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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in November 2013. It is an excerpt from their course US Court Records by C. Ann Staley, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Those of us, who exercise our right to vote as United States citizens in good standing, recall the process. Although, as with just about every other court process we’ve discussed and will discuss, the procedures differ slightly from state to state. Today, computerized sheets listing registered voters afford the voting monitors a ready check list. Before computerized lists, the monitors frequently wrote in the name of the voters in each voting district.
In some states voter registration books (lists) may not be considered permanent records. Several years ago, the officials of Pickens County, Georgia, decided to trash the voters’ registration books for the first forty years in 1900. Fortunately, one of the local historical society members saw the pile of trash on the curb and salvaged the voter registration volumes. In this instance there were numerous thin volumes in 1913-1914, one for each Militia District (the militia district corresponds, also, to the voting precinct).
- Sample page from Voters Oath for 1098 District of Pickens County, Georgia
Tax records are another of the underused court records that can be extremely helpful in sifting out men with the same name in the same location, providing clues for when a free white male reaches the age of majority, and indicating death or removal from the community. Of course, the tax laws change from time to time and place to place and we need to study the laws—remember the session laws.
When studying the laws, we need to be diligent about studying the vocabulary as well as the laws. In Georgia, for example, a defaulter was an individual who failed to turn in a report of his taxable property by the specified deadline, while a delinquent was an individual who failed to pay the taxes due. In other areas a defaulter may have been an individual who failed to pay the taxes due.
In some states, personal property and occupational taxes are recorded with the real estate taxes, while in others the personal property and real property taxes are recorded on different forms and books.
In some locations young men will first start paying a poll tax when he reaches the age of majority (that may have been age 21). At this time he is typically only paying a “poll” tax. A poll tax (sometimes called a head tax) is levied on a person (generally a free white male, a free person of color, or a slave) rather than on property. Older men were sometimes exempt from paying a poll tax—perhaps at the age of sixty.
Tax digests are also useful in learning about the environment and social issues of our ancestors. The State Legislature frequently passed acts or resolutions for the benefit and relief of a county. A special tax might be levied in a county (or town) for the construction of a public building such as a courthouse or a jail; to provide for the indigent families of soldiers; or to help support public health issues.
On the fifth of December 1805, the Georgia legislature passed an act:
| To authorise [sic] the justices of the inferior court of the county of Greene, to lay an extra tax for the purpose of erecting a court-house and jail, and establishing the site thereof in the town of Greensborough. |
Greene County Goal, Greensborough, Georgia
The Georgia legislature frequently authorized the collection of extra taxes for the purpose of suppressing disease or other community health problems. The Georgia general assembly included the following in their tax code for 1836.
|...And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That the sum of eleven hundred and thirty dollars and ninety-eight and three-fourth cents, be, and the same is hereby appropriated out of any monies not otherwise appropriated, to defray the expenses incurred, in suppressing the small-pox, in the counties of Troup and Heard ...|
Local newspapers will also carry time announcements about the taxes due each year (see Figure 3.6).
Early Tax Laws
The series of books called The First Laws of the State of [NAME OF THE STATE] provide insight into the early tax laws of each state. For example The First Laws of the State of Rhode Island contains twelve pages of tax codes for the state of Rhode Island.
Depending upon the size and structure of state and local governments, coroner’s records may be maintained at any of the three levels—municipal, county, or state. For states with small population there may not be county coroners—only a state medical examiner’s office (coroner’s office).
As early as 1788, an ordinance required the governor to appoint a coroner for each county in the Northwest Territory.
During the twentieth century, the job of the coroner changed dramatically—the amount of information collected and reported varied proportionately. Prior to World War II, all deaths did not require involvement by the coroner. The coroner, however, was usually involved when death occurred by accident or homicide (any unnatural cause).
Tax Notice, The Georgia Express, 10 September 1808
On the 7th of August 1879, a coroner’s inquest was held in Clarke County, Georgia regarding the death of Ella Wilson and her child. The following is the testimony of witnesses.
Isaac Harrison “colored” being sworn: says.
I arrived at the house of deceased, about half past twelve or one oclock. Was in the habit of going there when working in the vicinity, to take my dinner. She Ella Wilson did not seem to be in any pain at the time. Milly Johnson, “colored” a supposed mid-wife was in the house. I knew nothing about her as a mid-wife. Had very little acquaintance with her any way. Did not know whether she practiced as midwife or not. Saw her (Milly Johnson) give her (Ella Wilson) a razor. Razor was open at the time. Knew the cutting would kill her. Told her it would. Used every means to prevent it by advice. Was not in the room at the time of cutting. Am positive that the razor was given to her by Millie Johnson. Deceased never said anything about being cut. Do not believe she was in her right mind. Could not understand any-thing she said. Was called in after the cutting and then learned from Milly Johnson’s information that she had cut her self. I am sure the razor was open when handed to the deceased. Millie Johnson “colored,” midwife, being sworn, says. One of the children came after me about 8 or 9 oclock. I did not want to go. Was very reluctant in attending the case. On my arrival the patient moaned and seemed anxious to be out of pain. She asked for a razor to relieve herself. Do not know where she got the razor. Would not look at her using it. Did not see the cut. Was present and assisted at the delivery of the children. Children were born through the natural channel, not through the cut. The razor just now shown me is the one used. I washed it and put it back in the trunk. ...
Milly Johnson gave additional testimony. Other witnesses called were the deceased’s husband, James Wilson; a neighbor, Elisabeth Strickland; the deceased’s daughter, Alice Wilson; and Dr. J. B. Carlton. After hearing from all the witnesses, the jury brought forth the following verdict:
| We, the Jury, find that Ella Wilson (colored) came to her death by a wound in the abdomen, inflicted with a razor. The deed was done while in the agonies of labor and supposed to be done by her own hand she having been furnished with the razor by a colored midwife named Millie Johnson. |
For another example of a coroner’s record, see the California, San Francisco County Records, 1824-1997 database and images at the FamilySearch website. If you can “View Images in this Collection”, you will be able to browse an individual record category, such as “Coroner’s Records”.
For additional information regarding the coroner’s records see:
Davis, Mark Andrew. “The Use of Coroner’s Records as an Alternative to Death Certificates.” WOODWARDs WeSearch 9 (April 2001).
- ↑ Acts of the General Assembly of the State of Georgia, Passed in Milledgeville at an Annual Session in November and December, 1836, Volume 1, viewed online 27 December 2004, "Georgia Legislative Documents" database on Galieleo.
- ↑ The First Laws of the State of Rhode Island (Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1983), 407-419.
- ↑ The Georgia Express, Athens, Georgia, 10 September 1808.
- ↑ Coroner's Inquest into the death of Ella Wilson's (colored) and her child, 7 August 1879, Coroner's Book, 1877-1880, Superior Court, Clarke County, Georgia; Georgia Archives micropublication drawer 102, box 30. The testimony for this case may be read in its entirety the Woodward-Geiger.com website.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course US Court Records
offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.
- This page was last modified on 17 September 2014, at 18:50.
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