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Forgotten Records: Tapping the Power of Civil War Income Tax Records

Useful but little known records in genealogy research.


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Resource: GenWeekly
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The Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on February 25, 1913 and gave Congress the power to tax incomes no matter what the source. However, most people do not realize this was NOT the first instance of income taxation in this country. The Civil War income tax was the first tax paid on individual income by United States residents. The taxation began with incomes over $600 dollars and the percentage increased with increases in income. The tax began at three percent for amounts less than $10.000, but in 1864 the ceiling amount dropped to $5,000 and the percent of tax rose to five percent. The tax was levied to support the war effort and was viewed as a patriotic service to the country.

Residents of all states and territories not in the rebellion were subject to the tax. States that had joined the Confederacy were subject to the tax as soon as Union troops gained control. Residents of northern and western Virginia were subject to the taxes almost from the beginning, as Federal forces had gained control of Richmond. Georgia was admitted to the Union in 1870 but had begun paying the taxes in 1865.

After 1895, Congress approved the destruction of these tax records; however, some of the records survived. These records are now available on microfilm from the National Archives and tally records from thirty-four states. These records can be extremely valuable to the genealogist both from a social history standpoint and for helping to locate ancestors. The records can be used for determining an individual's relative wealth for that time period. Tables printed by the U.S. Government in 1869 provide information on the average salary by occupation, average rents by state, and the average costs of consumer goods.

These lists can by useful in locating ancestors who had no fixed address, such as traveling merchants and salesmen, most of whom were missed by the census. These individuals were required to obtain a license under the Civil War tax laws. The types of businesses operating within a given area are also included on the tax lists as well as their addresses. Doctors, lawyers, and other professionals were also included on the tax lists.

The genealogist is blessed with a vast amount of different record types to use in research. Investigate to find obscure records that are often overlooked and you will gain valuable tools to assist your work. One of these tools may be the rope that helps to scale your brick wall.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2007.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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