Last update:Monday, 23-Jun-2003 15:50:09 MDTVirginia Crilley's GAGenWeb Page

How can I find the Tax Lists?

1) Published series of GA Tax Digests for "selected years"

2) Microfilm of actual Tax Records The actual tax record contains so much more information than the "digests". Be sure to take the trouble to consult them.

3) Tax Lists on-line

  • 1852 Tax List

    What can I learn from the Tax Record?

    Water Course

    On the waters of" is a recurrent category in tax digests. The phrase does not mean that the land in question necessarily bordered on a specific waterway, but that water draining from that land eventually entered that creek or river. In other words, the land was located on the watershed of the specific waterway. These references are further compounded by the fact that early tax collectors often referred to only the major watersheds.
    Over time, minor waterways received their own name. Early tax references may indicate that the land is on a major waterway; later references may indicate a tributary that had since been differentiated by its own name. This practice gives rise to confusion for the researcher who may assume that the taxpayer has moved.

    Poll Tax

    With few exceptions, Georgia tax records of a Poll indicate the individual is male, free, white and twenty-one years old or older. In a few records, the slaves are added to the free white males, as was done in many other states. Landowners also paid the Poll Tax, but when there is no entry other than a person's name, the person named is paying only the Poll Tax.

    Certain individuals were exempt from the Poll Tax, some of which paid a higher tax for being a Professional, such as lawyers, doctors and vendue masters. Certain officeholders were exempt; the laws covering such situations varied year to year.

    Laws allowed for being excused from the Poll Tax. Such excusals are recorded in the Inferior Court records for County Purposes, as differing from Inferior Court records for Ordinary Purposes (Probate). The old, infirm, paupers, etc are found in this category. The old age varied slightly, but it was usually 55 years in Georgia.

    It was not unusual for only one member of the family to make the return for all members of the family subject to any tax, including the Poll Tax. The name of the person subject to the tax was always entered. This proves familial relationships that may not be found in any other records.


    In the year 1790, there were over 500 defaulters in Wilkes County, many of whom would never have had their names in the records had they not defaulted. Most defaulters were underage, subject to Militia duty but not qualified to vote. Most other defaulters had moved out of the district.

    A list of persons owing taxes was often included at the end of the tax digests. These lists were usually published in a local newspaper, as well. Sometimes the lists were published before the tax deadline, and are really lists of persons who had not yet filed their returns, as opposed to actual defaulters. There were several ways a person could be listed as a defaulter:

    1) The taxpayer had moved out of the geographical area of the militia (tax)
    district. (As new counties were formed, Military Districts were also divided and added)
    2) The person reported as a defaulter was under age. The captain's tax list
    was often formulated from lists of men registered for militia duty. Such
    lists included the age group 16-20, which was not subject to taxation. 
    3) The person actually defaulted. That is to say, failed to pay their taxes.
    4) The person was absent from the area. 
    5) The person was listed as a taxpayer and a defaulter in the same district.
    This situation may have resulted from non-standardized spelling.  

    Homestead Exemptions

    Georgia Tax Records FAQ

    What is a homestead exemption? Homesteads, Pony Homesteads and other designations refer to a legal concept that has evolved over time. The basic purpose of this exemption is to make a certain amount of person's property untaxable. Originally, this seems to refer to property that was necessary to maintain a person in an independent condition and to protect this critical property from creditors. These records first appear in Georgia after the 1852 act, which transformed Georgia's property tax to an ad valorum basis. They survive frequently from the late nineteenth century. These records can contain very important information for historians and for genealogists. The record formats and the information vary widely from case to case. To locate homestead records, check the county record section of the Georgia Archives' microfilm card catalog for individual counties and also check the tax drawer of the same catalog. The Homestead exemption, according to my husband the attorney, was "invented" in the Republic of Texas because so many of those who flocked to Texas (many from GA!) had lost their homes elsewhere because of debts incurred. It protected the homestead from seizure for debts as well as exempting it from some property taxes. More details about Taxes may be found in Georgia State Archives Contributed by Pam Coleman, Senior Archivist

    1922 Tax Record

    Here's another great tip from Wm Mills.
    William A. Mills"
    Last week, I was down in Dooly Co., GA, and saw the 1922 Tax Digest. I've been thru many dozens of Tax Digests over the years, so I just took a quick look thru that one. Guess what? On the first 5 or 6 pages, there was an *extensive* amount of info pertaining to Confederate Veterans. The primary reason for logging this info, was to validate their claim for tax exempt status.

