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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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[Heraldry] sable with spots of or tufts of or
the study of ancient forms of writing
(1) in Germany, the area west of the Rhine River
(2) a regality, a region, usually on the frontier of a country, whose lord enjoys semi-royal jurisdiction although still a subject and tenant-in-chief of the Crown--an arrangement that was designed mainly to strengthen defence against invasion. Palatinates were usually in remote areas. The best known palatinate in England was that of Durham, whose local government was in the hands of the Bishop of Durham until--believe it or not--1836. Chester and Lancaster were also palatinates, and Kent briefly. The Count Palatine was the ruler of the palatinate.
people from the Palatinate area in the Rhineland of Germany. In 1688, Louis XIV of France began persecuting German Protestants from the west bank of the Rhine River. Queen Anne of England helped a group to come to America in 1708. More than 2000 arrived in New York in 1710 and settled along the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers. Others settled in Pennsylvania. The term also applied to the two palatine counties (marches) of Chester and Durham in England.
the privilege or money paid to a lord permit swine or other animals to feed in a wood
[Heraldic] like fish scales
[Persian] a unit of length of 30 stadia, or about three miles
[Latin, my relative]  something uncertain -- a distant cousin, or a granduncle -- when you know that there may be a connection, but you're not sure which one.
[Latin] kinsmen   
per "A Hornbook of VA History", "When the first English settlers came to Virginia in 1607 they followed the familiar patterns of the Church of England and established parishes that served as local units of ecclesiastical and community organization. ---In Colonial Virginia the General Assembly established parishes and fixed their boundaries, often at the same time that it created or altered counties. A decade after independence, on 16 Jan 1786, the General Assembly passed Thomas Jefferson's Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, ending state-enforced support for the formally established church and its parishes."  In Louisiana, parishes are still a secular unit of government, equivalent to a county.
pertaining to Easter    
payment for pasturage
list of names and information about passengers that came to the United States on ships.
an instrument making a conveyance of public lands; also : the land so conveyed
An archaic term for a person responsible for maintaining a particular road or roads in the town
the individual heading one of the five great jurisdictions of the Catholic Church, including Rome, Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria, although the pope in Rome did not assume the title of patriarch
the group of elite families, including any adopted members, in ancient Roman society.  Although the title changed over the breadth of the Roman period, it generally, at least in the beginning deferred a sort of noble status on its members.  thus it differentiated the nobility from the common man, or plebeians.  The honor was hereditary, and could only be conferred by the emperor or the Senate.  Likewise, an individual and his family could be demoted for criminal acts or failure to carry out civic responsibilities.
[Latin] godfather (sponsor)
[American] having participated in the American Revolutionary War, exclusive of military service.  Patriotic Service includes: Collector of Provisions; Defender of Fort or Frontier; Delegate to a Continental Congress or to a Provincial Congress; Express Rider, Fence Viewer; Furnishing a substitute, Gunsmith who gave his services; Inspector of provisions; Legislator; Member of the Boston Tea Party; and many others.
[Latin, paternal]
a surname derived from a paternal ancestor, such as "Williamson, the son of William".  See also matronym.
[Latin] brother or half-brother of one's father, i.e., uncle
few weeks
the lowest feudal class
a toll to use a highway or bridge  
recorded ancestry or line of descent
a more-or-less standard genealogical form for recording several generations of one's ancestry
a long handled broad shovel used for putting bread into an oven.
A holder of a noble title. See PEERAGE  
Dukes, earls, counts, viscounts, marquesses, barons, archbishops, bishops and judges. Baronets are not members of the peerage. -- Renia Simmons (edited)
a coin, unit of British currency, symbolized as d
[Greek] father-in-law
Peppercorn rents originated during the Middle ages in Britain. When a piece of property was deeded over as a reward for good service (or because the tenant was a favorite of the overlord) a nominal rent was charged as a reminder that the tenant didn't own it outright. A single peppercorn (or a single rose i.e. rose rents) was among the most popular forms of this style of "quit rent" but there were various other curious forms of payment, such as a frog, a roast pork dinner or the donation of a petticoat to a poor woman. The Feast of St. Michael or Michaelmas (September 29) is one of the standard days for paying rent or settling debts.
[Latin] for
[Latin] see STIRPES
a measure of about 50 feet; as an area of measure it was about 1/4 acre
property other than land
[English] personal property, q.v. above
[Latin] a method of dividing an estate so that children act as a group, rather than individually, taking what their deceased ancestor was entitled  to.
