Table of Contents
- 1How This Guide Can Help You
- 2Why People Need Access to Public Records in Georgia
- 3What Are Public Records?
- 4Public Records Laws in Georgia
- 5Background Checks
- 6Jail and Prison Records
- 7Court Records
- 8Sex Offender Records
- 9Missing Person Records
- 10Property Records
- 11Will, Estate and Probate Records
- 12Unclaimed Property Records
- 13Voter Registration Records
- 14Driving Records
- 15Vital Records
- 15.1Birth Certificates
- 15.2Marriage Certificates
- 15.3Divorce Decrees
- 15.4Death Records and Certificates
Almost everyone at some point needs to search for and find public records in their state of residence. Thankfully, Georgia law empowers you with the right to search for and access public records maintained by any local, county, or state government institution.
Searching for public records is your right as a citizen of the United States and a resident of Georgia. Access to public records is one of the features of a democratic form of government, in which the people are the government.
Of course, there are some records that are restricted and public access to them is limited. You would not want jut anyone searching your personal financial records or your tax returns, just as you would not want just anyone to have access to state secrets.
As a result, Georgia law and federal laws in the United States are designed to balance the ideals of free and open government with the promises of privacy, public safety, and the protection of sensitive data.
How This Guide Can Help You
This guide is designed to help you search for and find public records in the State of Georgia as efficiently as possible.
Whereas ten or twenty years ago it was not as easy to conduct public records searches in Georgia, the ongoing digitalization of public records files and more streamlined central databases is making it easier.
However, there are still some roadblocks you may encounter and impediments to finding what you need. Instead of getting frustrated, you can now rely on this handy guide to help you find public records in Georgia.
Why People Need Access to Public Records in Georgia
Perhaps you are applying for a job and your employer needs to conduct a background check. Or maybe you are that employer and want to find out if any applicant or current employee has a criminal record you need to know about.
Public records also include records of public meetings, such as city council meetings or proceedings of the state legislature.
Records related to current inmates in state correctional institutions can also be searched because these are public records: records that are created and maintained by a publically-funded government agency, bureau, or institution.
By law, some employers are required to request criminal background checks. This is true for people who are applying for jobs in the childcare sector, in education, in elder care, and in other fields involving potentially vulnerable populations like the elderly.
You may also be requested to release your own public records. Let’s say you are applying for membership into a professional organization or for citizenship to another country. In cases like these, you need to know how to quickly and effortlessly access Georgia public records.
Likewise, if you are getting a legal name change, getting divorced, or disputing a will in your family you may need to access public records in the State of Georgia.
Did you also know that many people leave behind a substantial amount of cash that is just sitting there in dormant bank accounts or unclaimed wages? The State of Georgia maintains unclaimed property records, which any authorized individual may access. This guide will show you how to access these types of public records in Georgia.
What Are Public Records?
Public records include any document, image, multimedia file, court proceeding, or data that is created or managed by an institution or agency that is paid for by taxpayer money.
That is, any state department or any federal department or agency is legally obliged to keep records, and to issue them upon request to authorized parties.
Some quasi-governmental institutions, and even some private organizations that do business with the government may also be required to present their records to the government agencies they work for, so that their work becomes part of the public record.
The public has the right to know. You have the right to know.
Public records include your vital records, such as your birth certificate. Likewise, if you ever went to court or have a criminal conviction, the court records and criminal records are part of the public record in Georgia.
The proceedings of legislative meetings are also part of the public record, because a free and transparent government is a government that is responsive to the needs of the people.
Public Records Laws in Georgia
The Georgia Open Records Act is the most important state-level law governing most matters related to public records access in the state of Georgia.
Related to the Georgia Open Records Act is the Georgia Open Meetings Act, which requires that all government meetings—at local or state levels—be open to the public.
Like most states, Georgia also has what are known as Sunshine Laws. Georgia Sunshine Laws promote and protect the principle of open government by mandating that all government agencies make their records available when necessary.
More information about both the Georgia Open Records Act and the Georgia Open Meetings Act, including how to submit formal requests, can be found on the website of the Georgia State Attorney General’s office.
While you do need to contact the appropriate state or local agency to find the records you are looking for in Georgia, you can use this online form when you make your formal request.
Not all requests for public records in Georgia will automatically be granted.
While anyone has the right to file a request, you may get turned down for several reasons.
