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Our ancestors and the Tax man

Ever since Sweden became the country it is today and perhaps even earlier, taxes have been a burden for the people. Originally taxes were levied only on farm-owners, while the nobility and the clergy were exempt from taxes.

Taxes in the old times were not paid in cash. Instead they were paid in kind, for example in butter and flour in the province of Västergötland, in iron in the mining regions of Bergslagen and even in dried pike in the province of Ångermanland. In addition the taxpayers had to put in so many days of labor at the nearest royal estate. Gradually, however, taxes came to be paid in cash.

Just as we have it today, taxes in past centuries were of different kinds. The farmer not only had to pay the yearly fee (årliga räntan) which also was called the base tax (grundskatten), which was levied on the means of his subsistence – the land – but he also had to pay a tithe (10 %) on everything he harvested. In the beginning of this century these taxes were changed and were called income taxes and a tax on one´s wealth (förmögenhetskatt).

A tax on dogs in the 18th Century
Today´s luxury taxes are not a modern invention. Already in the 18th century King Gustaf III levied taxes on dogs, tobacco and alcoholic spirits, three well-known objects of taxation even today.

From the beginning of the 17th century there was also a head tax (mantalspenningen), which was to be paid by practically all healthy adults. Exempt, however, were members of the nobility, their servants and soldiers. This tax was eliminated as recently as 1938.

Real property deed books since the 16th Century
In order to be sure that all taxes were paid the Swedish Government had to keep strict records. Deed books for all farms which paid taxes are preserved all the way back to the 16th century and since 1630s tax lists (mantalslängder) have been made up for all persons in a taxable category.

In 1571 and 1613 Sweden levied a special tax in order to redeem the fortress of Älvsborg, near Göteborg, on Sweden´s west coast, which the Danes in their frequent wars with Sweden had captured and had held for ransom. Our oldest tax lists cover these two special assessments.

Tax lists are very important to genealogists. They reveal much how our ancestors lived, the milieu in which they moved and in many ways they complement the material to be found in the parish records.