Friday, November 12, 2010

What Can You Find in Assessors Tax Records?

Assessors tax records can give you a surprising amount of information about the people who used to live in your home. Tax records provide information about houses, other buildings, land and in this particular case, bank stock.

These examples are from Medway, Norfolk County, Massachusetts.  Medway printed the tax assessor's records in the town reports every five years from the mid-1800s to likely the early 1900s.  Even though they were only printed ever 5 years, the records were created on an annual basis.  Some towns actually printed the records in their town reports each year.

Example 1: Addison P. Thayer, 1856 Medway Town Report

Addison P. Thayer lived in what is now 2B Oak Street in Medway.  From the tax record you can see that he owns 3 houses.  He is also a factory owner and has other buildings.  In addition to his manufacturing work he still has tillage, meadow and sprout land.  The total value of his bank stock is also included.  Thayer was assessed a total tax of $41.63 for the year 1856.  From this information you can surmise a lot of about him, his occupation, and his quality of life.  Listed above Addison is his father, Cephas, who also had considerable holdings but was more heavily involved in agriculture and livestock.

Example 2: Francis Darling (and other misc Boston residents), 1856 Medway Town Report

I provided this example to demonstrate that the owner of your house might not have lived in it or only lived in it part of the time that they owned it.  The partial list above shows tax assessments for non-residents of Medway, MA.  The people above lived in Boston but still owned property in Medway.  Many of them, based on their last names, likely had strong family connections to Medway.  They perhaps had moved looking for work or better opportunities.

Note that Francis Darling owns 2/3 of a house.  He likely inherited that from a relative.  It is probable that since he didn't live in the house, but he still owned 2/3 of it that another relative lived there.  That relative may also have been tending the agricultural land for him.

Most assessor's tax records are listed alphabetically so you will need to know who owned your home during a particular year.  The easiest way to find that out is to chain the deeds to your house.

Stop back and let me know what great things you found in the tax records for your house.


  1. Hi Marian,

    I have never used or thought of using, assessment records as a resource.Is it as simple as going to the town office and requesting the information? Everything in this town is digitized and is recent.Thanks for this information.

  2. Elizabeth,

    The easiest place to start is with Town Reports. You can usually find those in the local library or in the town clerks office. The older reports (not the current ones) will have these records included.

    If you don't find them, then go to the assessor's office and ask to see the old records. They are mandated by Massachusetts state law to keep them but they might not be easily accessible. It's easiest to start with the Town Reports first.

    Today assessor's records are kept in the form of field cards.