One of the most common reasons for having your public records request turned down is that you did not provide the appropriate information needed. This guide will help you avoid making this mistake, by informing you about the appropriate identification and fees you may need when submitting your formal request for public records.
Another reason why a public records request may be turned down, even if you did provide the necessary information, is that some records are sealed or are simply exempt from being defined as “public.”
The State of Georgia does make it clear what records are exempt from public records laws, such as juvenile records or military discharge records.
Any records containing trade secrets, national or state security secrets, or personal financial data and other sensitive information may not be included as public records even if they are on file at a government agency.
How Do I Find….
Criminal history records and background checks are among the most commonly searched for public records in the State of Georgia.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation manages a database of criminal history records, but you can also search for those records through any local law enforcement agency.
With the person’s name and date of birth, you can access almost anyone’s criminal history in the State of Georgia.
Exceptions to what constitutes criminal records in the State of Georgia would be juveniles, whose records are protected. Therefore, if you want to conduct a background check on a person sixteen years of age or younger, you might not be able to find what you are looking for.
Not all types of criminal records are made public, but all felony records are because felony records tend to be the ones most relevant to employers, landowners, or anyone with a vested interest in their safety or public safety.
Any person in Georgia is entitled to search for any felony records processed in the State of Georgia.
You just need the person’s name and date of birth, and to pay a small fee. As of the publishing date of this guide, the fee for processing a criminal background check in the State of Georgia through the Georgia Technology Authority is only $15.
Pursuant to O.C.G.A. §35-3-34 (d.2), public access will be granted, without the consent of the convicted felon, in the interests of public safety and the right to know.
Jail and Prison Records
Through the Georgia Department of Corrections, you may locate any inmate serving a sentence in a state prison or jail.
You may want to search for an inmate in order to send money, or to find a friend or loved one who is incarcerated.
Victims also have the right to know the status of an offender.
The Georgia Department of Corrections maintains a map of all facilities including private prisons.
However, persons who are serving time in a municipal, county, or local jail may not be included in the Georgia Department of Corrections databases.
Therefore, you will need to contact the Georgia county directly.
You can even search for a person’s pardon or parole status easily by visiting the State Board of Pardons and Paroles.
You may want to search for pardon and parole status of a friend or loved one. Alternatively, victims have the right to know the pardon or parole status of an offender, in order to protect themselves.
Georgia’s court system is divided into several jurisdictions.
The State of Georgia has the following types of courts, all under the rubric of the Judicial Council of Georgia:
- Municipal Courts
- Magistrate Courts
- Probate Courts
- Juvenile Courts
- Superior Courts
- State Courts
The Judicial Council of Georgia offers you a convenient method of locating the municipal or state court you need.
Municipal or county courts handle many cases, generally only preliminary hearings for criminal cases but also issues like violating local bylaws. You can find a municipal court by Georgia county.
Magistrate Courts in the State of Georgia handle both civil and criminal cases.
Georgia also has a set of probate courts, where issues related to family estate and wills are processed.
Cases involving juveniles are handled by the Georgia Juvenile Courts.
Georgia State Courts handle misdemeanors and other criminal cases as well as civil cases.
The Superior Courts in Georgia handle only cases that move beyond the jurisdiction of the other courts.
To locate the appropriate court records, first determine the jurisdiction of the case.
Sex Offender Records
State law requires the Georgia Bureau of Investigation manage a sex offender registry.
In the interests of public safety, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation ensures your right to access the sex offender registry.
You may search the sex offender registry at any time, but the information regarding any convicted sex offender cannot be used unlawfully, such as to harass the offender or commit any crime.
Georgia residents, educators, business owners, and school administrators need to know about the presence of sex offenders in their neighborhood, which is why the law requires this information to be open to the public.
Missing Person Records
You can search for records related to persons, both adults and children, who have gone missing and reported to the local police department.
Missing persons records are maintained by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Property records are typically managed at the local level in the State of Georgia.
However, the Georgia Office of Attorney General does offer relevant information related to mortgages and foreclosures.
Likewise, the Georgia Superior Court Clerks’ Cooperative Authority maintains some information related to real estate records.
Will, Estate and Probate Records
People search for will, estate, and probate records in the State of Georgia for a number of reasons.
Often it has to do with disputing a will, but it can also be for genealogical research.
In the State of Georgia, it is easier to search for probate records than it used to be. In fact, the State of Georgia has a more centralized system of probate records than other states in the union.