[Heraldric] an arrow with a flat barbed head
a portion of a field
[Heraldic] hole in the center
a place for confining impounded horses or cattle
an official of a religious house whose responsibility it is to distribute charitable gifts or allowances of food
a surname commonly applied to members of the English Royal House of England between 1154 and 1485. Members of that house were descended from the union between Geoffrey, Count of Anjou and Maine, and the Empress Matilda, [1102-1167] daughter of the English King, Henry I "Beauclerc". Although the practice is well-established, it has little historical justification. The name Plantagenet seems to have originated as a sobriquet or nickname for Count Geoffrey. It has variously been explained as referring to his practice of wearing a sprig or branch of yellow broom (Latin: [planta] genista; Old French:
plante genet in his helm, or more probably to his habit of planting brooms to improve his hunting cover. "Plantagenet" was not, by any means, a hereditary surname and Geoffrey's progeny remained without one for more than 300 years, although surnames became common outside the Royal Family. Henry II Curtmantle FitzEmpress [1133-1189] [son of Geoffrey and Matilda The Empress] and his own sons, Richard I and John I, are now generally styled by historians as the Angevin (from Anjou) kings. For want of a better name, their successors, notably Henry III, Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, and Richard II are still described as Plantagenets. Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI may properly be called the House of Lancaster; while Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III constitute the monarchs of the House of York. The first official use of the surname Plantagenet by any descendant of Count Geoffrey was in 1460, when Richard, 3rd Duke of York [1411-1460], claimed the throne in the name of "Richard Plantaginet." [N.B. Yes, there was no standard spelling in English in 1460.] Richard, 3rd Duke of York, was Protector of England, Earl of March and Ulster, and Earl of Cambridge. The legitimate male issue of Count Geoffrey and Matilda The Empress became extinct with the death, in 1499, of Edward, [1475-1499] 18th Earl of Warwick, grandson of Richard, 3rd Duke of York. He was the son of George [1449-1478], Duke of Clarence, who allegedly met his end in the Tower of London as did his son, but George was supposedly drowned in the famous butt of Malmsey. The Madeira Wine, "Duke of Clarence" is named after this event. Henry VII resented Edward, 18th Earl of Warwick's proximity to the throne and he was executed at the Tower of London on 28 Nov 1499. -- Spencer Hines (edited)
a class of Roman citizen, individually called plebs, consisting of those not in the upper, noble patrician class.  Although it generally was made up of the middle and low classes, some plebs were wealthy and influential.  Over time the distinction between patricians and plebeians became minor, although some public offices were restricted to one class or the other.  For example, plebeians had their own tribune, ædile and council.  
A ploughgate or plowland, also known as a carucate equaled 8 oxgangs or bovates. A uniform (clerks) ploughgate appeared to be around 104 acres, but it could range from 60 to 120 acres. This meaasure was based on the amount of land a team of eight oxen could plow in a year   
a head count.  A poll tax is a tax in each individual.
a poll deed is a deed made by one person or party only, to which he alone is bound, and executed only by himself. The name arose as a result of the practice of cutting the top or side edge of the deed in a straight line (polled) as opposed to an indenture (deed indented) which cut the parchment or paper in a notched or saw-tooth edge. This was done as a practical matter of distinction. The deed poll of trust would record the transfer of title to real property via trustee.
a writ to remove an action from a shire court to the royal court
a bridge toll
One of the high priests of the Ancient Roman College of Pontiffs. This was a important position in the Ancient Roman religion, open only to patricians until 254 BC. A distinctly religious office under the early Roman Republic.  The head priest was called the pontifex maximus. This rank gradually became politicized until, beginning with Augustus, it was subsumed into the Imperial office. Its last use with reference to the emperors is in inscriptions of Gratian.  From this office, today the Roman Catholic Pope if sometimes called the Pontiff, derived from the Latin pontifex.
a completed population census questionnaire
[Latin, purple born] A Byzantine appellation for those offspring born while their father was emperor
the chief magistrate in a mercantile town
a heavy timbered grill that can be raised or lowered at the gate of a castle
door keeper; one of the minor orders in a church
born after the father's death
an individual seeking to enter a religious order  
[Heraldry] a fur surface, also called 'meirré', composed of patches which are supposed to represent crutch heads; they are always alternately argent and azure, unless otherwise specially mentioned. Counter potent is a fur differing from potent in the arrangement of the patches.
The division among partners of lands which were formerly held in common.
[Latin previous, preceding]
[Latin] in front, before, through
[Latin, one who stands in front]  a Roman official appointed by a magistrate, for a number of functions including commanding troops, distributing food, administering pensions, guarding a treasury, governor of a province, etc.
