It seems appropriate that Ancestry.com chose April 15 to announce a new online database: U.S. federal income tax records. As part of an agreement in which the company paid $46,000 to the National Archives in Washington, Ancestry.com has digitized and indexed federal income tax records from 1862 through 1918.
The site's IRS Tax Records collection at http://content.ancestry.com/iexec/?htx=List&dbid=1264&o_iid=23560&o_lid=23560 is an alphabetical listing of annual income as well as taxable possessions, such as Andrew Carnegie's gold watch and carriage. Another document shows President Abraham Lincoln's $25,000 income (about $566,000 today) for 1864, the year before his assassination. His tax bill: $1,296.
Andrew Carnegie earned $84,000 the same year, the equivalent of about $2 million today.
According to Megan Smolenyak, Ancestry.com's chief family historian, the government first imposed a federal income tax in 1862 on affluent families who made at least $600 annually. We can assume that very few families earned that enormous amount of money.
The money, collected by a commissioner of Internal Revenue, was to help fund the Civil War. Taxes were still modest compared with today, topping out at 10%. But by 1873, William Astor, then the richest man in the U.S., and a few of his old cronies had had enough. They sued the federal government, resulting in the federal tax being declared unconstitutional. Apparently, the income tax was reinstated later.
Does this mean that my descendants will be able to look at MY tax returns in the future?