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ROOTS


Dictionary of Genealogy & Archaic Terms

Last Edited: January 17, 2012

This file contains many of the common "buzzwords", terminology and legal words found in genealogy work. If you think of any words that should be added to this list, please notify Randy Jones.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J 
K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
AB
[Welsh son of] it is used before a vowel, which a is used before a consonant. 'Ab Owen' becomes the surname 'Bowen'. "Ap" or "ab" is not related to the Latin "ab", but is rather from the British "*mapos" meaning "son" and is a cognate of Irish "mac". The word becomes "map" in Old Welsh and "mab" in Modern Welsh. When following a personal name the "m" lenites in a v-sound, still spelled "m" in Old Welsh, but increasingly spelled "v" and "f" later on. The v-sound tends to be rather weak in Welsh (cf. "tref" becoming "tre"), and in the highly formulaic nature of these names is lost.
AB INITIO
[Latin, from the beginning] used in situations regarding the validity of will, deed, or other legal document
AB NEPOS
a great-great-grandson
AB NEPTIS
a great-great-granddaughter
ABATEMENT
1) The difference between the amount of the estate an heir is to receive as specified in a will and the amount actually received, due to property devaluation between the time the will was made and when the death occurred; the entry of a stranger into the estate after the death of the possessor but before the heir can take control.
2) In heraldry, a mark of dishonor in a coat of arms. The most common was the point and gore, which cut off an angle on the shield and was awarded for lying, boasting, drunkenness, killing a prisoner who had surrendered, rape, and sloth in war.
ABAVUS
[Latin] second great-grandfather
ABCPSIA
[archaic] blindness
ABD
[Arabic] servant/slave of ; late it connoted 'black slave' and thence just 'black'
ABEYANCE
a condition of undetermined ownership, as of an estate that has not yet been assigned
ABRUPTIO
[Latin, breaking off] a divorce, most often found in church records, parish books and legal documents.
ABSTRACT
a statement summarizing the essential facts contained in a document or record
ABSTRACT BOOK
record books containing abstracts of the information contained on deeds or land entries, usually listed in alphabetical order by surnames of the purchasers
ABSTRACT OF TITLE
a short description of a piece of property and the history of its title
ABUT
adjoin, as in two real properties
ACADIAN
(1) An individual of French heritage inhabiting Acadia (the Canadian Maritimes, including Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward, Cape Breton, Newfoundland, as well as the Magdalenes, St. Pierre & Miquelon, and the northern New England )
(2) A descendant of French settlers of Acadia who were resettled in Louisiana, commonly known as "Cajuns"
ACCELERATED INDEX
an index prepared by computer, such as a census index  
ACCOUCHEUR/ACCOUCHEUSE
[archaic] male/female midwife
ACCRETION
right of inheritance by survival
ACESCENSY
[archaic] sour, acidity
ACHIEVEMENT
[Heraldry] a representation of all armorial devices to the bearer of the arms is entitled
ACREDALE
A common field in which several proprietors held interest, not always on an equal basis
ACREMAN
[Middle English] a man who ploughed or cultivated the land.
ACTION
a proceeding in a court of law
AD EXHAEREDATIONEM
[Latin] to disinherit adoption by hair. A ceremony performed to show adoption by cutting off a piece of hair and giving it to the adoptive father.
AD LITEM
legal term meaning in this case "only". For example, "George Thomas, duly appointed by the court, may administer ad litem the settlement of the estate of Joseph Thomas, deceased."
AD VERBATIM
[Latin, to the word] in full
ADMINISTRATION
management and settlement of an estate 
ADMINISTRATOR
an appointee of the court who settles the estate of a deceased who died without leaving a will, or where an executor is unwilling or unable to serve as executor.
ADMINISTRATOR AD COLLIGENDUM
[Latin] when a person dies and there is no apparent executor or administrator, the court may appoint such a person collect, preserve and inventory the assets until a full administrator can be determined
ADMINISTRATOR'S BOND
a bond posted by an administrator to guarantee the proper performance of his duties
ADMINISTRATRIX
a female administrator
ADOPTION
to take a child into one's home by legal means and raise as one's own, with same legal rights as one's natural children
ADSCRIPTICUS
[Latin] a serf bound to a property
ADULTERINE CASTLE
a castle built without the over lord's approval
ADVERT
[archaic] to one's attention to
ADVOWSON
