Researching Tax Lists

Monday, August 12, 2019

As has been said many times before, only two things in life are certain: death and taxes. Today’s post looks at researching tax records, and also reviews an online collection—the North Carolina Digital Collections, which is a collaboration between the Government & Heritage Library and the State Archives of North Carolina—with some tax records that are publicly accessible. 

List of taxable property in Beaufort County. Image shows snippet of page with heading and columns name of each district, amount of taxable property, public tax, and county tax. The main taxes our ancestors were required to pay fell into one of two categories: either poll taxes or property taxes. These taxes were paid to the county where the person resided. Income taxes to the state began in 1849. Before the Revolutionary War, poll taxes were used almost exclusively in North Carolina. They were used consistently until 1970 when property taxes were preferred. Property taxes have been used since 1715, but were not common until after the Revolutionary War. In addition to poll taxes and property taxes, quit rents were also a form of taxes used from around 1729 to about 1760. In many cases, only the head of household is listed, but others in the household who were taxable may have been listed, too. 

The information available in tax lists varies. Some lists will only name the head of the household, while some will name the head of the household and any slaves. Others will name all that are taxable, and still others will name all that are taxable, while giving relationship between father and son. For instance, the 1755 Granville County tax list lists everyone taxable and includes relationship. Page 3 lists James Yancy with sons Bartlett and Thornton with 3 slaves: Daniel, Venus?, and Cato—with 3 whites, 3 blacks, and a total number of six taxable individuals. On the other hand, the 1785 list from Granville County only names the head of the household. 

The Law

Over the years, the laws changed about who was taxable. One of the first laws on the books (about 1715), stated that all free men ages 16 and older were taxable, as well as all slaves. By 1771, the law changed so that the wives of free men of color were also taxable. Petitions were filed and rejected against the change. 

Digitized Tax Lists

The Government and Heritage Library and the State Archives of North Carolina have collaborated in creating a digital collection called “Tax Lists and Records”, a collection which is relatively small and may grow in the future. Although the focus is on colonial taxes, the lists range from 1720-1868. These tax lists were those that were sent to the General Assembly, the Secretary of State, and the Treasurer and Comptroller’s offices. Often, these lists were sent to the state from county offices for settlement of accounts. 

Many North Carolina counties have tax lists in the collection: Anson, Ashe, Beaufort, Bertie, Bladen Brunswick, Camden, Dobbs (county no longer exists), Duplin, Edgecombe, Franklin, Gates, Granville, Greene, Guilford, Halifax, Haywood, Hertford, Hyde, Iredell, Johnston, Jones, Lenoir, Martin, Mecklenburg, Montgomery, Moore, Nash, New Hanover, Northampton, Onslow, Orange, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Pitt, Randolph, Rockingham, Rowan, Richmond, Rutherford, Sampson, Surry, Tyrell, Wake, Warren, Washington, Wayne, and Wilkes. 

The one drawback to the digitized lists is that many of them are not searchable by name. This means you must browse the whole record to look for any mention of a particular person. It’s not much different than searching through the paper record in the State Archives of North Carolina, but the digitized nature of it offers the advantage of doing it from the comfort of your home. Users should be aware that there may be differences between original tax lists located in the State Archives of North Carolina and what is in the digital collection. Happy “hunting” in the digital collection—but remember, it’s only the tip of the iceberg for finding what’s available in the State Archives of North Carolina. 


•    Tax Records in North Carolina (Research Guide)
•    Williams, Wiley J. “State Taxes” (NCpedia article)


Erin Bradford, Reference Librarian