Rates assessments can tell you a lot about the owners and renters of land. The content varies between councils and over time but at the very least you can see who is living in the property, the type of building, and the value of the land and improvements. You can check subsequent books to trace changes in ownership and tenancy over time.
This information is particularly useful for the early 1800s if your ancestors were not eligible to be enrolled to vote, either for property or gender requirements, or the early electoral rolls have been lost. They can also help in tracing land ownership for pre-Torrens Title land where Old System deeds have to be found one at a time.
The image above has been taken from the City of Sydney Council Rates Assessment books 1845-1948. These books have been transcribed and indexed, so that you can search for a surname or street name, and bring up a list of results. When you click on a result you get a transcription of the page, and if you scroll further down the page you can see an image of the original page. The little square in the middle of the page is the magnifying glass that hadn’t yet opened.
Even back then in 1848 we could see the name of the resident and the name of the owner. In those days the occupier was responsible for paying council rates, and so both are listed. We can see the type of building; what it was made of; what the roof was made of; and the number of floors and the number of rooms.
City of Sydney Council Rates Assessment books 1845-1948 transcriptions and images are here –> http://www3.photosau.com/CosRates/scripts/home.asp
Newtown Rates and Assessments 1863-1892 (transcriptions only) are here –> http://www.sydneyarchives.info/rate-books
For the Newtown books you need to know which Ward your street was in. There are maps to help you identify the Ward. You can then select the book for the Ward and the year you want and search the PDF yourself.
Some tricks to be aware of:
- House numbers Most properties did not have house numbers in the 1800s. The house number column in the assessment books refers to the number of the house in the book, not in the street.
- Street names may have changed since the books were compiled, particularly in the inner cities.
- Surnames may be spelled differently from one year to the next, and given names may not always be shown. Tenants’ names may be less than informative, with names such as ‘Bob the Jew’.
Most local councils have kept their rates assessment books, although they probably don’t go back as far as this. They may have been microfilmed and made available at your local library, or they may have been deposited with State Records NSW. If State Records or the local library doesn’t have them check with the council.
Image: Sydney City Council Archives, CSA027377-056, 1848 Sydney Place.