April 15 can be a taxing day for all of us living in modern times, but our ancestors didn’t have it much easier. Although our federal income tax only dates back to the Civil War era, Tennesseans have been paying state and local taxes since long before then.
Now Tennessee tax records dating back to 1783 are available free online to Tennesseans, thanks to a partnership between the Tennessee State Library and Archives and Ancestry.com. The online database contains records from 71 of Tennessee’s 95 counties. Famous notables like Andrew Jackson (who paid $66 in taxes to Davidson County in 1829) appear side by side with ordinary farmers, millers and laborers.
Tennessee law did not require tax lists to be kept permanently, so many of the early records have been destroyed. However, those that survived are excellent tools for historical and genealogical research. The database contains many tax lists for some counties, but just one or two for others.
The tax records include other information about people that researchers may find helpful. The tax lists in the database have the names of white males over age 21 for each of the counties, along with additional information about each listed person’s land, slaves, and other property.
The records also show the different types of taxes levied through the years. In some years, the state assessed a tax on each carriage. In others, owners of stud horses had to pay an additional levy. The lists show which taxpayers had these “luxuries” along with the number of acres and town lots owned. This information can be useful for locating ancestors and learning about their financial circumstances.
“I’m pleased that we were able to partner with Ancestry to provide this information free to Tennesseans,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “Learning about the past enriches the present, and students of all ages will enjoy digging into these historical documents.”
The database contains 262,784 records and 7,720 images. The link for the tax list database is: