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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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a serf reed by charter
(1) an imposition levied by a king
(2) property tax 
(1) a tax levied on a borough
(2) a tax levied by a lord on his unfree tenants 
a stick split in two, one piece given by the Exchequer, the second piece retained by the sheriff as a receipt for the collections submitted, measured by notches in the stick.  Tally system was used until 1826.  In 1834, a fire burning the sticks got out of control and burned most of Westminster Palace to the ground
the successor apparent to a Celtic chief, usually the oldest or worthiest of his kin, chosen by election among the tribe during the chief's lifetime.
a thin, stiff transparent muslin.
a white-leather worker
[Welsh fair, beautiful]
see Frankpledge.
[Heraldric, French tanne] one of the six tinctures used to stain the nobility of arms, it was dark orange or orange brown metal color, sometimes to be called one of the two "dishonourable" colors, sanguine being the other. Under abatements, rebatements, or marks of disgrace, it is attached to heraldic arms by reason of a dishonorable act of the bearer. In engravings it should be represented by lines in bend sinister [sic - Black's Law Dictionary] crossed by others bar-ways.
[medieval tenant en capite] property held directly from the king, the holder of which was known as a tenant-in-chief. Others then held land of the tenant-in-chief, and so on. you held land of someone, you did so of their good will and had to pledge loyalty to them, as your feudal superior. In fact you did not have full right to any land until you had made this pledge, or done homage as it was called.  There were two categories of tenants in chief -- ut de corona and ut de honore. The former held their property on behalf of the king, whereas the latter held the property with the king as an ordinary lord.  The distinction was made with the Magna Carta, but over time there was little difference.
originally a pre-medieval form of land possession, whereby land descended equally and undivided to one's heirs, usually daughters. The younger children and their heirs did no homage to the eldest heir until the younger children and their heirs until the younger children's third heir has entered. Were homage once done, the younger children's share could come to the eldest heir. Nonetheless, during the tenure en parage, the eldest co-heir is held responsible to the overlord for any military and other services attached to the property, and any demand for service by the youngerheirs had to be transmitted through the eldest. The process of parage apparently ended by 1202, due to the difficulty in splitting any knight's service required.
[Scot.] a widow's right, where she has no conventional provision, to a life rent of a third of her husband's heritable property
part of the monastic timetable for liturgy, called horarium.  This worship service typically occurred between 9am-10am in winter and 7am-8am in summer
the disposition of one's personal property by will
having made or left a valid will. Without a will, one is intestate.
[Latin] a man who died leaving a valid will
[Latin] witnesses
[Latin] a female TESTATOR
in the 12th C. and before, a Scottish officer in charge of royal lands and collection of dues. At one time there were 63 thanages, but many were combined over time.  The thanages are confined primarily to the east coast and their names are pre-Gaelic, probably Pictish.  This designation was grafted onto the earlier Toiseach system, which is now synonymous with Thane.  The Toiseach was both the lord of the kindred and its military leader.
a toll levied on imports and exports
chief, lord, prince
a court of law or assembly
The right granted by English kings to earls (or higher peers) to a third of the taxes collected in the shire courts
marriage - union
[Mercian] a three pence coin
of bad repute
accusation; see furmtihtle as first accusation  
the diacritical mark (~) on various romance language words  
[Heraldry] One of the two metals, seven colors, or eight furs used in armory.
tub, cask
a tithing man, i.e., a freeman
a standardized file format used to exchange surnames of interest between computers. Tiny Tafels are brief "shorthand" of what the originator has researched, limited to the surname only, Soundex, beginning and ending dates as well as beginning and ending locations.  
a portion, usually 10%, of one's income given to the church
in the 17th or 18th century Virginia, refers to a person who paid, or for whom someone else paid, one of the taxes that the General Assembly imposed for the support of the civil government of the colony, usually in the form of a poll tax or a capitation tax. By 1658, persons defined as tithable was either free white males age 16 or older (i.e., not females), plus all male and female negro slaves and Indian servants, however procured, who were at least 16 years of age. Subsequent laws made the immigrants' descendants tithable also. Slaves and servants did not pay their own taxes; their owners or masters were therefore "tithable" for both themselves and for the their servants and slaves.. Replaced by the poll tax and eventually by the current property tax system for support of local government functions such as community buildings and poor-relief. See also non-tithable.
a company of ten householders under a frankpledge
the chief man of a tithing 
one who holds title or rank
a set of titles borne by an individual
a small land holding, including the house and its outbuildings
payment for leave to sell livestock
a measure - holding half a bushel.
 a head shaved in a particular fashion to signify admittance to a religious order
a surname based on a place or possession. Frequently such was designated by "de", "of", "von" or "van" (or other linguistic equivalent) preceding the surname. This was common for nobility during medieval times, but for some families has continued to this day..
a resident of the American Colonies who remained loyal to England during the Revolutionary War (see Loyalist)
A special court of a Hundred from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century held after Easter and Michaelmas by the High Sheriff, the main object of which was to check that the system of frankpledge was being observed
[Latin] in transit from - traveling
[English law] The Treason Act of 1351 followed and defined high treason as encompassing or imagining the death of the king, the queen, or the king's son and heir; violating the king's companion, his eldest daughter unmarried, or the wife of his eldest son and heir; levying war against the king and his realm, or giving aid and comfort in the realm and elsewhere; slaying the chancellor, the treasurer or the king's justices; counterfeiting the king's seals or money; and importing counterfeit money. Petty treason as opposed to high treason, by the way, was the slaying of a master by his servant, of a husband by his wife, and of a prelate by an inferior religious or secular man.
a short-term obligation of a governmental body (as a municipality) issued in anticipation of revenue. See also Warrant.
in U.S., There were two land acts that related to trees:
  • The Timber Culture Act of 1873 required the payment of only filing fees for obtaining up to 160 acres of land if the claimant planted a minimum of 40 acres of new trees. The property had to be naturally empty of trees at the time of the claim. There was no residence requirement. You got payment after ten years for your tree planting efforts. Of over 260,000 timber entries only about 25 percent were concluded. Records for claims are in the National Archives. An individual case file may contain property descriptions, testimonies of claimants and witnesses, residences, ages, citizenship information, assessment of property condition and the trees. There may be naturalization records, marriage records and death records if the individual was either a naturalized or the heir of the claimant continued the claim. They are filed by land office.
  • The Timber and Stone Law allowed the sale of non-mineral surveyed land without agricultural value to be sold at appraised value, but not less than $2.50 an acre. I don't think that this is the "trees claim" that is of interest.
[Latin,French] three
[Latin] a Roman magistrate, sort of an ombudsman, whose responsibility it was to protect the common people from oppression,  Both the plebs and the military had tribunes.   
freedmen, part of the coloni class
[Latin] 3 months
1/3 of a solidus
A lawsuit in which the plaintiff says the defendant has property belonging to the plaintiff, and the plaintiff wants reimbursement for the value of the property. Contrasts with replevin (q.v.).
trundle bed with casters to run under a higher bed.
a basket with a fixed handle like an old American woven wooden grape basket.
a person or agent holding the legal title to property until any outstanding loans or liens are paid off in full
[Celtic]  a large family/clan group or tribe ruled over by a chieftain or king
village, town
a funnel.
an equipage, a carriage with its horses, attendants, and equipment.
a small tower rising above the main towers of a castle, to serve as a watchtower

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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