More Birmingham records have now been digitised and made available on Ancestry.com – free to access within Birmingham libraries. The latest collection consists of 340 Rate Books with coverage dates from 1787 to 1913 although most date from the late 19th and early 20th century. They should prove a useful source of information for both family and local historians as they provide name and address details which complements those found in other sources such as decennial censuses and Street Directories. And one can use them to establish whether their ancestors were tenants or property owners whilst the rateable value of the property can be used to gauge the status of the occupant.
If an extended run of rate books has survived, they can potentially provide useful genealogical information where a number of generations have been recorded.
Rate books contain lists of owners and/or tenants with an assessment of the value of their property and the amount of the ‘rate’ set for a particular period of time. Rates were a tax or levy collected at a local level for a variety of purposes. The 1601 Act for the Relief of the Poor established the principle of compulsory rating and its use was gradually extended to cover other local purposes such as highways, sewers, lighting, and gaols. Later in the 19th Century various Acts of Parliament were passed to enable rates to be imposed for works which would benefit the community such as the 1845 Museum Act, the 1847 Baths and Wash-houses Act and the 1850 Public Libraries Acts.
The early books in the collection relate to individual parishes who were responsible for both the collection and distribution of the poor rate but following The Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 it united parishes into unions and it became the responsibility of the Union to collect the revenue even though the individual parishes still administered the distribution to their resident paupers.
The collection can be searched by name of either the occupier or owner of the property or you can opt to browse through the rate books for a particular year and location. The first page in the rate book will help to identify the type and purpose of the rate in each book.
It should be noted that the current release on Ancestry does not comprise our entire collection of rate and levy books which are still available to view (mainly on microfilm) by prior appointment in the Wolfson Centre. These include many early rate and levy books for the Parish of Birmingham dating back to 1736.