Forward from the 1920 and 1930 Censuses

Multnomah County Tax Records for Genealogists

An article written by Connie Lenzen, CGSM

for the September 2000 issue of the Genealogical Forum of Oregon’s Bulletin.

The 1920 and 1930 censuses are wonderful sources for genealogists. They are indexed. They are easy to use. They give us information on our ancestors who were living at that time.

Genealogists usually follow the admonition to "work backwards." After we locate our ancestors in 1930 and 1920, we move to the 1910, 1900, and 1880 censuses.

Sometimes it is an interesting diversion to work forward. There are valid reasons to do this. We want to learn as much as we can about the people who are in living memory. We want to know what life was like for them.

Multnomah County Property Tax Rolls

In Multnomah County, property tax rolls provide us with information about our families, and we can access these records for the years 1920 to 1975. The records are housed in the Multnomah County Public Research Room in the Multnomah Building, 501 SE Hawthorne, in Portland.

I went to the Public Research Room on the first floor to see how the system works. This room is the only place in all of the Multnomah County record offices where there actually is a person whose entire function is to help the public. The staff person knows where things are located and is willing to help people who need guidance. This is good, for the first impression one has of the Public Research Room is of rows of file cabinets and a number of microfilm machines, all crowded into a mid-sized room. Seated in front of most of the microfilm machines are employees from title companies. Occasionally, a researcher looking for information on people who are in arrears with their taxes will be there, too.

As a sample of what is in the Public Research Room, I set out to look for information on my grandfather, Joseph Stariha. He died in 1930, and I never knew him. We have only one photograph, and it was taken when he was 48 years old.

I selected the 1930 "Index to Tax Rolls" from the file drawer. The staff person can show you which file cabinet, or you can browse the cabinets until you find the right drawer. The index is alphabetical, and it was just a matter of minutes before I was looking at Joseph Stariha's name. The index said he paid tax on property in Block 34 of Council Crest Park.

The next step was to retrieve the film, "Platted Block Books" for 1930. These reels are arranged alphabetically by subdivision, so I selected the one that contained Council Crest Park. I scrolled through it until I came to the page that showed all the tax payers on block 34. I found that Joseph Stariha paid tax on lot 8, block 34, Council Crest Park, in Sections 8 and 9 in Township 1S, Range 1E.

In 1932, the value of the lot was $90. The value of the improvements [buildings] was $40. In 1933, 1934, and 1935, the lot was valued at $80, and the improvements at $40.

[Source: Film File No. 12, 1928–1931 Block Book (Assessors) Book "C1–C2 thru Block Book "F".]


Research the Neighbors

A genealogical rule is that we should research the neighbors. When we look at tax records, this is especially true. By looking at the neighbors' holdings, we can make inferences about our ancestors.

Gudrun Dahl, a neighbor, paid tax on lot 11, block 34. The lot was valued at $80, and the improvements were valued at $350. Florence Kennedy paid tax on lot 5. Her lot was valued at $100, and the improvements were valued at $380. Grandpa Stariha's lot was similar in value to Mr. Dahl’s and more valuable than Mrs. Kennedy’s. Grandpa’s improvements, at only $40, were definitely less than those of his neighbor’s. My father and my uncle told me that Grandpa Stariha built a $28 Sears Roebuck mail order house (two rooms) on the property in the early 1920s. So, it had increased somewhat in value since he built it.


Land owners in Block 34 with no improvements, meaning there were no buildings on the property, were:

Lot 1, J. C. Crutcher

Lot 2, Carl Christenson

Lot 3, Franklin Koch

Lot 4, Laman Roach

Lot 6, Gus Arff

Lot 7, G. A. Kingsley

Lot 9, Earle Chamberlin

Lot 10, G. W. Wheeler

Lot 12, Maud Chollax

Lot 13, Maud Chollax

Lot 14, State of Oregon

Lot 16, Florence Kuntz


Going backwards to 1921, the year that the Stariha family moved to Portland, I pulled the 1920–1923 Block Book. I found that lot 8 was owned by Richard Parker. From a deed made out to Grandma Stariha, I know she purchased the property from Mr. Parker in 1921. Still, the tax was charged to him through 1923.

1920: value of lot, $135; value of improvements, $20

1921: value of lot, $120; value of improvements, $20

1922: value of lot, $120; value of improvements, $40

1923: value of lot, $120; value of improvements, $40

[Source: Film File No. 69, 1920–1923 Block Book (Assessors) Book "Br–Bz" thru Book "C1–C2"]


I pulled out reel after reel and went from year to year, watching the value of the lots and improvements fluctuate with time. I could "see" the houses being built as people found this narrow street on the side of the mountain. I saw the neighbors move in; some of the names I remember. I did not find Mr. Cook, the farmer who lived down the road, unless he is the Franklin Koch in Lot 3. The search for his lot and improvements is reserved for another time; for another walk down memory lane.

Oh, yes, I found another reason for coming forward from 1920 and 1930. It is a wonderful opportunity for recollection.


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Connie Lenzen, CG

CG, Certified Genealogist, is a service mark of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by board certified genealogists after periodic evaluation, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.