[Latin] the Mayor of Rome
In late Roman times, one of four great sections -- Gaul, Italy, Illyricum and the East, under which all of the provinces/dioceses were governed
[Latin, the one who goes before] a Roman magistrate, responsible for the administration of justice.  Their role changed over time, and the number authorized varied from a single one in the 360s BC, to one for each province under the Republic, up to 18 under the Empire.  A prætor could have six bodyguards, and was entitled to wear a purple-bordered toga. The prætor was responsible for spending money on games and other public works. There were eight prætors in the East, and were named by the Senate ten years in advance so they could save enough funds to later hold the office, from which funds solely came from their own pockets.  Based on the Lex Villia Annalis (181 BC) and Lex Cornelia Annalis (81 BC), a prætor had to be at least 39 years of age entering the office.
[Latin] the prætor of the City of Rome
a cathedral official, usually a member of the chapter who drew a prebend, or salary, from the cathedral
a charter whereby property is received on the basis of an annual payment, which may be a payment in kind
a religious official in charge of making sure there are the proper number of books for the liturgy
precedes one's name. (i.e.: Dr. or Mrs.)
a reform order of clergy in NE France formed in the 12th C., and adhering stricly to the doctrines of St. Augustine.  They were a stricter form of the Austin Friars.  Also known as the White Canons.
in terms of a title or position, a pretender is one who claims that position, but who has no right to it.  The term is typically derogatory, used by those claim the right against those to whom they deny it. A historical "Pretender" was the Scottish Bonnie Prince Charlie.
[Latin, the previous day]
any kind of priest
a record created at the time of the event (birth, death, marriage, etc.), as opposed to records written years later
part of the monastic timetable for liturgy, called horarium.  This worship service typically occurred between 7am-8am in winter and 5am-6am in summer
the earliest known ancestor or forefather
the right of the eldest child (especially the son) to inherit the estate of both parents.    
the male member of a royal family.  Also, rulers of autonomous states, subject to the overlordship of a king
(1) a superior in a priory, whether an abbot, provost or dean
(2) second-in-command of an abbey
a monastic house headed by a prior.  Typically a priory was smaller than an abbey.
a toll levied on wines
the personal seal of the king, used for less formal letters and documents  
[Latin] great-grandfather
legal establishment of the validity of a will
provost, a clerical office
used in colonial Virginia and Kentucky describing a surveyor of sorts. His job was to decide upon property boundaries to mark, and describe them in the processioner's book. Each four years all landowners in a community would ride or walk along the boundaries of all their plantations. Surveyors who accompanied this procession would redraw any disputed lines. This custom came from England to Virginia as a means of avoiding disputes arising from poor surveys or loss of boundary markers such as trees.
a Roman magistrate, formerly a consul, used to extend the command of a consul beyond his normal term under a prolonged war.  In later times, proconsuls governed important provinces, "as if they were consuls".
legal representatives, usually associated with the ecclesiastical courts, although he sometimes participated in the king's council.  He was the individual responsible for preparing cases.  He was the equivalent of an attorney.
[Latin] stand instead of , i.e., a proxy
a Roman official originally administering large amounts of money or agricultural domains. Later they were responsible for taxation in the provinces.  Ultimately, as in 41 in Judea, they were the governors of the provinces, or were the chief ministers of the Roman government
[Latin] in behalf of
an originator of a line of descent, frequently used in reference to the immigrant ancestor.
[Latin] a relative in the next generation down, such as a nephew or niece
the study of collective biography, for individuals of a certain group (social class, profession, time frame, geographic origin, etc.).  By accumulating data on individuals in a group, one learns more about the group.  The term may have been coined by anthropologists but it is widely used among medieval historians, particularly social historians. - Nathaniel Taylor --
a will taken to court by the executor and sworn to by one or more of the witnesses. It is evidence that the testator had died before the date of probate (proving). The witnesses had to appear to verify that they had seen the testator sign the will, not that they knew what the will said. After a will was proved to the court's satisfaction, the executor and administrator (if any) were authorized to carry it out. They could sell, divide, rent, or otherwise dispose of property under the provisions of the will. -- Kathleen Much
  1. A university administrator of high rank.
  2. The highest official in certain cathedrals or collegiate churches.
  3. The keeper of a prison.
  4. The chief magistrate of certain Scottish cities.
[Latin] a date in the following month
land illicitly obtained from another  
[Heraldry] purple, or represented in black-and-white as the diagonal lines from sinister chief corner
a small field or enclosure

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


{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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