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Historic Texas Taxes

April 17, 2009

This receipt shows that Thomas W. Grayson owed $16.25 in state and county taxes for 1852. Grayson's taxable property included 660 acres on Salado Creek in Bexar County, two "negros," thirty-five head of cattle, one wagon, and one carriage.

This receipt shows that Thomas W. Grayson owed $16.25 in state and county taxes for 1852. Grayson's taxable property included 660 acres on Salado Creek in Bexar County, two "negros," thirty-five head of cattle, one wagon, and one carriage.

While filling out tax forms can at times be tedious and frustrating work, future scholars may very well find information in these records that will help them examine and understand everyday life in early twenty-first century America. Indeed, historians and genealogists find that preserved tax records such as receipts and rolls – along with other financial records like ledgers and account books – can be gold mines of information about people living in the past. Tax records can help family historians locate an ancestor who cannot be found in other sources. Moreover, tax records often include additional information besides the amount of tax owed by the taxpayer; such details can be used to determine, for example, birth, marriage, and death dates; conditions of servitude; parentage; and the migration of individuals and families from place to place. Tax records sometimes even fill in for other primary sources that were never created or that have not survived to the present day. For example, no census exists for the Republic of Texas for 1840; however, using tax rolls and other archival documents, Gifford White was able to compile a substitute list of citizens for that year. (This source is available at the DRT Library.)

Confederate tax receipts for James Lincoln showing money due in 1862 and 1863. The taxes had to be paid in Confederate treasury notes; their value collapsed during the course of the Civil War, and they were worthless at the end of the war.

Confederate tax receipts for James Lincoln showing money due in 1862 and 1863. The taxes had to be paid in Confederate treasury notes; their value collapsed during the course of the Civil War, and at the end of the conflict they became worthless.

Many archival collections at the DRT Library contain tax records. This is particularly true of collections created by individuals and members of families, as many of these collections contain nineteenth-century receipts for state, county, school, and poll taxes paid. Some collections include receipts for taxes paid to the Confederate States of America during the Civil War (1861-1865). Additionally, the DRT 9 Documents Collection contains tax records dating back to the seventeenth century. In addition to the documents shown below, DRT 9 includes a 1677 letter in which Spanish viceroy (the royal official who governed New Spain in the name of and as representative of the monarch) Enriquez de Rivera acknowledges a judicial appointment and an investigation of tax rolls; a 1713 letter in which viceroy Lencastre Norona y Silva transmits a royal decree regarding the collection of taxes; and an 1803 broadside published in Mexico City concerning the payment of taxes imposed to finance Spain’s war with England.

The first page of a decree - published in Mexico City on March 29, 1759 - demanding an accounting of the taxation of Indian women.

The first page of a decree - published in Mexico City on March 29, 1759 - demanding an accounting of the taxation of Indian women.

A receipt dated January 30, 1796 showing that Jose de Espinosa paid the required taxes for street improvements.

A receipt dated Mexico City, January 30, 1796, showing that Jose de Espinosa paid the required taxes for street improvements.

Finally, materials in the library’s collections reveal that frustration about taxes is nothing new. Sentiments of dissatisfaction, disagreement, and apprehension are most succinctly and directly summarized in the title of Byron C. Utecht’s 1949 book, “The State of Texas or the State of Taxes?” The below cartoon by Hal Coffman, which originally appeared in the Fort Worth ­Star-Telegram, was included in the front of this work to visually depict Utecht’s argument about the predicament of Texas taxpayers.

Hal Coffman's 1949 illustration, "Just One Thing After Another."

Hal Coffman's 1949 illustration, "Just One Thing After Another."

For more information about using tax records in historical or genealogical research, check out these online resources:

“Taxes: One of Life’s Certainties” from Archival Chronicle (March 2009), available online through the Center for Archival Collections at Bowling Green State University. This article includes a list of common types of auditor’s records and a tax glossary.

“Income Tax Records of the Civil War Years” by Cynthia G. Fox, published in the National Archives and Records Administration’s Prologue Magazine (Winter 1986). This article debunks a common belief that the sixteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1913, resulted in Americans paying income tax for the first time.

“Tax Records” from For the Record (May/June 1995), available through Ancestry.com.

“The Tax Man Cometh…and He Leaveth Records!” from The Ancestry Daily News (April 12, 2001), available through Ancestry.com

Click here for a full citation of the documents and images included in this entry.

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