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Series Information
(Baltimore City Property Tax Records)

Series Description

The tax records here were created by numerous agencies and officials in a complex taxation system required them to be described as such for the convenience of researchers. The exceptions to this are the related records of the Appeal Tax Court (BRG5) and the Baltimore City Collector (BRG40).

The details of the entries that follow come from a typescript guide at the Baltimore City Archives which is in the process of being added and updated here.

The taxation system prior to the city charter of 1796 was completely dependent upon the state government. The origin of a general property tax dates back to 1750, when the Baltimore Town Commissioners were allowed to levy a tax of one shilling, six pence on every one hundred pounds of assessed property. This aspect of taxation remained in force until the charter incorporated that document. The creation of the Baltimore Town Special Commissioners (1782) and the Board of Port Wardens (1783) also introduced other special taxes and fees.

The new municipal government in 1797 brought autonomy to many aspects of the town's political life. Although taxation was still dominated by the state, the charter of 1796 began an evolution towards a modern, autonomous taxation system for the city. The earliest development was the creation of a City Collector (RG. 40) and City Register (RG. 32). The collector was generally responsible for enforcing payment of municipal taxes and dues, and the register primarily functioned as treasurer. Prior to 1856 the tax records were probably maintained by either the collector or register with duplications possibly existing in both offices. (The tax books from 1856 on are clearly identified as part of the City Collector's records.)

The responsibilities of these offices were continually modified through the nineteenth century. The Appeal Tax Court (RG. 5) was created in 1841 (consisting of two assessors and the City Collector) to serve as a Board of Review and Assessments. In 1852/53 the City Auditor (RG. 6) was created to oversee municipal taxes, assessment collections, and collections of arrearages. This office was gradually absorbed by the City Comptroller (RG. 43) established in 1857, who supervised the entire financial affairs of the municipality. Throughout the entire nineteenth century, the state authorized reassessments of city property. These reassessments required the hiring of special commissioners and the division of the city into special districts. Such reassessments occurred in 1785, 1792, 1812, 1817, 1822, 1832, 1852, 1866, 1876 and 1896.

With a new charter in 1898 the municipal government became autonomous in property taxation. The charter created a Department of Finance which included the Comptroller, City Register, City Collector, Collector of Water Rents and Licenses, Commissioners of Finance, and Board of Estimates (RG. 36). After 1900 it was mandatory to revise assessments unrelated to state, at least once every five years. The Appeal Tax Court which was steadily becoming a more important organization, was strengthened with a provision in 1904 that gave the court two real estate experts as assessors.

Researchers desiring more information should consult Jacob H. Hollander, The Financial History of Baltimore (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1899); Leonard Owens Rea, The Financial History of Baltimore 1900-1926, Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, Series 48, No. 3 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1929); Gary Lawson Browne, Baltimore in the Nation, 1789-1861 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, (1980); and Dennis Rankin Clark, "Baltimore, 1729-1829: The Genesis of a Community" (Ph.D, Catholic University of America, 1976).

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DateSeries NameDescriptionMSA Citation
  Details1798-1915Baltimore City General Property Tax BooksThe General Property Tax Books are the final tax records for the municipality, arranged on a city-wide basis. The information in these volumes varies over time though they will generally include the names of individuals and companies, amount of assessment or tax, and payments. Some of the earlier books do give race, out-of-town residence, occasional occupation, and property improvements. After 1812 the volumes begin to include more information on items such as furniture, plate, horses, carriages, wagons, special fees and taxes (such as for roads, bridges, court, and the poor), abatements, adjustments, stock-in-trade, securities, and bank stock. These volumes do not represent a complete series and should be consulted with the field assessment records (BRG4-2) and the Appeal Tax Court (BRG. 5). The complete series of records listed below, unless otherwise stated, are city-wide volumes. A large number of the books have been microfilmed; the BCA number following the description is the microfilm reel number. An alphabetical name index to the earliest records has been published: Richard J. Cox, ed., A Name Index to the Baltimore City Tax Records. 1798-1808, of the Baltimore City Archives, Publications of the Baltimore City Archives, no. 4 (Baltimore: Baltimore City Archives and Records Management Office, 1981). See also the typescript on which the following entries are based.BRG4-1
  Details1800-1866Baltimore City Assessor Tax RecordsThese are the intermediate records completed by the field assessors for taxation purposes which are arranged internally by streets and contain generally the same information as the tax books (RG. 4, Series 1). The main difference is that internal arrangement and field assessors' records often contain modifications and corrections. These records were probably maintained by the Commissioners of Tax for Baltimore City, appointed for periodic reassessments. The creation of the Appeal Tax Court (RG.5) in 1841 (and its successor the Department of Assessments in 1934) mainatianed similar volumes. The records of the Appeal Tax Court are different in that they are the rough workbooks carried into the field by the assessors (RG.5, Series 2). The records listed below are apparently the final copies of these workbooks, including changes and a partial listing of alphabetical name indexes. The tax books (RG.4, series 1) are the final records based on the work of the field assessors and reviewed by the various bodies authorized to do so. Researchers should plan to examine all three record series for research into the general property taxation system of Baltimore. Nearly all the volumes listed below contain alphabetical name indexes. Other variations have been noted where appropriate. These records are restricted to microfilm; the BCA number following the description is the microfilm reel number.BRG4-2
  Details1813-1898Field Assessors' Work Books