the right to appoint a person to the church's benefice, for with the living came other appurtenances of the church - land which the priest used to support himself, and first fruits and the tithe, which was a tax or levy of a tenth of parishioners' income or produce to support the church.  Other assets might include mills or fisheries.  This was a valued source of patonage.
ADVANCEMENT
a gift given to a living child in anticipation of inheritance
ADVERSE POSSESSION
occupying a property, then gaining title and ownership by keeping it for a specified statutory period
AE/AET
[Latin from Aetatis] about the age of
ĘDILE
[Latin] a Roman magistrate in charge of the games and management of the temples.  In later times they were in charge of the public buildings, the water system, food supplies, and the markets.
ĘTAS
[Latin] lifetime; age; generation
ĘGROTANTEM
[Latin] illness - sickness
ĘTHELING
[Anglo-Saxon prince royal] the eldest son of the king
AFFEER
to settle the  amount of an amercement; to assess
AFFIDAVIT
a written and signed statement sworn in front of a court officer
AFFINIS, AFFINITAS, AFFINITY
[Latin] relationship via marriage, as opposed to by blood. S CONSANGUINITY.
AFFIRMATION
a declaration, sometimes as a replacement for someone who objects to taking an oath
AGE OF CONSENT
age at which persons may legally marry without parental approval. For various ages in 18th C. Virginia (and England as well) see consent.html.
AGE OF MAJORITY
Prior to the modern designation of 21 as the age of majority, different ages applied: If the fee is a military fee, the heir will be of full age when he has completed his twenty-first year and reached his twenty-second. If he is the son and heir of a sokeman, when he has completed his fifteenth year. If he is the son of a burgess, he is taken to be of full age when he knows how properly to count money, measure cloths and perform other similar paternal business.12 Thus it is not defined in terms of time but by sense and maturity. A woman may be of full age [in socage] whenever she can and knows how to order her house and do the things that belong to the arrangement and management of a house, provided she understands what pertains to 'cove and keye,' which cannot be before her fourteenth or fifteenth year since such things require discretion and understanding. -- from Bracton's Laws c.1400.
AGUE
a fever marked by chills
AHL
[Arabic] people, family, kin
AHNENLIST
a list of one's accordance with the AHNENTAFEL NUMBERS definition below. ancestors, with the first generation being #1, second #2-3, third #4-7, etc. May be synonymous with AHNENTAFEL.
AHNENTAFEL
[German ancestor table] a list of ancestors numbered in accordance with the system described below in AHNENTAFEL NUMBERS. So-called because it was popularized by Stephen Kekule von Stradonitz in his 1896 book, Ahnentafel Atlas. The system was first used in a book by the Spanish geneologist Jerome de Sosa in 1676. Translated from the German, "ahnen" means ancestor and "tafel" means table or list; because of this literal translation, ahnentafel is sometime incorrectly used to describe any list of ancestors. - Richard Pence -- richardpence@pipeline.com.
AHNENTAFEL NUMBERS
the universally used method of numbering ancestors. In it the number 1 is assigned to the subject of the list, then his or her father is No. 2, the mother is No. 3, the paternal grandfather No. 4, etc. In this system, a person's father's number is always twice the person's number and his or her mother's number is twice-plus-one. Because of the structured nature of the sytem, a person's ahnentafel number can be used to describe his or her relationship to the subject of the list. This method of numbering ancestors is used worldwide and is also called the "Sosa-Stradonitz System," after the genealogist who first used it and the one who popularized it (see AHNENTAFEL above). This method of numbering ancestors is used both on lists of ancestors or on ancestor charts. - Richard Pence -- richardpence@pipeline.com
ALABARCH
a Roman tax administrator
ALCALDE
a Spanish administrator
ALDERMAN
the elected representative of a ward, a political subdivision of a city.  In medieval times, the alderman presided over the ward's court call the Ward-Moots Court.
ALERION
[Heraldic] bird
ALIAS
[Latin - other] a pseudonym, false or alternative name
ALIAS CAPIAS
The writ of capias ad respondendum (capias) ordered the sheriff to arrest a defendant in a civil case for appearance in court to answer the plaintiff’s declaration. The writ states the name of defendant, the court term when he was required to appear; the name of the plaintiff, the form of action (in non-bailable cases this was a fictitious trespass); and the names of the justice, clerk, and plaintiff's attorney. The writ does not contain a statement of the plaintiffs claim. The Alias Capias is the second issuance of a capias after the original had gone without answer.
ALIEN
someone who is not a citizen of one's own country
ALLEGIENCE SUPREMACIE
