some localities.