You can search probate records in the state of Georgia, often without having to visit the website of the specific county court.
However, all probate records are created by the state’s probate courts.
You can learn more about how to search Georgia probate court records through the Judicial Council of Georgia.
Unclaimed Property Records
Many people in Georgia do not realize how much cash goes unclaimed by its rightful owner or the rightful owner’s heirs.
Unclaimed property refers to things like:
- The contents of a safety deposit box that has long been forgotten.
- Money kept in a dormant bank account, one that has not been touched in years.
- Unclaimed wages from work.
- Refunds or deposits owed from companies such as public utilities.
- Insurance payments.
- Stocks, bonds, and other sources of revenue.
- Royalties checks
- Escrow funds
- Funds or accounts payable from a business
- And more
Wouldn’t you like to see if there are any unclaimed funds waiting for you in your name?
For no fee at all, you can conduct a search for unclaimed funds in Georgia.
However, not just anyone can contact the Georgia Department of Revenue and claim unclaimed funds.
If that were the case, everyone could get rich quick.
Instead, you do have to prove you are the rightful owner of the property by providing the appropriate identification when you make your claim.
The Georgia Department of Revenue safeguards unclaimed funds and property.
Please note that unclaimed property does not refer to real estate property, only to cash and similar sources of funds that have been unclaimed.
What are you waiting for? Claim unclaimed funds that belong to you and your family now.
Voter Registration Records
The Georgia Secretary of State is in charge of maintaining voter records in the state.
You can check your voter registration status, or find out your polling location by visiting the website of the Georgia Secretary of State.
The My Voter Page offers you a portal to check your voter registration status in the State of Georgia.
This portal may be particularly helpful for newcomers to the state who just recently registered to vote, or to people who forgot their polling station, or to those who just moved to a new location and need to verify their status and new polling station in Georgia.
You can also access public records related to professional licensing boards in Georgia.
Are you searching for your own driving records or that of a potential employee?
In some situations, you may be required by law to request driving records for a prospective employee, such as when that employee will be driving a commercial vehicle.
You may also want to search the public records for crash reports for insurance purposes, legal purposes, or simply your right to know.
The Georgia Department of Public Safety maintains all crash reports as public records.
You can search traffic crash reports in the State of Georgia through the Georgia Department of Public Safety.
You can also use the Accident Report Release Form to make your public records request.
The Georgia Department of Public Safety mainly manages traffic incidents that were reported to the Georgia State Patrol, such as incidents occurring on state highways.
Public records related to other traffic incidents might be managed by the Georgia Department of Transportation.
Alternatively, you may request a copy of your own driving history in the State of Georgia.
You can authorize a third party to receive access to the driving record, such as when an employer or professional organization asks you to do so.
You can receive either a certified or a non-certified copy of your driving history through the Georgia Department of Driver Services.
One of the most common requests for public records is for vital records in the State of Georgia.
Vital records refer to birth certificates and death certificates: anything used to keep track of the population in the state.
The Georgia Department of Public Health maintains these types of public and vital records.
For the most part, vital records are not public in the sense that anyone can access anyone else’s records.
The Department of Public Health wants to protect your privacy and that of your loved ones by restricting access to most types of vital records. Only you or an immediate family member, legal guardian, or other authorized person can receive your birth certificate.
If you can provide a photo ID, you can submit a request for your own birth certificate easily online.
There is a fee for this service, which is currently $25.
You can use the following methods of online searching:
In the State of Georgia, marriage records are also maintained by the Department of Public Health.
Therefore you can request a marriage certificate in the State of Georgia.
Because this information is considered public record, anyone can search for anyone else’s marriage records in Georgia.
Unlike other states, Georgia makes it easier for you to locate divorce records. Divorce records are maintained by the Department of Public Health.
Death Records and Certificates
The process for finding death certificates in the State of Georgia is the same as it is for birth certificates, because both of these are types of vital records that are maintained by the Department of Public Health.
As with birth certificates, only authorized parties will have their requests honored.
If you can provide a photo ID, you can submit a request for a person’s death certificate online.
There is a fee for this service, which is currently $25.
You can use the following methods of online searching:
This guide was designed to help you find Georgia public records easier.
To make the process of finding public records less stressful, it is strongly recommended that you have ready all the necessary identifying information you need.
Each agency will have different requirements, and some agencies may be contacted directly if you have any questions regarding your request.