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Tennessee Taxation

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Online Resources[edit | edit source]

Why Use Tax Records[edit | edit source]

Tax record content varies and may include the name and residence of the taxpayer, description of the real estate, name of original purchaser, description of personal property, number of males over 21, number of school children, slaves, and farm animals. Tax records usually are arranged by date and locality and are not normally indexed. Tax records can be used in place of missing land and census records to locate a person’s residence.

How to Use Tax Records for Tennessee[edit | edit source]

County Level[edit | edit source]

Since no complete censuses for Tennessee exist before 1830, tax records are important for identifying early inhabitants. The individual Tennessee county pages on the FamilySearch Wiki are usually the best places to find published tax lists and it is good to start there to see what is available.

State Level[edit | edit source]

The first tax records of Tennessee were created in 1778 while Tennessee was part of North Carolina. There are three main guides to using early Tennessee tax lists: Curtis, Sistler, and Creekmore. Each book has a very different approach to indexing early Tennessee tax lists. Curtis indexes on a county-wide basis, Sistler indexes state-wide, and Creekmore indexes by militia districts within each county plus additional columns of information from the lists. Creekmore's additional information about the militia districts within the counties is particularly helpful. Unfortunately, Creekmore includes only a single tax year, whereas the other two authors index multiple tax years.

Eligible voters in Tennessee paid a tax for the privilege of voting. This poll tax was paid by white males, age 21 or over. Since this was an annual tax, the tax lists serve as censuses. Some were used to “reconstruct” the missing 1790 to 1820 federal censuses. They can help you trace the migration of families from county to county between federal censuses. The Family History Library has only microfilmed a small fraction of available tax lists, but has collected many periodicals where abstracts have been published (see individual county pages). Many of the original tax lists from 1778 to 1835 are available at the Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Good sources for early Tennessee tax lists are:

  • 1778-1832- Early East Tennessee Taxpayers by Creekmore, Pollyanna. Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1980. Originally appeared as a series of articles in: The East Tennessee Historical Society’s Publications. Includes tax lists for 1778–1832, with surname indexes prepared by Frances Maynard and Dorothy Peters.
  • 1778-1885 - East Tennessee Tax Records Index by Rasmussen, Geoffrey D., compiler. 3 volumes. Westminster, Maryland: Heritage Books, Inc., 2005. These three volumes contain index entries for 69,069 persons between 1778-1850 in Washington County - Tennessee's first county.
  • 1787-1827 - Index to Early Tennessee Tax Lists. by Sistler, Byron. Evanston, Illinois: 1977. This book indexes tax lists for 68 counties, as well as petitions, voter lists, and newspaper lists of inhabitants. There are about 46,000 entries representing the years 1787–1827.
  • 1814-1857 - lists for the 3rd Collection District taken by deputy collector of revenue John Teddar are found in the manuscript collection: John Tedder Papers, 1814-1857 at TSLA. (Includes Franklin, Overton, Warren and White counties.)
  • 1861-1865 - Assessment Lists of the United States Direct Tax Commission for the District of Tennessee. United States. Bureau of Internal Revenue. This tax list shows monthly and annual taxes on personal property, income, those who produced and distributed goods, and on licenses to practice and do business. Each microfilm has a full list of counties and the districts to which they belonged. This is a list of person taxed during the Civil War.

Tax Laws[edit | edit source]

Tax money bag.jpg

Specific laws were enacted concerning inheritance or probate taxation.

On 2 August 1813 Congress passed an act that levied a Federal Direct Tax.

Since 1861, the tax collector collects taxes. Previously the treasurer and later the sheriff collected taxes. Except for inheritance taxes, the tax collector collects all county taxes, including "taxes on real and personal property, schools and special districts, and business licenses. "Historically the office of tax collector was combined with the office of county treasurer and sheriff. Today it is usually with the treasurer's office."

In July of 1862, Congress passed the Internal Revenue Act to provide income for the Government to pay the public debt including Civil War costs. After the Civil War, taxes were abolished until only a tax on liquor and tobacco remained in 1883. An 1895 Supreme Court ruling declared that income tax was unconstitutional and led to the ratification of the sixteenth amendment in 1913 which states that Congress has the power to establish and collect taxes on incomes. This was the beginning of our modern day taxes.

To learn more about this collection click here

To learn more about the Civil War taxes click here

What history has shown us is that while property taxes are locally levied, there is significant state involvement with the amount of tax local political subdivisions can levy, how property assessments are conducted, and what services local taxing subdivisions must provide for their residents. Many of the changes the state has made in the past to lower the local property tax required a shift in financial responsibility from the local governments to the state. This comes at a cost to state taxpayers, because the state has obligations it must fund as well, with a limited amount of state tax dollars.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. May be used for free at Family History Center. To locate a center near you, click here.

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