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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.

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[Latin] - an abbreviation for ibidem, meaning "in the same place", commonly used in footnotes to signify the previously described reference
[Arabic] son of
Under the Roman calendar, the 15th of the month in March, May, July and October; on the 13th on the remaining months
[Welsh youngest]
the International Genealogical Index - a large collection of microfiche, soon to be on computer CD-ROMs, containing the index to the LDS Church's computerized records of individuals
several tribes of nomadic peoples, not to be confused with horde
a child that is born to an unwed mother
[Latin] the first of three ranks of the high officials of Imperial Roman service, all of whom were senators.  It included the heads of the great central ministries, the commander-and-chief of the armies, and the Grand Chamberlain.  By the 6th C., the rank had been cheapened by the inclusion of lesser officials, and a fourth rank was included, the gloriosi, superior to that of the illustres.  The other two orders were the spectibles and the clarissimi. {H}
an Islamic religious leader, especially for prayer.  The sovereign heads of the Islamic world, including the Caliphs, have taken this title.
[Latin] to be near
[Latin] eminent - immediate
a delay or postponement
[Latin] the name bestowed
the act of seizing people or property for public service or use
[Medieval Latin]The transfer of property usually by grant restricted to male heirs of the body (of the grantee). If there are no male heirs of the body, the property reverts to the grantor (reversion in fee) who would be the holder of the fee simple. Fee tail comes from the French tailler, "to cut", as the estate, or fee, has been cut down by being confined to heirs of the body, in this case male heirs, whereas a fee simple may descend to common law heirs. -- Ivor West (edited)
death by lack of food
[Anglo-Saxon] security, pledge  
in modern terms it denotes lack of control of bodily functions, but in medieval times, it included lack of self-restraint, especially with regard to sexual activity or apetite
[Heraldric] zig-zagged
a deed, contract, or sealed agreement executed between two or more parties; a contract by which a person is bound over for services.  Centuries ago when very few people could read or write, a seller would execute a document called even then a "deed" to a buyer, whereupon the parties literally tore - NOT cut - that document in two, each taking one half or thereabouts.  Through that usage, and since only those exact halves would fit
together, each had proof near positive of the bargain and the closing of the deal.  Since that document had "indents" where it had been torn in two, the term "indenture" perfectly fit that piece of paper and that practice.  While the  term is now archaic, some printed forms used by some lawyers still bear that term as a title (sounds neat, you know, and lawyers are SLOW to change anything since some court might jump up and set such aside).  -- Paul Drake
one who was voluntarily or involuntarily committed to working for someone for a fixed number of years (usually 4 to 7) in exchange for passage to America or some other financial advantage. The lowest person on the totem pole, an indentured servant had few, if any, rights, but people without skills or money accepted this position in order to emigrate. After the period of work was over, the servant usually became a freeman.
the remission of a penalty as incurred as a penance for a sin.  By the late Middle Ages it evolved into a commutation of a deed of sin for a financial payment, thence a very lucrative revenue source for the church
[Heraldry] a small shield appearing on a coat of arms
[Heraldry] a small shield on one's arms showing  the arms of the bearer's wife
a medieval jurisdictional authority which enabled the holder of the authority to hang any thief caught red-handed.  See also OUTFANGTHIEF.
a minor
[Scot.] used to denote the the symbolical giving possession of land, which was the completion of the title.
down - below
besides it's modern-day usage, which means a relative by marriage, colonists also used the term for any familial relationship that occurred from a marriage. Thus, a woman's father-in-law could be her husband's father or her stepfather. Her son-in-law could be her daughter's husband or her own stepson.  Before 1720, this term usually always meant a "step" relationship. 
in the first place
a tenant lower than the class of coloni.
performed when anyone holding land directly under the king (or land under a minor, who held under the king) died. Its purpose was to determine what land was held, who the heir was, and whether that heir was a minor to ensure that the king derived the various benefits available from guardianship. It is useful in providing death dates (sometimes precise, sometimes approximate like older than 21 or 40 years), who was in possession of land at a specific date, who the deceased was holding his land under, and who was holding under the deceased.
repeat - maintain
in person - of own accord
[Legal] of this month, eg. "on the first instant"
a formal document, such as a deed or a will
a day or month inserted into the calendar
1. to become connected by marriage; 2. to marry within one's family; 3. to marry outside one's religion, ethnic group, etc.
having no legal will; not disposed of by legal will
a list of goods in the estate of a deceased person
in medieval times, delivery of property or title
an administrative grant of property, similar to a fief, granted for service in lieu of taxes.  The grant was limited, functional and revocable.
offspring or children

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

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


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

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

{H} History of the Later Roman Empire,  Vol.1, J.B. Bury, 1958.

{O}The Oxford English Dictionary

{P} Pepys' diary

{R} Random House Unabridged Dictionary (2006)

{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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