- Expert Genealogy
- Editor: Jeannette Holland Austin
- Subject: Georgia Genealogical Research and History
- Delivered to Central of Georgia Genealogical Society, Warner Robins, Georgia
- Date: 19 July 2001
Probate Records Inferior Court Records
Settled by Convicts?
A Death Voyage
All emphasis in researching our ancestors lies in working with the Census and County Records. Whenever you find an ancestor in a certain county, the next step is to search the census and county records simultaneously.
Most people ask me a common question: "I found my ancestor on the 1820 or 1830 Georgia Census. Where do I look now?" The answer is to seach in all counties (and states) where persons with that surname are found. Search county and census records from State to State. Then, when you run out of census records, continue to search county records whenever your ancestors lived, or where you "think" they may have been.
After the Revolutionary War, most of Georgia's settlers came looking for land ... from Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina. Revolutionary War Veterans were taking up Land Grants in Washington, Elbert, Franklin and Wilkes Counties. The incentive was land. Always land. Even before the Revolutionary War commenced, in Virginia, the soil had long since worn out from planting tobacco crops. So, people searched for new opportunities, and found them in land grants, lotteries, and the like. Thus, these States are the most likely places to do further research.
Just a few "tips" in researching some of the most common records at your county courthouse.
Deeds. We learn the county and state where the person resided before moving. In Deeds of Gift, spouses and children are deeded land and chattels - "for love and affection", or for "$1.00 and other valuable consideration". Pay particular attention to legal descriptions. The Land Lot designations and Lot Numbers is where the property is located. At the court house you can trace from the original owner to the present-day owner by using deed indexes.
Probate. It's easy to gather information if a person left a Will, but what if they didn't? That is, what if they died intestate? A wealth of information is available in Letters of Administration, Letters of Guardianship, Annual Returns, Receipts, Sales, and Inventories. Usually, heirs were paid similar amounts of money or land. Watch for these clues as you go along. Husbands inherited in behalf of wives. When you see a person who received a similar amount to other heirs, but who had a different surname, this is a clue to go into the county's marriages and determine if this person receiving an inheritance was a son-in-law. The same thing in sales, since relatives frequently purchased items from the estate. The last Annual Return filed listed the heirs. The word "heirs" or "legatees" does not necessarily appear. However, you know this is the distribution of the estate because of the fact that people having the same surname received similar amounts.
Marriage Records. There is confusion about Georgia's marriage records. How many of you have received a number of conflicting dates on a person's marriage? This is because of the marriage record itself. The top portion of the form is the license, which contains the date of the application for the license. The lower half of the form is the ceremony, and the date of ceremony.
Tax Records. If you cannot find your ancestors anywhere, there is one certain place you can find them! They can hide from the census takers; fail to record their deeds; and not marry in the county, but they cannot avoid the Tax Collector. The Tax Digests must be researched. While you are visiting the Tax Commissioner's Office, this is a good time to acquire a county map, because such maps contains the legends of all cemeteries, both private and church. People buried their dead in a close vicinity to where they lived.
The Georgia State Archives has an extensive microfilm collection of all county records for the whole State. When you search, be certain and search every different type of county record, within the time period your ancestors were there. Remember, too, that you should research some adjoining counties, because people did frequently marry in nearby regions. The parent county should always be taken into consideration. For example, the parent county of Jackson County is Franklin; Columbia and Richmond Counties should always be searched together; Elbert and Wilkes, and so on.
History. Be aware of history while doing genealogical research. This will enable you to better plan your stragedy of where to look. Here is an overview.
From 1733-1752 Georgia was under the Trustees. To refresh you, the Trustees consisted of 32 entrepreneurs who obtained a Charter of the Colony for the purpose of making money for themselves. Their plan was to grow silk and ship it abroad. They experimented with the idea that they could take the unfortunate poor off the streets of London and turn them into worthy colonizers. Indeed! The experiment failed.