Included in this series are the rough workbooks of the assessors field work in Baltimore. Records include name of owner, description of assessed property, occasional diagrams of property lines, owners' and assessors' statement of value, and miscellaneous notes and calculations of the field assessors. These records are the preliminary sources for descriptions in RG. 4, Series 2. Several volumes described below predate the 1841 creation of the Appeal Tax Court, but are"included because of similarities. Many gaps exist in the records.

Index available for years 1837 through 1846.

 Details1914-1987Baltimore City Assessors' Records

These records are a continuation of the Baltimore City Assessors' records described in RG. 4, Series 2 and the field assessors' workbooks in RG. 4, Series 3. The essential difference is that the sheets are standardized forms as opposed to the more informal nature of the other records. The records provide names of the owner and street; mailing address; location and description of the property with a lot number, house number, and size of lot; and the values of the lot, improvements, and exemptions. These records were maintained by the Appeal Tax Court and the Department of Assessments after 1934 (the Department of Assessments has been part of the state government since 1975).

Researchers using these records will need to know the ward, section, and block numbers of the property. This information can be obtained from the volumes of Real Estate Tax Assessments, published by the city government and by the Real Estate Index Bureau of Baltimore and its successors between 1928 and 1991. They are arranged by street address. See BRG4 Series 6.

A complete list of these records is maintained at the Baltimore City Archives.

There are assessment volumes for Baltimore and Anne Arundel Counties of the areas annexed to the city in 1918. These records are from Baltimore County Districts 1, 3, 9, and 12-15 for the years 1919-24 and Anne Arundel County Districts 3 and 5, 1919-23.

There are also a number of assessment records for public service corporations.

  Details1907-1915Supplementary Assessors Field Book

These records are similar to those described in Series 2. However, the format is rougher (paperback notebooks gatherd together) and the information more detailed. Data given for each property includes amount of original assessment and of new assessment, description of the structure, (e.g. "2SBB," meaning two story brick building), and the assessed value of the lot and the improvement. Block diagrams showing lot boundaries and structure type are available for some properties as are letters and other documents relating to the assessment process.

A complete list of these records is maintained at the Baltimore City Archives.

  Details1928-1991Real Estate Tax Assessments, Baltimore City, by address

The Real Estate Tax Assessments were published by the city government and by the Real Estate Index Bureau of Baltimore and its successors between 1928 and 1991. They are arranged by street address. These records provide the ward, section, and block numbers of the property and provide access to Baltimore City Assessors' Records (BRG 4 Series 4).

  Details1797Special Tax List"Historians and genealogists researching early Baltimore residents have generally relied upon the 1783 State assessment, 1798 Federal assessment, and the city directories which began publication in 1796.' Other than these sources, the records of early Baltimoreans are limited to church records, newspapers, and miscellaneous assessments and fines levied by the State and town. The financial structure of Baltimore was unsystematic until well after 1797, the year of its erection as a self-governing city. This fact explains the miscellany of fiscal and legal documents. Before this administrative change taxes were generally voluntary or by lottery for public improvements such as fences, wharves, and market houses, or came in the form of fines and licenses granted by the state legislature. An example of this form of special tax is the tax list for 1797. This tax was made on carriages, horses, carts, sulkies, wagons, riding chairs, chaises, and billiard tables. The purpose of this tax was to provide for the "paving, cleaning and keeping in repair the streets, lanes and alleys, and for mending, building and keeping in repair the bridges in the said town"; the origins of this tax date back to 1782 and remained in force for many years after the city's incorporation/ The following list includes the taxes of 432 persons who owned 205 horses (h), 23 riding horses (rh), 169 carts (c), 91 four-wheel carriages (fwc), 34 riding chairs (re), 29 billiard tables (bt), two sulkies (s), four chaises (ch), three wagons (w), and one two-wheel carriage (twc). As might be expected, this was primarily a list of wealthy individuals, tavern owners, and artisans. The tax list has been transcribed and edited by Richard J. Cox, "Baltimore City 1797 Special. Tax List," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 66 (September 1978): 188-91, from which this introduction is derived.BRG4-7
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