How to use the hearth tax for family history research


10 November 2022
Use hearth tax records to find your 17th-century ancestors
David Annal explains how hearth tax records can help you trace your 17th-century ancestors.

How can hearth tax records help? 

Starting with the 14th century Poll Tax, the National Archives is home to over 600 years’ worth of taxation records. The most important of these, from the family historians’ point of view are probably those relating to the Hearth Tax.

First introduced in 1662, this was a tax levied on the number of hearths and ovens in each house. Payments were to be collected twice yearly and lists were made to record the payments, usually indicating how many hearths were to be found in each property. The properties are rarely named, but the householder was. And because it was the occupier of the house, rather than the owner who was liable to pay the tax, we can quickly see how useful these records can be. They can also list those who were exempt (usually due to poverty) from paying the tax.  

Lists of all heads of household 

At their best, the returns can effectively provide a list of all the heads of household in each county, on a parish-by-parish basis. As a means of finding out where a particular family was living in the latter half of the 17th century they are invaluable. 

Did the records survive? 

The survival rate is relatively good. You will find for most counties at least one fairly comprehensive set of records. Because of the way that the returns were organised at the time, the vast majority of the surviving documents date from the years 1662 to 1666 or 1669 to 1674. 

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Hearth Tax was abolished in 1689 and replaced by Land Tax – a much longer-lasting tax which resulted in another important set of records. 

Useful website

The Hearth Tax

Article extracted from an-depth feature on name-rich resources in the December 2022 issue of Family Tree magazine.

About the author

David Annal has been involved in the family history world for more than 30 years and is a former principal family history specialist at The National Archives. He is an experienced lecturer and the author of a number of best-selling family history books, including Easy Family History and (with Peter Christian) Census: The Family Historian’s Guide. David now runs his own family history research business, Lifelines Research.