The Ann. In 1732 at Gravesend, England, a little over 100 persons met with General James Oglethorpe to board the ship "The Ann". They had been interviewed, selected and approved by the Trustees to settle Georgia. Some of them would go as charity colonists; others would pay their own passage. The following February the vessel landed in Charles Towne, South Carolina. General Oglethorpe warned them not to disembark, as they would desire to stay in the town. His words proved true, as when all subsequent vessels lay anchor in Charles Towne, South Carolinians told them that they "would starve to death" if they went to Georgia. Between 1733 and 1741, many persons did run off to Charles Towne (which makes this another area to consider researching if your ancestors fit into this time-frame).
The captain of "The Ann" refused to sail the Savannah River as he feared that the waters were too shallow. So, Oglethorpe put his passengers into flat boats, petiguas, and canoes and transported them down the Savannah River.
Settled by Convicts? I have always been told that Georgia was settled by convicts. However, only 18 families came out of Newgate Prison to become charity colonits. First, they were interviewed and deemed to be worthy prospects as colonizers.
A Death Voyage. Perhaps the assumption of convicts settling Georgia prevailed because of what happened one wintry night in January of 1734. The wharf was not yet constructed, and passengers were still docking in Charles Towne. It was bitterly cold, and high winds shoved a storm into the Georgia coast. A sloop washed ashore, near Savannah. Onboard were over a 100 persons. But there was something eerie about this particular group of passengers. Most of them were corpses, lying prostrate on the deck. Only 6 women and 34 men were alive.
No one knew where they came from; there was no passenger list. They told how yellow fever made everyone sick, and they had no food. Also, that a treacherous storm at sea had blown them into the coast. They had no personal effects and no money. They spoke the Irish dialect, and were thought to be convicts. The Overseer of the Trust Servants placed them into servitude, sending them to work for the Germans in Ebenezer, and to Hutchinson Island, which is near downtown Savannah.
Nothing but trouble came from this band of Irish. They stole, fought, and caused more aggravation than they were worth. Only three months had passed (March), when the first first murder was committed on Hutchinson's Island. An old, sick man by the name of William Wise was murdered by a woman, Alice Ryley and two brothers, Nickolas and Richard White.
In those days justice was swift. They were quickly dispatched into Savannah and place in the jailhouse, which was adjacent to one of the squares. Then, a trial was had, they were found guilty, and taken into the square to be hanged. Everyone has seen the lovely old live-oak trees in Savannah, with low-hanging branches, entwined with gray moss? The two brothers were strung up and hanged from those low branches. But the woman, Alice Ryley, was hanged from a very high limb. The reason for this is that they were afraid that the townsfolk would be upset if they saw a woman hanging.
Georgia was first settled by the English, Scots, Irish, Germans, Austrians, Italians and Swiss. Italians were recruited from the Piedmont regions of Italy to become silk winders; and experienced Germans were brought Switzerland to manage the silk.
Scottish Settlers. Oglethorpe needed a settlement and for near the southern border of Georgia into Florida, because the Spanish occupied Fort St. Augustine, and were a threat to the colonists because they frequently sent their Indians into Savannah to pillage and terrorize. England was on the brink of a trade war with England, called "The War of Jenkin's Ear". In 1733 Oglethorpe recruited a congregation of Presbyterians from the Highlands, in Scotland. They were from an area called "New Inverness". The Scots were known as excellent guerilla fighters, and would be valiant in winning the Battle of Bloody Marsh and ending the War with Spain. They settled in a region which they named New Inverness, later Darien, in McIntosh County.
Saltzburghers. By 1731, the intolerance for Protestants had improved somewhat, except for Austria, who had a new ruler, Archbishop Anton Leopold. Leopold was totally intolerant, and the first thing which he did (with the blessing of the Pope) was to issue an Edict of Expulsion of all Protestants. Overnight, their properties and monies were confiscated, and the Saltzburghers has to leave the country. For several years they travelled around Europe, finding homes for themselves. In 1734 the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge came to the rescue. They arranged for the Trustees to take settlements into Georgia. For several years afterwards, the Trustees tried to get Leopold to restore the confiscated properties, but that never happened. The Saltzburghers settled north of Savannah, in Ebenezer, Effingham County. They were hard-working, industrious persons who probably did more to promote the economy of the colony than any other group.
