Louisiana Division/City Archives
New Orleans Public Library

Sources for Researching the History of Your House (Or Other Building) in New Orleans

Property Tax Records

Researchers can use various property tax records (assessment rolls, tax ledgers, and tax bills) to approximate a building's construction date by comparing the assessed value of the property from one year to the next and noting the date of an assessment that increases independently of other properties in the square. These records can enable researchers to refine an earlier estimation of a construction date (derived from chain of title research), since the assessments were made every year, whereas several years may have elapsed between the last conveyance of unimproved land the first one with improvements.

Researchers should take care to begin the tax records search in a year when they have confirmed from other sources (such as the Sanborn maps) that the building in question was already standing. Without this confirmation, any conclusions drawn about the significance of changes in the building's assessed value might be flawed. Begin the research with that year and search backwards, year by year, noting any changes in value that could suggest that a structure was added to the property.

Assessment Rolls

Orleans Parish Board of Assessors. Property Tax Assessment Rolls, ca. 1856 - 1975
These microfilmed records are arranged by municipal district and assessment district and date back to about 1857 for most of the city [maps showing district, square, and lot boundaries are available in the Division]. Each page of the assessment rolls contains data for one or more squares of property. Individual line entries record the name of the landowner, the number and measurements of his lot, the streets bounding the property (and the street fronting it), and the assessed value for both the assessment year and the previous year. Properties sold during the previous year are indicated along with the date of sale, the buyer's name, and, sometimes, the selling price. Additional comments are sometimes included at the end of individual line entries. Such comments may indicate, for example, that new improvements were erected during the assessment year, or possibly that an old structure was demolished or burned.
Link here for a finding aid and an inventory of available microfilm
(CJ430 - CJ437 ca. 1856-1975 mf)

Early assessment records of New Orleans, 1836-1847
Prior to the creation of the Board of Assessors in 1856, the city appears either to have relied on the assessments made by the assessors of state taxes or to have appointed individuals to assess property for city tax purposes. No organized Board functioned during the pre-1856 period. Several assessment record books, however, have survived from this era. These manuscript volumes have been grouped together as a series of "early assessment records of New Orleans." Volumes are available for the First & Second Municipalities only. The records are not indexed, but are generally arranged by square number.
Link here for call numbers and a detailed finding aid

The Division also has assessment rolls for the uptown area dating back prior to its piecemeal annexation by the city as follows:
City of Lafayette, 1846-1852 (II CJ430 1846-1852 mf)
City of Jefferson, 1850-1869 (III CJ430 1850-1869 mf)
City of Carrollton, 1846-1873 (IV CJ430 1846-1873 mf)

Tax Ledgers & Bills

New Orleans (La.) Treasurer's Office. Tax ledgers, 1852-1861

Since these records pre-date the extant records of New Orleans tax assessments (which begin in ca.1856) they offer a partial substitute for the assessments in researching specific parcels of property. Except in cases of multiple property holdings by individual proprietors, the tax bills in these ledgers essentially are arranged by municipal district and square number, making it possible to locate specific pieces of land, especially if one already knows (from conveyance records or the like) the name of the property owner.

Each manuscript ledger contains bill records for only a portion of the alphabet (i.e., "A-E," "F-K," etc.). Under an individual's bill record all of his property is listed, beginning with that located in the First Municipal District and extending through all districts in which he owned property. The ledgers generally containing the following information:

1852-1856 -- bill number, municipal district in which the property was located, name of owner, reference to a folio number in some other unidentified record (not the assessment roll), square number in which the property was located, name of fronting street(s), description of property (i.e., real estate & value and/or number of slaves & value), and amount of assessment. Also included are blank spaces for the amount of various taxes that were payable for the property.

1857-1861 -- bill number; municipal district; name of owner; folio reference (see above); square number; fronting street(s); value of real estate; number of slaves; value of slaves; total value of real estate and slaves; value of horses, mules, etc.; of carriages, etc.; of stock in ships & steamboats; of capital; of income; of household furniture, etc.; total value of personal property; and total value of real and personal property.
(CC420 1852-1861 mf)

New Orleans (La.) Treasurer's Office. Indexes to tax ledgers, 1852-1861
Most of the ledgers described above are indexed by separate index volumes, using the same alphabetical divisions as used in the ledgers themselves. The indexes are generally alphabetical to the first letter of the surname only. Each index volume gives both the bill number for the individuals named and the page number on which that bill record is to be found. Either number can be used to locate a given bill record. Separate listings for each of the municipal districts are given.
(CC419 1852-1861 mf)
Link here for an inventory of the ledgers and indexes and a detailed finding aid.

Tax registers for the First Municipality, 1836-1851 (C420 1836-1851 1st Mun mf)
Tax registers for the Second Municipality, 1836-1851 (CB420 1836-1851 2nd Mun mf)
Tax registers for the Third Municipality, 1836-1851 (C420 1836-1851 3rd Mun mf)
The records are annual tax registers kept by the treasurer or comptroller of each of the three municipalities into which the city was divided from 1836-1852. Although the form varies somewhat for each municipality, the registers generally list real estate property tax bills in numerical order by tax bill number. Each bill shows the name of the property owner and lists all of his holdings within the municipality along with the amount of tax due on each. In the case of multiple holdings, each parcel is listed separately under the property owner's name. For each parcel the square number in which it is located is noted; this is the only reference to the geographical location of the taxed property. In addition to the land holdings of each property owner, the record also lists the number of slaves that each owned within the municipality.

Although these records show the amount of tax due rather than the assessed value of the property, as the assessment rolls show, the same logic applies: if the amount of tax due goes up one year for a given property and not for the other properties in the square, it is possible that a structure went up on the property.

Generally, the bills are arranged by district within the municipality, and by square number within the districts. It should be possible. in some cases at least, to find bills for individual pieces of property simply by following this district/square arrangement. Since multiple holdings are all listed together, though, this geographical approach to the records will not always be possible.
Link here for a detailed finding aid and an inventory of the records in each series


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