    The Confederate Veteran info was very detailed, and listed the name of soldier, the unit he served with, the dates of enlistment and discharge, rank, etc. I haven't seen any Tax Digests for Houston Co., GA past the 1870s, but they may be stored away somewhere. If so, I haven't found them yet :-)

    When you go to the various Georgia courthouses in pursuit of your elusive ancestors, make sure to check some of the Tax Digests of the era around 1920. You just may find out some good info about your Confederate Veteran ancestor!

    Loose Records

    The "loose records" contain the real data. The recorded records are full of errors in initial transcription, often abbreviated, and omit essential data. An example: The recorded estate records of my gggrandfather consist of four pages in a bound book. The loose records of the same estate consist of fifty-seven pages.

    Boundaries of Militia Districts

    "Two interesting facets derived from the detailed analysis of the tax returns for the period 1785-1805 were: (a) the location of a typical boundary, and (b) the naming of watercourses. In 1785, the large districts were thinly populated and most of the settlers lived along the rivers and large creeks. Boundaries of these large districts included areas from both sides of a river or major creek. Since roads were only trails, transportation included boats to cross these natural barriers, and it was easier to form a militia company from both sides of a stream than to group those from greater distances on the same side of a stream. As the population increased and the lands between the rivers and creeks became settled, roads were laid out and built. The boundaries were then shifted to the natural barriers provided by the streams; sometimes concurrently with a division of one district into two, or two districts into three." [Incidently, Militia Districts and Taxing Districts were one and the same by law.]

    "The other facet of the analysis of returns for the period, the naming of the watercourses, can be a difficult hurdle to cross in researching land ownership. An early tax return (and survey and grant) may have located the land on the waters of a major creek or river, but later returns (and deeds) may have located the land on a minor creek or tributary of the major waterway without naming the major waterway. As more land was surveyed and granted for the expanding population, minor streams were named, providing a more specific location. Land having been surveyed was subject to taxation, whether or not it had been granted."

    Changes in the reported watercourse should be of no great concern. You will find instances where waters of two streams will be reported one year, one of the two the next year, and the other another year. I have always assumed that the land was located between the creeks, when two creeks were named. A large tract of land was usually drained by two or more creeks, even though only one was reported on the return. If we had the individual's written returns, or if we had heard the owner making his verbal return, we would know whether the Receiver made an arbitrary decision to record only one or the other, or was lazy and used dittos.     Frank Parker Hudson


    Book:Wilkes County, Georgia Tax Records By Frank Parker Hudson

    Two hard cover volumes, with Library quality binding, on 8 1/2 inch by 11 inch archival grade (acid free) paper. It includes a 204 page Index to Returns of Persons Subject To Taxation, Adjoining Landowners and Original Grantees (Or For Whom the Land Was Surveyed)

    It lists all extant tax records (over 47,000)including some which had not been microfilmed before research on this book started. Mr. Hudson has listed all data of genealogical significance found in the records.

    Over forty-five per cent of all free souls living in the State of Georgia were residents of Wilkes County in 1790.

    The area of Wilkes Co. in 1785 [quoting again here] included the area now in the counties of Wilkes, Lincoln, and Elbert; most of Oglethorpe, Madison, Taliaferro and Warren; half of Hart; and part of Clarke, Glascock, Greene, Hancock, and McDuffie Counties. Old Wilkes Co. was over 80 miles from north to south and 50 miles from east to west at its longest and widest points.

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