Frederica. Oglethorpe needed to establish a fort on St. Simons Island, and brought over from England 500 troops. A town was settled around the fort, and most of these vessels came from England. Mercantiling, lumbering and other enterprises enjoyed success on Frederica. After the war with Spain ended, the regiment left Frederica (1742). As incentives to settle, Oglethorpe offered his soldiers land grants, and those soldiers who had families remained at Frederica. What happens when the army leaves a town? The economy suffers. In 1750 an observer claimed that the town was in ruins -- but in 1755 another visitor in 1750, reported that the town had burned down. Where did they go? Most of the people secured other lands in Glynn County; while others established rice and cotton plantations in Liberty County.
The Puritans. In 1752 the Trustees surrendered the charter, and Georgia became a colony of King George. From that point on, generous land grants were offered for anyone who wished to settle, 500 acres and more. Those families who brought servants into Georgia gained thousands of acres of land as new homes.
There was a large congregation of Puritans residing in Dorchester, South Carolina (near Beach Hill). They were descendants of am embodiment from Dorchester, England, then Dorchester, Massachusetts. As the generations multiplied and their children needed their own lands, they discovered that the size of their farms were reduced. They welcomed the new opportunity for lands in Georgia. The first arrivals settled on some 21,000 acres; and the second migration on 13,000 acres, locating in Liberty County at a place they called Midway, which is half-way between Savannah and Brunswick. Here, they established a sizeable community, and profitable rice and cotton plantations. Midway Congregational Church was built (burned by the British in 1776), and across the road from it, a large cemetery. Burials began in 1752.
Sunbury. In those days, people thought that it was unhealthy to remain on the inland country during summer months. So, they built a seaport town by the name of Sunbury. Sunbury flourished as a port, receiving good from Europe, as well as some of the northern ports. Most of those who owned these lots were the Puritans. About 1800, yellow fever killed many residents, and by about 1803, a hurricane leveled the town. Today, it is privately owned, but there is still a cemetery having gravestones located nearby. Midway and Sunbury are in Liberty Clunty.
Quakers. Just before the Revolutionary War, a group of Quakers removed from Guilford, North Carolina, into a town they named Wrightsboro. This was in Columbia County (now in McDuffie County), and is located where the city of Thomson stands today. Nothing of the Quakers remains. However, one should always research Columbia and Richmond Counties when searching for the Quakers.
Cherokees. After the American Revolution, Georgia was settled by veterans of that war, which opened up Wilkes, Elbert, Franklin and Washington Counties. The first land lottery in 1805, as well as lotteries of 1820-1821 drew enthusiastic draws. During those years, families moved as quickly as land became available in central Georgia.
The 1832 Land Lottery opened up Indian lands in those counties previously occupied by Cherokees and Creeks, from counties such as Hall, Lumpkin, Forsyth, Cobb, Muscogee Counties, etc. Before this time, persons who travelled into the west Georgia counties, Alabama and Mississippi, had to obtain a Passport from the Governor.
From the beginning, there were various trading posts about the state, mostly in Augusta and Savannah. White men ran these posts, many of them had squaws for wives. Did white men take their squaws to the courthouse and marry them? Of course not! So you won't find records. At the time of the Trail of Tears in 1832 and 1833, many of these white men remained behind, allowing their wives and children to go to Oklahoma.
Just about everyone I speak to tells me that they have Cherokee blood somewhere in their family, and ask how to go forward with research. The Oklahoma Archives is replete with genealogical data, plus the University of Oklahoma. Too, don't forget to search the Dawes Rolls. The Daws Commission was established in 1898 for the purpose of dividing up tribal lands and placing title into individual ownership. In order to receive land, you had to prove that you had Indian blood. So, application was made before the Commission, which contained lots of family information. If you have a Cherokee ancestor, this is where to look first!
©2001 by Jeannette Holland Austin
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