an oath to the King of England taken by ship passengers leaving England during the 17th and 18th C.
ALLOD
[Latin allodium] a freehold estate
ALLODIAL
property exempted from mortmain
ALMONER
a religious official charged with distributing alms to the sick and poor
ALMSMAN
someone supported by charity or one who lived on alms
ALVINE
[archaic] pertaining to the bowels
AMANUENSIS
secretary, stenographer
AMBER
a measure of four bushels  
AMERCEMENT, AMERCIAMENT
(1) punishment by imposition of an arbitrary fine not fixed by statute, at the 'mercy' of the king or his lord, usually for minor offences.  This was the equivalent of a modern fine.
(2) to punish by inflicting a discretionary or arbitrary punishment {R} 
AMIR
[Arabic] a military commander or provincial governor, although sometime translated as 'prince',  Amirs were under the nominal lordship of the caliph.
AMITA
[Latin] the usual, but not always,  interpretation in medieval documents was that of paternal aunt
AMPHORA
a measure of five gallons
AMSAR
[Arabic] a fortress city 
ANCESTOR
a person from whom you have descended
ANCESTOR CHART
report or chart that shows a person and all of their ancestors in a graphical format. As opposed to the Ahnentafel which is more of a narrative report.
ANCESTRAL FILE
a searchable database of 35 Million names developed by the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon Church). Can be accessed at: http://www.familysearch.org/Search/searchaf.asp
ANCIENT PLANTERS
those who arrived in Virginia, USA before 1616. They may have been VA's first 'aristocracy.' Each such person with 3 years of residence was entitled to 100 acres as a 'first division'
ANCILLA
a female slave
ANGLYDE
[Anglo-Saxon] compensation to a wronged person
ANILE
[archaic] like an ols woman; imbecillic
ANNO DOMINI
[Latin, in the year of our lord] a date as measured from the birth of Jesus Christ
ANNOTATION
interpretation, explaination, clarification, definition, or supplement. Many types of genealogical presentations contain statements, record sources, documents, conclusions, or other historical information that require an annotation. Generally, annotations appear in footnotes, end-notes, or in the text itself. Genealogical software provides a field for documentation, comments, notes, and analysis. Genealogists use annotations to explain discrepancies between two or more documents, to add information from another source to support a statement or conclusion made in a different record, and other difficult to interpret situations.
ANNULET
[Heraldric] an open ring
ANNUS
[Latin year]
ANNWYL
[Welsh dear, favorite]
ANTECESSOR
a previous owner of a property, not necessarily a blood relative, especially during early Medieval times
AP
[Welsh son of] It is used before a consonant; ab is used before a vowell. 'Ap Hywell' becomes 'Powell'. "Ap" or "ab" is not related to the Latin "ab", but is rather from the British 'mapos' meaning 'son' and is a cognate of Irish "mac". The word becomes ' map' in Old Welsh and 'mab' in Modern Welsh. When following a personal name the "m" lenites in a v-sound, still spelled "m" in Old Welsh, but increasingly spelled "v" and "f" later on. The v-sound tends to be rather weak in Welsh (cf. "tref" becoming "tre"), and in the highly formulaic nature of these names is lost. "Moricantos mapos Totorigos" (genitive of Totorix) -> Old Welsh "Morcant map Tutur" -> Modern Welsh "Morgan ap Tudur".See also bachgen.
APANAGES
Apanages were usually large fiefdoms of the Royal Domain recently joined to the crown and given by the king to his younger sons or brothers.  In the absence of a legitimate heir, the apanages reverted to the crown.
APERIENT
[archaic] laxative
APOPLEXY
[archaic] a stroke
APPRENTICE
a person bound by indenture for a specified period in order to learn an art or trade
APPURTENANCES
the rights attached to real property.  In medieval times, it included grazing rights, payment of fines, a pew in church, etc.
ARATHRA
the amount of land that could be plowed in a year
ARCHIVE
a place for the storage of older records
ARGENT
[Heraldry, French silver] one of the seven allowed colors -- silver colored and represented by a plain white surface
ARMIGER
in medieval times, one entitled to bear arms, as opposed to an esquire, carried someone else's arms.  Typically this individual attended a knight.
ARMORIAL BEARINGS
what constitutes a person's arms. Strictly speaking, a coat of arms is a knight's surcoat on which his armorial bearings are displayed. This would include the coat of arms, helmet, crest, mantling and badge. See also ARMS COMPLETE, ESCUTCHEON.
ARMS COMPLETE, or ARMS ACHIEVEMENT
a complete coat of arms with helmet, crest, mantling and badge. See also ARMORIAL BEARINGS.
ARPENT
[Old French] 
(1) unit of land measure, sometimes used in parts of French North America, such as Quebec and Louisiana, and in certain British colonies, varying from 0.84 to 1.28 acres, or about five perches
