Tax records vary in content. They 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. They are usually arranged by date and locality, and they are not normally indexed. Tax records can be used in place of missing land and census records to locate a person’s residence.
Individual Tennessee county pages on FamilySearch Wiki are the best places to start to learn which tax lists have been published.
Early Tax Lists
The first tax records of Tennessee were created in 1778 while Tennessee was part of North Carolina. The three classic books to early Tennessee tax lists (Curtis, Sistler,and Creekmore) have very different approaches to their indexing of early Tennessee tax lists. Curtis indexes on a county-wide basis, Sistler state-wide, and Creekmore by militia districts within each county plus additional columns of information from the lists. Ms. Pollyanna Creekmore's additional information about the militia districts within the counties is particularly helpful. Unfortunately, she includes only a single tax year, whereas the other two authors index multiple tax years.
Since no complete censuses exist before 1830, tax records are important for identifying early inhabitants. A good source for early Tennessee tax lists is:
- Sistler, Byron.Index to Early Tennessee Tax Lists. Evanston, Illinois: 1977. FHL Film 1697905 item 5; book 976.8 R4s. 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.
- Rasmussen, Geoffrey D., compiler. East Tennessee Tax Records Index. 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. FHL book 976.897 R42r v. 1/2/3
The 1778 tax records for Washington County contain an accounting of the name of every tithable freeman over 21 years of age, the poll tax, amount of the estate, and the sum to pay.
- Creekmore, Pollyanna. Early East Tennessee Taxpayers. Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1980. Originally appeared as a series of articles in: The East Tennessee Historical Society’s Publications. FHL film 1486601; book 976.8 R4cp. Includes tax lists for 1778–1832, with surname indexes prepared by Frances Maynard and Dorothy Peters.
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.
Civil War-Era Tax Lists
A list of persons taxed during the Civil War is:
- United States. Bureau of Internal Revenue. Assessment Lists of the United States Direct Tax Commission for the District of Tennessee. National Archives Microfilm Publications, M768. Washington, D.C.: National Archives, 1964. FHL Film 1578415–20. 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.
Specific laws were enacted concerning inheritance or probate taxation.
- Ross, Peter. Inheritance and Transfer Tax.San Fransisco: Bancroft-Whitney, 1912.
Tax Lists in the Family History Library Collection
The Family History Library has microfilm copies of some Tennessee tax records, and the collection is increasing. To locate Tennessee taxation records in the Family History Library, use a Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog for:
TENNESSEE - TAXATION
TENNESSEE, [COUNTY] - TAXATIONSee the Tennessee Archives and Libraries article for facilities with regional collections which might include tax records.