15. Land Tax Records – People tracing their ancestors realize at some point that the various levels of governments tend to keep good historical records. This is true even in parts of the world where the national governments were weak. And what part of the government typically kept the best records? The taxman. Personal income tax is a relatively recent phenomenon in most countries (usually begun only within the last one hundred years), so it is not particularly useful. Land taxes, however, have been around in one form or another for well over one thousand years (one of the most famous examples would be the Doomsday Book of 1086 AD).
It really does pay to try to figure out where the historic records are held for land taxes in your ancestor’s region. Land tax records can provide a goldmine of information about your ancestors. A couple of words of caution, however, before you go down this path. First, most people were not wealthy enough to own land if you go far enough back in time. Most of the land would have been controlled by the local aristocracy. Second, in many countries, people from minority groups were often banned from owning land. Jews, for example, were often prohibited from owning land in much of Europe. So, before you go looking for land tax records, make sure you have a reasonable chance of finding your ancestor on the tax rolls.