Tax Digests and History Find Ancestors

Genealogy Tips by Jeannette Holland Austin

The Oconee River which ran between several counties played a major role to early Georgia settlements.

Recently I was working on a Georgia frontier family which did not appear on the census records. The Wills, Estates and Deed records did not disclose their presence.

Had I found deeds for them, then the amount of acreage listed could have been followed through in the tax digests to determine the the names of the ultimate heirs. It is only a tiny detail on the tax digest such as a creek or river, amount of acre and name of county listed, from which more iinformation can be gleaned. The tax digests found them in Greene, Putnam and Hancock Counties. No tracts of land were listed. They were carriage makers! However, a complete analysis of the tax records discerned exactly who and when was in these counties and the district in which they resided. In other words, if one has an ancestor purportedly born in 1809 Putnam County, then the 1809, 1810 and later tax digests would disclose exactly who was there. This is how one establishes the most likely scenario. Next, a topographical map and a map showing the districts will help zero in on the place of residence. In this instance, the families resided along the Oconee River which bordered the three counties. One group was on the East side of the river the other on the West side. Noteworthy is that the Oconee River was thickly inhabited by the Creek Nation.

Interestingly, the history of the area helped me out. While settlers were moving into Greene County, some Creeks were friendly while other factions raided the new settlers. By 1811 a militia company was established in the area for all males aged 21 years and over. Between 1811 and 1814 the Creeks were at war with the settlers. As the War of 1812 commenced with Great Britain, the Creeks Nation split into factions.

One group of Creek known as the Red Stick faction from the Upper Towns, argued against any more accommodation of the white settlers and opposed both land cessions to settlers and assimilation into the European-American culture. Thus, a civil war erupted in 1813 when the Red Sticks attacked the Upper Towns and slaughtered the domestic animals belonging to those Creeks who had adopted the European culture. This is when the white settlers established more militia companies and forts and all young white males in the region were required to join. The raids and attacks finally led to a full-scale massacre during August of 1813 at Fort Mims in Alabama, a decisive victory of the Red Sticks. This massacre caused the American colonists to panic.

Here again, the tax digests are important. During these years, were the ancestors listed? Were they listed among the defaulters? In other words, if they were not listed, they were probably with the militia. Thus, if you can find enough surviving tax digests, it is possible to trace the time frame more carefully.

The Georgia Militia Records at the Georgia State Archives (Card Index File) lists names of those from Greene County (for example) and the officers they served under. Some of the names I researched were listed in the militia records from 1813-1815, but not found in later records. This suggests that they probably died at the hands of the Creeks and probably during the massacre at Fort Mims. To learn more details about individual soldiers, one would have to attempt to follow each skirmish of the militia companies and its officers.

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