Speaking of Census Substitutes: Georgia’s Poor School and Academy Lists, with a Jackson County Roberts Example

A while back, I posted a comparison of the 1850 federal census’ free population schedule to the 1849 through 1851 tax records for the Roberts family of Jackson County, Georgia. While doing research in the poor school and academy lists for Jackson County, I found the following record naming two children of Shiner [China] Roberts who were school-aged in 1852.

The front of this list is preceded by a brief description, “A List of Children Entitled to a participation in the poor School fund of Jackson County for the year 1852.” China and his family were then living in “District 245 Jefferson.” The columns from left to right are: “Parrents,” Males, Females, and age. The numbers directly to the right of each child’s name are the number of male and female children listed for that district.1

These lists, usually called “Poor School and Academy Lists,” are one of Georgia’s most useful but least known records sets. Georgia has a long history of supporting local schools with public funds. Before 1817, that funding applied only to county academies and institutes of higher learning, but in that year, the state began to provide funding for common or free schools aimed at educating the poor.2 In 1828, the legislature began requiring lists, returned by the clerks of each county, of the names, ages, and “sexes” of each child who was eligible to receive poor school funds.3

While not every county has extant lists, many counties do, some for several continuous years if not decades.4 Different information might be contained in each list, depending not only upon state law, but also upon local practices.

The practical applications of these lists are numerous. Not only can they serve as a substitute for missing or inadequate federal and state census records, they can also provide evidence, either direct or indirect, of parent-child relationships.

This is the case with China Roberts and his two school-aged children in 1852, both females, named on the above list for Jackson County as C. E. Roberts, age 10, and N. A. Roberts, age 8. In the free population schedule of the 1850 federal census, “Chiner” had three young girls enumerated in his household, the eldest two having attended school within the year: Elizabeth, age nine; Sarah A., age seven; and Harriet, age 5.5

Great information, but there’s just one problem: the information provided by this federal census does not directly state relationships; it only suggests them. This presents a real problem in proving connections between one generation and the next. Using Georgia’s poor school lists in conjunction with federal censuses can often provide exactly the proof desired, even in the absence of estate and land records. Both of the latter types of records are used frequently by genealogists to provide evidence of relationships, but for the poor, these records may not exist. Poor school lists, on the other hand, were designed to capture information about the very poor. It is not unusual for them to contain direct evidence of relationships, as above, yet they are often overlooked because researchers simply are not aware of them.

In the case of China’s family, an astute researcher can compare the information gleaned from federal censuses and the poor school lists, then combine it with information found (or not found) in other records to write a cogent proof argument that more fully meets the Board for Certification of GenealogistsGenealogical Proof Standard than one that uses census records alone. Ain’t that grand?

* * * * *

1. Jackson County, Georgia, Poor School Fund 1852 – 1863: 2; Probate Court, Jefferson.

2. Oliver H. Prince, A Digest of the Laws of the State of Georgia: Containing All Statutes and the Substance of All Resolutions of a General and Public Nature, and Now in Force, Which Have Been Passed in This State, Previous to the Session of the General Assembly of Dec. 1837. With Occasional Explanatory Notes, and Connecting References, to Which is Added an Appendix, Containing the Constitution of the United States; the Constitution of the State of Georgia as Amended; the Statute of Fraud and Perjuries; the Habeas Corpus Act &c. Also a Synopsis of the Local Acts, Arranged to Each County, and Classed under Appropriate Heads. With a Copious Index., 2nd Edition: 18 (Athens, Georgia: Privately published, 1837); accessed through Google Books.

3. William Dawson, A Compilation of the Laws of the State of Georgia, Passed by the General Assembly, Since the Year 1819 to the Year 1829, Inclusive, Comprising All the Laws Passed Within Those Periods, Arranged Under Titles, with Marginal Notes, and Notes of Reference to the Laws or Parts of Laws Which Are Amended or Repealed. To Which Are Added, Such Concurred and Approved Resolutions as Are Either of General, Local, or Private Nature. Concluded with a Full and Ample Index to the Laws, and a Separate One to the Resolutions.: 49 – 51 (Greensboro, Georgia: Grantland and Orme, 1831); accessed through Google Books. An act of 1823 required county academies to keep a “bound book” to record the proceedings of those institutions (Prince, p. 21). A very few lists date from 1823 to 1828, possibly because of this requirement.

4. For more information about 19th century education in Georgia, see Education in Georgia by Charles Edgeworth Jones (a circular issued by the Bureau of Education in 1889, available through Google Books) and Secondary Education in Georgia by Elbert W. G. Boogher (Philadelphia: L. F. Huntzinger Co., Inc., 1933).

5. 1850 U. S. census, Jackson County, Georgia, population schedule, Subdivision No. 45, page 29B, dwelling 435, family [blank]; digital image, Ancestry.com: accessed 10 November 2012; citing NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 74. Also enumerated in this household was Elizabeth Roberts, age 42, China’s presumed wife.

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2 Comments to “Speaking of Census Substitutes: Georgia’s Poor School and Academy Lists, with a Jackson County Roberts Example”

  1. I’ve just discovered your blog – and I must saying I’m really enjoying the information you are posting here. Might I ask where you found those Poor School Fund Records for Jackson County, Georgia? I have several lines that were in Jackson County, and I’m very interested in taking a look. The surnames involved would be Ansley, Waddel and Dean. These families were all in Jackson County starting around 1850, not positive at this moment when they actually left.
    Thanks! Karen

    • Hello, Karen, and thanks for stopping by!

      The particular poor school records mentioned in this post are located in the Probate Court in the Jackson County Courthouse in Jefferson in a volume containing records dated from about 1852 to 1863. Related documents (e.g. taxes collected for poor school use) may have been recorded within as well. The lists themselves might not be available for the entire time span covered by the volume.

      There are two other lists available for Jackson County, for the years 1834 and 1860. The originals are, I believe, at the Georgia Archives in Morrow, which also has microfilm copies in drawer 260, box 62.

      Jackson County has an excellent collection of tax records that could help you narrow down when your family lived there.

      Good luck, and keep us posted on what you find!

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