Georgia Archives

University System of Georgia

Georgia Tax Records FAQs

What are the earliest tax records available?

Mary Warren’s publication of Georgia’s Memorials for Quit Rents 1755-1775 covers practically all the colonial Georgia tax records known to survive. See Georgia Archives’ microfilm card catalog, Index to State Agency Records on Microfilm under Colonial, for location of microfilm.

Some county tax digests from 1783 until 1871 have survived. See Georgia Archives’ Index to Tax Digests on Microfilm for location of microfilm. Almost all pre-1871 tax digests known to the Georgia Archives are on microfilm.

Numerous county histories, patriotic society collections and periodicals abstract various early tax digests. Search the Archives’ book catalog, GIL available on the Georgia Archives’ home page, using keywords tax digests, for a list of publications in the Georgia Archives Reference Library.

From 1872 forward, each county was required by state law to file a copy of its tax digest with the Comptroller General, now the Georgia Dept. of Revenue. These have been transferred to the Georgia Archives. The Archives’ holdings from 1872 to 2002 are almost complete. Tax digests from 1870 through 1890 have been scanned and indexed in

How can tax records be used in genealogical research?

Tax records rarely state family relationships. Their most critical genealogical value is for establishing the jurisdictions of county governments over named individuals. This is of primary value in the years before 1820 for which practically no Federal censuses exist for Georgia. Establishing such a jurisdiction allows the researcher to consult additional county records, such as estate records and marriages.

A taxpayer’s inclusion, combined with a subsequent disappearance in the tax digests, may indicate that the individual has moved or died. This is can help researchers to narrow a date span when searching an unindexed record such as court minutes. Executors as agents of deceased property owners paid the taxes until the estate was settled. Both the agent and the name of the deceased are listed, beginning the first tax year after the death. It might take years to settle the estate, depending on the ages of the minor children or the provisions made for the widow in the deceased’s will. Key phrases such as “widow of” or “heirs of” were also used.

The poll tax is useful in determining how many males were in a household between 21 to 60 years of age, where the taxpayer paid more than one poll in the household. Sometimes, relationships can be inferred by the proximity of families with the same name, but inferences should confirmed through other records.

What is a Poll Tax?

The poll tax or head tax is a specific sum to be paid by males over 21 years of age. It is included in Georgia tax digests as early as 1785. In 1826, men over 60 were exempt from the poll tax. This tax was levied whether or not the man paying the poll tax owned property.

Formerly enslaved adult males were required to pay the poll tax beginning in 1866. As the poll tax was paid by all males between 21 and 60, tax digests are very useful for placing these individuals in a specific location in a specific year.

If a person owns land in more than one county, where do they pay their taxes?

Originally, if a taxpayer owned land (real property) in multiple counties, he could pay all property taxes in the county where he lived, regardless of where the land was located. In 1847, the law was changed to require that real property tax be paid in the county where the land was located.

How are tax digests arranged?

Tax digests are organized by militia districts, which also functioned as tax districts. Militia districts are a geographical area with a sufficient number of men of military age to form a militia company. Taxpayers are listed in rough alphabetical order within the tax district in most tax digests. From 1867 forward, taxes for African Americans or Freedmen are listed either at the end of each militia district or at the end of the digest for that year, organized by militia district.

What are defaulters?

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, 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 person actually defaulted (failed to pay their taxes).
  2. The taxpayer had moved out of or was absent from the geographical area of the militia (tax) district.
  3. 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.
  4. The person was listed as a taxpayer and a defaulter in the same district. This situation may have resulted from non-standardized spelling.

Are women included in the tax digests?

Women did not pay poll tax, so only females who owned property are included in the tax digests. Male trustees or guardians are often listed as paying for the woman named, but the woman is the property owner and responsible for the taxes. Her inclusion in the tax digest usually means she is widowed or single, since married women’s property was controlled by their husbands until the 1868 Constitution. After that date husbands often continued to act as agents for their wives.

What do the columns or headings on early tax digests mean?

By the last half of the nineteenth century, tax digests were compiled on printed standardized forms. Earlier tax digests were handwritten, and headings for the columns often appear only on the first page. If the headings are simply absent, go to the beginning of the tax digest and see if they are on the first page of the digest itself or at the beginnings of each militia district. If that is not the case, the headings were probably in a chart in the digests that is now lost.

Each heading represents a clause in the tax legislation, so an examination of the tax act in force when the digest was compiled can help identify the headings. Although the order of columns and headings was not standardized, most often the column order follows the clause sequence within the law. If the dates of the digest are very early, Ruth Blair’s Some Early Tax Digests of Georgia provides a complete transcript of digests of similar date with legible headings.

What are agents? What relationship does agent imply?

Agents are representatives for the named taxable person. No specific relationship is implied. Sometimes a neighborhood sent one person to pay everyone’s taxes and his name appears in several entries. Often a family member is an agent. When women appeared as taxable persons, a male agent usually represented them.

Are there special applications for African American research in early tax digests?

With the loss of early census records, the tax digests are useful for understanding the demography of slavery. Tax digests usually include the number of enslaved persons for which tax was paid. They can be used along with Federal Census returns for the number of enslaved persons owned by individual taxpayers. Note that in the late eighteenth century to the early nineteenth century, slaveholders on the Savannah River removed their slaves to South Carolina to avoid Georgia’s heavier rate of taxation.

Free persons of color paid a much higher tax rate, and legislation in 1818 mandated that a register of free persons of color be maintained in tax digests. The lists have a great deal of information, including the names of minors and of white guardians. These registers survive fairly frequently and have been abstracted in five volumes, Georgia Free Persons of Color, by Michael Ports (Baltimore, Md.: Clearfield Publishing, 2015).

Tax digests from 1867 listing African-American freedmen include the name of their employer, who was responsible for paying the head tax. Some counties discontinued listing the employer in the 1870s, others continued until the 1890s. From the time after the Civil War until the mid-twentieth century, tax digests are segregated by race, with African Americans appearing in a separate section either at the end of the digest or at the end of each militia district.

What is a homestead exemption?

Beginning in 1852, personal property in value up to $300 was exempt by law from taxes. The 1868 Constitution allowed each head of a family a $2000 exemption of real property and a $1000 exemption of personal property. The 1852 law was not repealed with the passage of the “Constitutional” exemption, so both were in force, called statutory homestead and Constitutional homestead. The personal property exemption allowed those who did not own land to exempt from taxation farm implements, livestock, household and kitchen furniture, crops and provisions, clothing, and firearms up to a certain dollar value. The exempt property could not be sold for nonpayment of taxes. The later “Constitutional” exemption applied to both real and personal property. The exemptions protected enough real and personal property to allow tax defaulters to make a living. The personal property exemption is sometimes referred to as a pony homestead.

Heads of household, guardians and trustees had to file a list of exempt property and its value with the County Ordinary. The record formats and the information vary widely. To locate homestead records, check the county record section of the Georgia Archives’ microfilm card catalog for county records and also check the tax drawer of the same catalog.

Why is my ancestor listed on the tax digests owning land before the date of the grant?

Land that had been surveyed for an individual was subject to taxation even though the grantee had not yet completed all the requirements to receive the land grant. Many land grants in Georgia were not made final for several years after the land had been granted by petition (bounty and headright) or by lottery draw in the land lotteries. In the land lotteries, grantees who purchased reverted lots not claimed by the original winner often did not receive their grants for years after the original lottery drawing.