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Researching Black records of Houston Co., GA.
By William Mills

 

In the Sunday Macon Telegraph newspaper (1 Feb 2004) there was an article regarding the Black records of Houston Co., GA, implying that there was hardly any available to research, and almost none published.  Being that this is Black History month, I feel that I should respond to this.

Any person who wants to research their Black ancestry, has an extensive amount of court records available to research, if they want to take the time to do it.  And, if they want to really get involved in a County-wide project, they can apply for a R.J. Taylor Foundation grant and publish what they find regarding these Black records.

Here is where many of these records are:

1. Wills: Since many Blacks were slaves prior to 1865, they are listed in the Wills of many Whites of the county.  They will be listed by name, and often age.

2. Appraisements & Sales:  If a person died without a Will, the names of slaves and their ages are often listed as the assets of those who died intestate (without a Will).

3. Annual Returns: Until an estate was settled, various items that were sold during the year to pay off debts, were listed.  This may include either the sale of a slave or the leasing of them.

4. Inferior Court Minutes:  Almost all action that wasn't contested (Equity suits) is listed here, which included many mentions of Blacks and their children ... by name and age, usually.

5. Free Persons of Color:  All Black persons in this county, were not slaves prior to 1865, although many were.  This book lists these Free Persons of Color.

6. Apprenticeship Records: After the abolishment of slavery in 1865, many orphans and Black children became apprentices, and their names and ages are recorded here.  However, in many cases, this was more or less "legal slavery", as their trade was "learning farming" or "learning housekeeping".

7. Equity Records:  Whenever something was contested regarding a Will, it was appealed to the District Court.  Usually, slaves were involved if a wealthy person died, and their names and ages are listed here.

8. Capital Crime Cases: This is where a "word for word" transcript of these trials are recorded.  There are about 4 or 5 of these record books at the courthouse, but I don't believe they have been microfilmed yet.  In many of the cases, either a Black is involved, or is called as a witness.

9. Houston Home Journal: Since 1870, this legal organ of the county, printed massive amounts of information about both Whites & Blacks.  However, it will take a LOT of time to review these back issues, which are available now on microfilm.

10. Census Records: After the Civil War, the first Federal Census is the 1870 one.  Blacks are listed by name, age and race.  This is usually the end of the trail for most who are researching their Black ancestry.  However, by researching the other mentioned records, further progress can be made.

11. Marriage Records: Starting in 1865, Black Marriages were recorded in this county.  Supposedly, they were listed in their own record books, apart from the Whites.  However, this is not the case in Houston Co., GA.  Although the Record Books may say "Colored" on them, well over half of the marriages listed within them, are Whites.  Somehow, the unbound records were mixed up, which is somewhat ironic.

During the early 1960s, when the GA Archives was microfilming the Vital Records, they omitted filming these "Colored Marriages".  This in effect, has hindered the research of over 12,000 marriage records.  Only about 25% of White Marriages are recorded in the books that say "White Marriages".  Since these White Marriage records have been compiled and published, this has led many researchers to believe that they can't find their Houston Co., GA ancestor's marriage record.  As of the present time, these over 12,000 marriage records have not been microfilmed.  The only extant record is the original at the courthouse.

12. Deed Books: Often times, the sale of a slave was recorded in the Deed Books, to provide an official record of the sale.  After the Civil War, sales of mules, hay, etc. were also recorded, and if a person was Black, it was usually noted.

As I stated above, there are a LOT of records available for pursuing Black genealogical research.  However, almost none of it has been compiled and published.  The door is wide open for any ambitious persons who would like to change this situation, and to help their fellow researchers

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