Center for Archival Collections
March 2009: Volume 28, Number 1
Taxes: One of Life's Certainties
Cover of the 1838 Erie County Treasurer's Office Tax Duplicates
Benjamin Franklin once said that there was nothing certain in life but death and taxes. Indeed, every civilized society has had taxation, back thousands of years to ancient Egypt. In very early or cash-poor societies, people paid their taxes with their labor—they did the actual construction work on roads or temples which benefited the entire community. Early work on ditches and roads in pioneer northwest Ohio may have been done in this manner. As societies became more sophisticated and a monetary system developed, citizens were able to pay their obligations with cash and the number of government services they expected in return increased. Today, at the local level, people expect the government to provide for roads, utilities (like electricity, gas, water and sewer), public schools, law enforcement and courts, fire protection, parks and libraries, and a host of other services. The government pays for the materials and personnel to provide these services with tax money levied from the citizens.
Tax records are useful to researchers as records of economic conditions and social development in an area over time. Family historians, too, can use these documents to locate information on individuals that cannot be found in other records.
The County Auditor and Treasurer maintain the tax-related records created by the county. Among the duties of the auditor are the preparation of lists of taxable property, including real estate and personal property. The auditor is responsible for having the property appraised regularly and is required to maintain a list of delinquent taxes. The treasurer’s responsibility is to collect the taxes, assess penalties for non-payment and enforce collection through legal means (foreclosure in the case of real estate and through the common pleas court in the case of personal delinquencies).
Some of the more commonly used auditor’s records include the following:
Abstracts of Tax are statistical summaries of taxable property within a county and do not record the names of individuals. They do record the tax rate, real and personal property valuation, allocations for various funds, the total and grand total of the local levy.
Industrial Appraisal Records contain the appraisals of industrial plants in the county, showing the company name, a description and value of the buildings, the percent of depreciation allowed, and the replacement cost.
Tax Levies contain the auditor’s record of tax levies for each political subdivision. The records are arranged by date, and then alphabetically by the taxing divisions. They show the estimated requirements for the coming year, and tax to be levied. Individual names of taxpayers are not listed.
Tax Lists are arranged by year and then alphabetically by the tax district and then by the name of the taxpayer. As the name suggests, they contain lists of taxes assessed against real property, showing the property owner, legal description of the land, acreage, value of the property, the amount of tax payable, and whether the payment is delinquent. The tax lists also contain a record of special assessments, showing the nature of the public improvement, the amount of the assessment and a record of exempted real property. Personal property tax lists name the persons owing the tax, the value of the property, the tax assessment, and any tax and penalty due.
Tax Maps or Plat Books are arranged by plat or survey number and contain maps of subdivisions, cities, towns and villages. These records show the owners, parcel numbers, streets, alleys, waterways and railroads on the land.
At far left, the Lucas County Plat map for a portion of Manhattan Township (now part of Toledo). At left, the description of the properties shown in the map. Click on each image for a full-size view.
The treasurer’s office retains the following records:
Forfeitures and Foreclosures are arranged by year and then alphabetically by the tax district and then by the name of the taxpayer. The record contains a list of lands certified as tax delinquent which have been foreclosed or forfeited to the state. They show the name of the landowner, the tax district, a legal description of the land, and the number of years the taxes were delinquent. Financial information includes the assessment and the amount of the tax due, penalties and interest assessed on the account, as well as the date the property was forfeited or foreclosed.
Tax Duplicates record the same information found in the auditor’s tax lists, described above, and are held by the Treasurer’s office as a bookkeeping check on the auditor. Where the records of one office have not survived, the other office’s records provide a backup copy. These records are retained in the treasurer’s office for ten years, or until the state has audited the county’s books for accuracy. Then only the auditor’s copy is saved permanently.
|At right, sample entries from the 1838 Erie County Tax Duplicate. Information on each property extends across both pages. Click on each image for a full-size view.|
Special tips to remember when working with tax records :
Researchers are encouraged to search the local government records in the county of their interest to see what materials are held by the Center for Archival Collections. Records not held in the CAC may be found in the individual county offices.
--Lee N. McLaird
Direct Tax. A tax that cannot be shifted to others, such as the federal income tax.
Excise Tax. A tax on the sale or use of specific products or transactions. A familiar example is the tax on gasoline.
Income Tax. Taxes on earned income (including salaries and wages) and on unearned income (including those on interest and dividends). Income taxes can be levied both on individuals (personal income taxes) and on businesses (business and corporate income taxes). In 1913, the 16th Amendment to the Constitution made the income tax a permanent fixture in the U.S. tax system, although it had first been used for a few years during the Civil War. Thanks to the industrial revolution, wealth is no longer limited to those with large land holdings.
Indirect Tax. A tax that can be shifted to others, such as business property taxes. The business adds a small amount to each sale to cover this cost, thus passing this tax on to the consumer.
Luxury Tax. A tax paid on expensive goods and services considered to be nonessential, such as expensive automobiles or furs.
Payroll Tax. Examples of payroll taxes Include Social Security (also known as Federal Insurance Contributions Act or FICA) and Medicare taxes.
Progressive Tax. A tax that takes a larger percentage of income from high-income groups than from low-income groups. Federal and state income taxes are examples of progressive taxes.
Property Tax. A tax on property, especially real estate, but also can be on boats, automobiles (often paid along with license fees), and business inventories.
Proportional Tax. A tax that takes the same percentage of income from all income groups. Also called a "flat tax."
Public Goods and Services. Benefits that cannot be withheld from those who don't pay for them, and benefits that may be "consumed" by one person without reducing the amount of the product available for others. Examples include national defense, streetlights, and roads and highways. Public services include welfare programs, law enforcement, and monitoring and regulating trade and the economy.
Regressive Tax. A tax that takes a larger percentage of income from low-income groups than from high-income groups. For instance, a sales tax on food items is said to be regressive because although the amount of tax on the sale is the same for rich and poor, the poor are paying a higher percentage of their income on the sale than the wealthy.
Sales Tax. A tax on retail products based on a set percentage of the sale cost.
"Sin Tax". A euphemism for a sumptuary tax which is levied on goods such as tobacco and alcohol. The purpose of such taxes is not only to raise revenue but also to curb demand for the product.
Tariff. A tax on products imported from foreign countries.
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