52 Ancestors: Do You Use Tax Records in Your Research?

Posted by: Eileen A. Souza

Stack of books at the archives/library

In 2009, I had some research in tax records completed at the Pennsylvania State Archives by eminent genealogist, John T. Humphrey, CG (decd.). My ultimate goal was to identify the father of my 3rd great grandfather, Peter Strausser. I first found Peter, with his wife and family in the 1860 US census living in Coal Twp., Northumberland Co., Pennsylvania. I traced him to Norwegian Twp., Schuylkill Co., Pennsylvania where he appeared in the 1850 US census, with his wife and two daughters. John suggested that an examination of the tax records for these townships might shed more light on Peter’s origins.

His research began with the 1831 and 1832 tax assessments of Norwegian Township and he stated that no families named Strausser, Strasser, Strauser, or Strawser were taxed in this period. He notes that an Adam and David Strasser were assessed for taxes in 1844. He suggested that David and Adam moved into the area between 1832 and 1844 from some other location. Peter Strasser does not emerge in the tax assessments of this township until 1847.

David and Adam disappear from the tax records of Norwegian Twp. in 1848. Peter pays taxes in 1847, 1848, 1849, 1850 and 1851. Peter is then joined by a Levi Strasser in 1852 in Norwegian Twp. They pay taxes for 1852, 1853, 1854. In 1855, both Peter and Levi are gone from the tax assessment rolls of Norwegian Twp. They both show up in the 1860 US census for Coal Twp., Northumberland Co, Pennsylvania. The microfilms for Coal Twp. tax assessments begin in 1862 and both Peter and Levi paid taxes that year. From that point on Peter can be traced in Coal Twp. until his death in 1890.

I had never used tax records in my research until John Humphrey showed me how powerful they can be. To quote John from my report:

“In the absence of records that make statements of fact about relationships in families like probate and birth and baptismal records, the most effective way to establish relationships between generations within a family is to locate young men and women in records when they achieve their majority because young men and women generally come of age in the area where their parents were living.

Tax records are one of the most effective sets of records that help to achieve that end because among other things all segments of society were taxed. Thus information can be found in these records on people who were relatively poor as well as those who were wealthy.”


The 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks challenge, initiated by Amy Johnson Crow, is a series of weekly prompts to get you to think about an ancestor and share something about them. The guesswork of “who should I write about” is taken care of. This week’s theme is Taxes.

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11 Responses to 52 Ancestors: Do You Use Tax Records in Your Research?

  1. Frank says:

    Where do you get tax records?

  2. Teresa says:

    Interesting to know! I must investigate English tax records at some point 🙂

  3. Marsha Dekker says:

    So, what is the next step? To research David & Adam? I do not see any connection to Peter Strausser?

    • Thank you for your question. This post to stick to the theme focused only on what I learned about using tax records and what part they played in tracing Peter Strausser. Of course, research would continue and it makes sense to research David, Adam and Levi, in addition to Peter.

  4. I am curious where you would find federal tax records? Would these be in a National Archives record group? How long are they embargoed from public disclosure? Does this mean the Nation will eventualy see Trump’s tax returns? (;


  5. Megan says:

    I am currently participating in the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge and have hit a major stumbling block with the Taxes challenge. I am going to have to trawl through the documents I have to see if I have anything remotely resembling taxes. Do you happen to know where to source Australian or English tax records?

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