Paul K. Graham

Certified Genealogist SM

Accredited Genealogist ®

Understanding the 1805 Georgia Land Lottery Registration

Originally published in the Georgia Genealogical Society Quarterly 40, no. 3 (Fall 2004), pps. 171-173.

Almost every family history researcher working with early 1800s Georgia records has consulted the book 1805 Georgia Land Lottery, a transcription of the list of participants in the 1805 Georgia Land Lottery. The list contains the names of approximately 25,000 people and represents the vast majority of heads of households in the state in 1802. Since almost all of Georgia’s pre-1820 census records were lost or destroyed, the transcription and the underlying original records are widely used as a census substitute by genealogists. Because of the significant nature of this record, researchers who use it must be aware of the omissions, inconsistencies and errors that exist in both the original list and the published transcription.

The Lottery Act of 11 May 1803 instructed interested eligible citizens to register for the land lottery with the justices of the Inferior Court of their county between May 1803 and 1 March 1804. At the end of the registration period, every county list was sent to the Georgia Executive Department and one copy was maintained in each county’s Superior Court. Once all the county lists were received by the state, they were transcribed into one master list spanning four volumes. The compiled list, the official list of participants for the 1805 Georgia Land Lottery, is known as the List of Persons Entitled to Draws.

The List of Persons Entitled to Draws is organized by first letter of last name, then by county of residence. It is not sorted in pure alphabetical order. Many entries include information establishing relationships (“widow of John”) and identifying occupations (“schoolmaster”). The list is numbered sequentially, restarting at 1 at the beginning of every letter group. The number assigned to each entry has been called the “serial number,” “draw number,” and “prize number,” but contemporary documents only refer to the “number.” At the land lottery drawing in Louisville during July and August 1805, the names were read from the four books in order while the associated prize and blank tickets were pulled from the lottery wheel. The result of each draw, a “B” (Blank) or “P” (Prize), was written by the participant’s name. In all subsequent lotteries, the names were written on tickets instead of books and drawn from a lottery wheel at the same time as the prize tickets.

Using the List of Persons Entitled to Draws

To effectively use and interpret the List of Persons Entitled to Draws, researchers must be aware that land lottery registration was voluntary and that spelling and name errors are common. Unlike census and tax records, registration for all the land lotteries was voluntary and required payment of a registration fee of 12.5 cents per draw to the county Inferior Court. Many eligible citizens did not participate. Historical documents rarely allude to non-participants, but there appear to be three primary reasons for any lack of participation: religious objections to gambling, general apathy toward the process, or, because it was the first lottery, lack of education and awareness of the process and its potential economic benefits. Many established residents can be found in county records during the 1790s and early 1800s but not in the List of Persons Entitled to Draws.

Like census and tax records, spelling errors occur frequently. Basic name spelling variations familiar to researchers exist throughout the list. In addition, many names were entered incorrectly. For example, William McClenne appears in the list of participants as a fortunate drawer, but he was forced to petition the governor to issue the land grant to William McKinney, his real name. Also, some names were entered in reverse order. For less common names, it is useful to look for a person’s given name recorded as the surname. All name corrections are available for fortunate drawers who received a grant from the state, but no information is available for participants who drew blanks or who did not obtain a grant. Based on the number of fortunate drawers who corrected the spelling of their names, as much as two percent of the entire list may contain these two types of serious errors.

Using 1805 Georgia Land Lottery

Because the List of Persons Entitled to Draws is not sorted in pure alphabetical order, the book 1805 Georgia Land Lottery is a convenient reference widely used by genealogists. The book is sorted alphabetically by name and also contains cross references to named individuals that appear in supporting roles throughout the list, such as relatives and guardians. Unfortunately, it contains some mistakes that limit its usefulness, including many minor transcription errors and a few major omissions.

Each entry in 1805 Georgia Land Lottery contains the participant’s name, their county of residence, descriptive remarks, their “serial number,” and the result of each draw (“B” or “P”). Many names are not spelled the same as in the original record, but the spirit of the name is maintained in all but a handful of entries. Most descriptive remarks are correct, but some are missing entirely, and “serial numbers” and county names are occasionally incorrect. The column of “B’s and P’s” also includes errors, sometimes showing a Blank instead of a Prize or a Prize for a Blank. In addition to these problems, given names and middle names were reversed in the transcription, so that “Benjamin Stephen Bates” and “William R. Glenn” on the original list appear as “Bates, Stephen Benjamin” and “Glenn, R. William” in the publication. This appears to have occurred because all the names are written in reverse order in the original list, for example, “Bates Stephen Benjamin” and “Glenn R. William.”

In addition to these errors, seven major mistakes have so far been identified. In three locations, a total of four pages of the original record were omitted from the transcription. Also, in four locations and five pages, the county of residence was transcribed incorrectly for a series of entries. Separate from the Wood transcription, one page of M’s from Jackson County is missing from the original record and at least one page was missed during microfilming.

An upcoming publication titled 1805 Georgia Land Lottery Fortunate Drawers and Grantees, by this author, will document the record of each lot distributed in 1805 and will address spelling errors and omissions as they relate specifically to fortunate drawers. A revised, verified version of the List of Persons Entitled to Draws is also currently in progress.

The 1805 Land Lottery List of Persons Entitled to Draws plays an important role in early Georgia genealogy research by establishing the county of residence for most of the state’s heads of household in 1803. However, because of the voluntary registration process and serious spelling errors, many researchers are unable to locate known residents in the original list. In addition, the published transcription contains many errors, including the omission of at least four pages. Like early census records, the List of Persons Entitled to Draws should be used primarily as a guide, and should only be used as proof when drawn on to substantiate facts contained in other contemporary records.

Sources:

Wood, Virginia S. and Ralph V. Wood. 1805 Georgia Land Lottery. Cambridge, Mass.: Greenwood Press, 1964.

Georgia Surveyor General. List of Persons Entitled to Draws, 1805 Land Lottery. RG 3-5-21. Georgia Archives.