Family Research – English, Scottish and Irish Genealogy


Taxation Records

For several centuries, government has collected detailed information about people and places for taxation purposes.

The earliest taxes were hearth and poll taxes, and these are usually arranged by parish. Later in the 18th century came other taxes, on Windows (E326/1) and Inhabited Houses (E326/3) amongst others. It was always the occupier of each house who was taxed, whether he or she was the owner or merely the tenant of the property. Sometimes occupiers would block up windows in order to avoid having to pay so much Window Tax.

For example a entry from a tax collector’s book (E326/3/40) records payment of the Inhabited House Tax in Edinburgh for the tax year 1778/1779. It records the names and occupations of the occupiers of properties along the North Side of the Grassmarket. The sixth name down, Charles Bowman, has his occupation given as ‘Writer’; this is the old Scottish term for lawyer. Other occupations listed are merchant, wigmaker and reed maker: these ‘reeds’ were tools used by weavers to push down the weft threads, so the two reed makers in the Grassmarket may indicate that there were a considerable number of weavers in the area too. Such tax records are a useful tool for telling what occupations were common in each area, although it is only in the records for Edinburgh and Glasgow that the streets are named.

One of the most valuable sources for local historians is the annual series of Valuation Rolls which cover the whole of Scotland from 1855 until 1989. The information recorded in these was used to calculate local taxes, often referred to as ‘the rates’. The owner, tenant and occupier of each property are recorded along with its value (the occupiers of property which was let at less than £4 per year did not need to be named). This extract is from the Valuation Roll for Glasgow’s Gallowgate in 1875-76 (VR102/226). It can sometimes be difficult to trace a particular building, especially in towns; for example a house may have had more than one address as changes were made to the surrounding streets, and house numbers/names can change over time.

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