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Guide to Assessment Books
The City of Sydney assessed every property subject to rates within the local government area to determine their rate-able value. Rates were then levied on the properties based on these assessments.
City of Sydney assessments were carried out only every 3 to 5 years on average between 1845 and 1948. We have limited assessment books for other councils when they came within the City of Sydney boundary. A small number of books haven’t survived.
Assessment books differ from rate books. Rate books generally contain less information but can be useful for comparative purposes.
Assessment books usually contain the following information:
- An assessment book number: A property often didn’t receive the same number in successive assessments. In most books the numbers begin with 1 but for a few years the City used a single sequence of numbers across all books created for a single assessment.
- Situation: The term used for street name - usually written vertically on the left-hand side of the page.
- Street number: These weren’t generally in use before the mid 1870s. Where present they are usually recorded for one side of the street at a time. All of the odd numbers will be together, and all of the even numbers will be together.
- House name: These were not recorded in any systematic way but are more likely to appear in later books.
- Ratepayer's name: Until 1879, rates were usually paid by whoever was responsible for paying the rent on a property. After 1879, the ratepayer could be the owner or the tenant.
- Owner's name: When an owner’s or ratepayer’s name changed, the original entry was often crossed out and the new details written in.
- Property description: This is usually limited to house, cottage, hotel, shop, or factory.
- Building materials: This included a short description of the materials used in the house and the roof.
- Number of storeys and rooms: This can change from one assessment book to the next. Sometimes this may indicate construction work or it may show differences in how assessments were conducted, for example some assessors counted basements and attics as floors while others did not.
- Annual value: This is expressed in pounds. The assessed value of the property used to set the rates payable by the owner or occupier.
- Comments: This contains a wide variety of remarks, including comments on the dilapidated state of properties, the existence of a kitchen or stables, or when a property is pulled down.
- The search for this collection will only return items within the City of Sydney assessment books (all wards and all periods).
- Names may have incorrect or different spelling in different assessments.
- Assessments were conducted by ward. Check the Ward Maps in the Historical Atlas of Sydney. Locate the correct ward on the map and click on the link to the books for that particular ward. It is possible the ward changed its name and boundaries over time.
- Each book within the ward refer to 1 year only. Some early books may have multiple wards in the one book. These are bookmarked. [describe how this works when we know]
- If a street crossed over ward boundaries, parts of its assessment was recorded in a different assessment book.
- Within each book assessments are arranged street by street, then building by building, within each street.
- Assessors usually started at the northern or western end of a street and walked along the right hand side of the street from ward boundary to ward boundary. They returned to their starting point and walked along the left hand side of the street.
- Vacant land was recorded as well as buildings, and any non-through laneways. Lanes did not always have an official name. Unnamed lanes often appeared in the assessment books as ‘1 off’, ‘2 off’ the street they run off.
- Some volumes contain supplementary assessments, updating changes made in the following years prior to the next assessment. Where a supplementary assessment has been carried out, there will be a note in the remarks column with a reference to a later assessment number. The supplementary assessments, found at the end of the volume, usually record changes in ownership, major alterations or demolitions. In some cases, they will describe the property as vacant land. Supplementary assessments have not been transcribed, so they cannot be searched by keywords.
Further tips if you can't find your property
- Is your property within the local area? Check the Historical Atlas of Sydney to see how council boundaries changed over time.
- Did your street exist? An online guide to City streets and the Sands postal directory for the same year can help.
- Did your street number change? Streets were not generally numbered until the mid 1870s. Renumbering happened frequently in the 19th century. You could try working back from later assessments to find the change or look for the property in relation to cross streets or by comparing the owners and occupants in neighbouring houses if they were constant.
- Was the person the rate payer? Boarders, lodgers, subtenants, and other family members other than the owner or occupier were often not recorded.
- Did they move between assessments?
- Have you considered other spellings of their name? Or errors in spelling? If you are searching, try browsing the correct ward using the instructions above.
- Remember that there are also some gaps in the records.
Only partial records of the assessments created for 10 former municipalities now within the City of Sydney area are held. These records have not been digitised or included in the search. To check these records, you will need to make an appointment to visit the City Archives.
- Use the search (for example, for properties and names) to supplement information from the assessment books, or to cover the years after 1948.
- Valuation Lists,1949-1969 (AS-0031) from the Valuer General’s Department, record name and address of the owner/s only, changes in ownership, house names, dimensions of the property, and sale prices.
- Valuation Books, 1974-1991 (AS-0052), record name and address of owners only, changes in ownership, sale prices and dimensions of property.Check what rate and valuation records we hold for the former (pre 1949) municipalities of Alexandria, Camperdown, Darlington, Erskineville, Glebe, Macdonaldtown, Newtown, Redfern, Paddington and Waterloo. Many of these are not digitised.
- Sands postal directory (1858-1933)
- Other postal directories
- Dove’s Plans of Sydney (1880) and the Fire Insurance Plans (1916-1940s) – these show the City area block by block, including street numbers and the names of buildings and businesses. These are available in the Historical Atlas of Sydney.