Massachusetts Taxation

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Online Resources[edit | edit source]

Why Use Tax Records[edit | edit source]

By studying several consecutive years of tax records you may determine when a young man came of age, when individuals moved in and out of a home, or when they died leaving heirs. Authorities determined wealth (real estate, or income) to be taxed. Taxes can be for polls, real and personal estate, or schools.

Tax record content varies and may include the name and residence of the taxpayer, description of the real estate, name of the 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 Massachusetts[edit | edit source]

County Level[edit | edit source]

Tax records can be found at both the local and state levels. Massachusetts State Archives has tax returns for 1768 and 1771. the Archives also has some tax valuations for 1775-1778. The Massachusetts State Library holds them for 1780, 1783'84, 1791'93, 1800'01, and 1810'11. The surviving originals are at the New England Historic Genealogical Society.[1]


State Level[edit | edit source]

The 1771 lists have been published in:

  • 1771- The Massachusetts tax valuation list of 1771 Pruitt, Bettye Hobbs, ed. The Massachusetts Tax Valuation List of 1771. Boston, Massachusetts: G.K. Hall, 1978. (Besides Salt Lake click on WorldCat for other locations)

A federal 1798 direct tax census and surname index is:

  • 1798- Massachusetts and Maine Direct Tax Census of 1798 United States, Secretary of the Treasury. Massachusetts and Maine Direct Tax Census of 1798. Cambridge, Massachusetts: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1978. (Besides Salt Lake, click on WorldCat for other Locations)

The original 1798 tax records are at the New England Historic Genealogical Society. These are described in:

  • 1862-1918- Massachusetts, tax assessment lists, 1862-1918 For now these films are housed at Granite Mt. in the process of being Digitized. Digital images of originals are housed at the National Archives and Records Administration.

Boston tax lists of the 1800s are at:
Boston Public Library
700 Boylston St.
Boston MA 02116
Phone: (617) 536–5400
E-mail: info@bpl.org

New England Historic Genealogical Society
Address:101 Newbury Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116-3007
Phone: 617-536-5740; Library 617-226-1231

Massachusetts State Archives
Located in: University of Massachusetts Boston
Address: 220 Morrissey Blvd, Boston, MA 02125
Phone: (617) 727-2816
Massachusetts Archives Division

Tax money bag.jpg

Tax Laws[edit | edit source]

Abraham Lincoln instituted the income tax in 1862, and on July 1, 1862, Congress passed the Internal Revenue Act, creating the Bureau of Internal Revenue (later renamed to the Internal Revenue Service). This act was intended to “provide Internal Revenue to support the Government and to pay interest on the Public Debt.” Instituted in the height of the Civil War, the “Public Debt” at the time primarily consisted of war expenses. For the Southern States that were part of the Confederate side of the Civil War, once Union troops took over parts of the Southern States, income tax were instituted on them. [2]

  • 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. 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]