Historic Georgia laws

Reader Gay Solomon has one of those questions for The Legal Genealogist: where do we find the laws?

“An unmarried man died in Georgia in 1832,” she writes. “His estate (personal property–no real) was evenly divided amongst his siblings (some in Georgia and some in Virginia), but his living parents (who were in Virginia) do not appear to be included in the division. Where can I find laws pertaining to this situation?”

With a truly peachy website — and, no, I won’t apologize for the pun1 — the University of Georgia School of Law makes it easy to give an answer to the direct part of the question: “Where can I find laws pertaining to this situation?”

It offers an online click-through-to-the-resource collection of “all of the various versions of the laws of Georgia beginning ‘from its first establishment as a British province’ through the Code of 1933 which remained in effect until 1981.” And you can find these “Historic Georgia Digests and Codes” as part of the UGA Law Library’s Digital Commons here.2

Georgia law

The collection begins with the 1799 Watkins Digest of Statutes, and includes 14 digests and compilations preceding the Georgia Code. It then has the 1860 Code, and nine codes or supplements leading up to the last item, the 1933 code.

Each item listed is a clickable link. Click on, say, the 1846 Cobb’s (Howell) Analysis of Statutes and the page that then opens provides the publication date, description (“Analysis of the statutes of Georgia, in general use, with the forms and precedents necessary to their practical operation, and an appendix, containing the Declaration of independence; the articles of confederation of the state of Georgia; General Washington’s Farewell address, and the naturalization laws passed by Congress”), publisher, publication city, comments, recommended citation and two more key elements:

• Downloadable PDFs of the volume or volumes (in this case five files in all)

• An embedded version of the volume itself as digitized on Internet Archive

So with the first option you can download the files and keep them on your hard drive. With the second option, you can either read through the volume on the UGA website or, by clicking on the link at the bottom right to make the volume full screen, go to Internet Archive and use all the search tools of that book service to read and search within the book there.

Cool.

That’s the “where is the law book” answer. An easy peachy answer.

Where is the specific law itself that tells us who got the estate? Um… that’s not so easy.

Because the indexing for the question of who gets an estate when a person died without a will (intestate) and without leaving a spouse of children is really goofy in some of these volumes. Inheritance? Nope. Intestate or intestacy? Nope. Estates, yeah but not helpful. Distribution, ditto.3

And why aren’t these entries helpful? Because the volumes aren’t always cumulative so, for example, a compilation in 1831 might only include laws passed from 1819 to 1829, and none of the earlier laws.4

And because the statute itself, when you find it, has a goofy name: “An Act To amend An Act, entitled ‘An Act to carry into effect the sixth section of the fourth article of the Constitution, touching the distribution of intestate estates, directing the manner of granting letters of Administration, letters Testamentary, and Marriage Licenses’, passed the 23rd day of December, 1789.”5

And what it says, in cases where the intestate dies without spouse or child, is:

• The whole estate goes to the next of kin “in equal degree, and their representatives; but no representation shall be admitted among collaterals, further than the child or children of the intestate’s brothers and sisters.”6 In other words, if their parent is deceased, then nieces and nephews get a share, but if those nieces or nephews are deceased, then grand nieces and nephews don’t.

• Next of kin are to be figured by the rules of consanguinity, that is: “children shall be nearest parents, brothers and sisters shall be equal in respect to distribution, and cousins shall be next to them.” In other words, kids first; siblings second; cousins third.7

• Mama gets nothing unless Papa is dead and even then if she’s remarried, she gets nothing, and if it’s the last surviving child, she gets nothing.8 Sigh… we won’t get into the issue of how women were treated under the law today…

• Papa, if alive, gets an equal share with the brothers and sisters.9

So… Papa, if living, should have gotten a share. Why he didn’t — well, that’s for Gay to figure out.

Just peachy, isn’t it?


Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Just peachy…,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 22 May 2020).

SOURCES

  1. You do know that Georgia is the Peach State, right? See “GeorgeInfo: Peaches,” Digital Library of Georgia (https://dlg.usg.edu/ : accessed 22 May 2020).
  2. Historic Georgia Digests and Codes,” Digital Commons, University of Georgia Law School (https://digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/ : accessed 22 May 2020).
  3. See index, William C. Dawson, editor, Compilation of the Laws of the State of Georgia (Milledgeville, Ga. : Grantland & Orme, 1831); digital images, Internet Archive (https://archive.org/ : accessed 22 May 2020).
  4. See ibid.
  5. “No. 145, Laws of Georgia… 1804,” in Augustin Smith Clayton, compiler, A Compilation of the Laws of the State of Georgia… 1800, to the year 1810 (Augusta, Ga.: Adams & Duyckinck, 1812), 193; digital images, Internet Archive (https://archive.org/ : accessed 22 May 2020).
  6. Ibid., at 193.
  7. Ibid., at 194.
  8. Ibid., at 193-194.
  9. Ibid.
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