Georgia Family History Research
This entry was originally written by the Johni Cerny and Robert S. Davis for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
History of Georgia
Georgia was founded in 1733 to give new lives to deserving non-Roman Catholics in the New World. Despite involvements of Georgia’s founder, James Oglethorpe, with debtors’ prisons, no debtors or criminals were allowed to be sent to Georgia. Nevertheless, the myth that Georgia was a debtors’ colony or a type of Botany Bay seems impossible to lay to rest with the truth.
Trustees of the colony sent about 5,000 persons from Great Britain to Georgia, and information about most of those colonists is published in E. Merton Coulter and Albert B. Saye, A List of the Early Settlers of Georgia (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1949). Each colonist received fifty acres of land, while those who paid their own passage might have received up to 500 acres.
The Salzburgers, central European Protestants, became the first non-British group to settle in Georgia beginning in 1734. They established themselves at Ebenezer in what is now Effingham County. After Georgia became a royal province in 1753, settlers began to move in from Virginia and the Carolinas in large numbers. Other immigrants included Scots-Irish, Scots-Highlanders, and Portuguese Jews.
When the Revolutionary War began, Georgia consisted of twelve parishes (which did not function as governments, however) and a large area of ceded lands that the Cherokee and Creek Indians had yielded to the colony in 1773. Georgia’s first constitution, dated 1777, provided for the creation of Wilkes, Richmond, Burke, Effingham, Chatham, Liberty, Glynn, and Camden counties. In 1784 Washington and Franklin counties were organized. Eventually Georgia had as many as 161 counties. (Campbell and Milton counties were merged with Fulton County in 1932.) Many Georgia counties have the same names as towns not in those respective counties, causing endless confusion for researchers. For example, the city of Macon is in Bibb County and not in nearby Macon County. Other counties in Georgia, such as Houston, Randolph and Walton, have the same names as other counties no longer in existence.
The Civil War left Georgia devastated with enormous strains upon the state’s few factories and fragile railroad system. Factories and foundries of Atlanta, Griswaldville, Rome, and Roswell were completely destroyed. Millions of dollars in capital were lost by the emancipation of slaves. The soil was worn out and farm animals were gone.
The end of the war did not bring immediate recovery. Federal direct taxes added to the burden. Thousands of people, African American and white, were displaced or missed in the 1870 federal census. Economic and social pressures led to racial conflict.
The decades following the war brought Georgia its last wave of nineteenth-century migration. North Carolinians came south to take advantage of the pine forests for turpentine and naval stores. Lumber, marble, granite, coal, and kaoline became major businesses, although cotton remained “king” through the first half of the twentieth century.
Unlike the state as a whole, Atlanta itself recovered almost immediately after the Civil War as a transportation center. Today, it is still the hub of the South, with interstate roads, railways, and air travel. The growth of Atlanta has been explosive, producing two distinct parts of Georgia—Atlanta and its suburbs, as a modern, industrial, urban complex with many people born outside the state; and the rest of the state, which remains rural with declining population and wealth.