(2) unit of linear measure equal to approximately 11.5 rods, or about two and a quarter perches
ARRADA
a medieval siege weapon similar to a giant crossbow
ASCENDANT
see ANCESTOR
ASCII
American Standard Code for Information Interchange - type of file on a computer that is usually readable / writable by most word processors.
ASSART
to turn woodlands or wastelands into cropland
ASSIGNEE
the person to whom a privilege or some property is signed over by the court. "See Assignment".
ASSIGNMENT
grant of property or a legal right, benefit, or privilege to another person. In colonial and medieval times the process could be lengthy, involving payment of consideration to the crown, obtaining a receipt from the treasurer, getting an auditor's certificate, getting the land surveyed and recorded. The right to the land could be "assigned" at any time in the process to a third party. It was not unusual to have six or seven assignments before the final recording.
ASSIGNOR
the person who signs over the right or some property to another
ASSISTANT MARSHALL
census taker prior to 1880
ASSIZE
a meeting of feudal vassals with the king
ASSIZE OF BREAD OR ALE
regulation of the price of bread or beer
ASSUMPSIT
[Latin, he has undertaken] a legal action to recover damages
ATABEG
[Turkish] a title, originally for tutors of the ruling prince, but later for governors and other high level officers of state
ATHA
oath
ATHELING
see ĘTHELING
ATTAINTED
in England, because Parliament is a court, and the highest in the land, attainder became a legislative act declaring a person guilty of treason or felony (almost always treason) rather than using a regular judicial process of trial and conviction. In 1450, according to the Historical Dictionary of the Elizabethan World, attainder was "extended to the convicted traitor's heirs, who were declared 'corrupt of blood' and therefore unable to inherit property or exercise certain civil rights." Attainder was abolished in England in 1870. The U.S. Constitution of 1787 specifically forbids bills of attainder by either Congress or the state legislatures and equally forbids any judicial conviction working corruption of the blood.
ATTE
an English surname prefix meaning "at the" or "of the", usually used in conjunction with a generic topographical feature: "wood" (thus Atwood), "well" (Atwell), etc. "Stone" fits this definition. It may not be seen much due to the fact that it was used in humbler families. The Latin equivalent is "de la" or "del."
ATTEST
to affirm, certify by oath or signature
AUGMENTATION
[Heraldric] an additional charge to arms usually as a mark of honour. This was not used until after 1385 in Britain.
AUGUSTA
a title typically bestowed by the Roman emperor on his wife, but it could be bestowed on his mother, sisters or daughters as well.  The title carried considerable authority, beyond just being the spouse of the emperor.  Several augusta were de facto emperors.  
AUGUSTALIS
[Latin] a priest of an order instituted by Tiberius dedicated to the worship of Augustus and the Julii.  There were usually 21 at a time, chosen from among the prominent citizens of Rome
AUGUSTUS
the Roman emperor.  The title was first taken by Octavian and was used by emperors thereafter. See augusta.
AUM
an old Dutch and German unit of liquid varying from 36-42 gallons 
AUNT
sister of one of one's parents, or the wife of the brother of one's parents
AUREUS
[Latin] a gold coin initiated by roman emperor Augustus, as the standard for the Roman monetary system from that time until Constantine's solidus replaced it
AUSTIN FRIAR
an order of friars founded by St. Augustine, and emphasizing urban preaching
AUTOKRATOR
[Byzantine] Greek equivalent of imperator, or emperor
AVA, AVIA
[Latin, grandmother]
AVER
an animal used in agriculture
AVI, AVORUM
[Latin, grandparents]
AZOTE
[archaic] nitrogen
AZURE
[Heraldric] one of the seven allowed colors -- blue, or represented in black-and-white as horizontal lines
AVUNCULUS
[Latin, uncle] prior to 1400 it usually meant maternal uncle
AVUS
[Latin, grandfather]

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J
K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


Sources:

{A}The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition copyright © 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

{B} Black's Law Dictionary, 6th Edition

{D} Dictionary.com

{E} Evans, Barbara Jean. The New A to Zax

{F}The Dictionary of Genealogy by Terrick V H Fitzhugh

{O}The Oxford English Dictionary

{P} Pepys' diary

{Q} Hinshaw, William Wade, "Encyclopedia of America Quaker Genealogy," (1938, Rpt., Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1994)

{W} Webster's Collegiate Dictionary; Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.

 


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