Glossary of Words & Terms

As more terms are found they will be added to this list.
If you know of some to add, please let me know. (

Ab Initio. [Latin, from the beginning] used in situations regarding the validity of will, deed, or other legal document

Abatement. 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., or, 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.

Abcpsia. Blindness

Abd. [Arabic] servant/slave of

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.

Accretion. Right of inheritance by survival

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.

Adverse Possession. occupying a property, then gaining title and ownership by keeping it for a specified statutory period

Aetheling. [Anglo-Saxon prince royal]

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.

Recurring fever and chills of malaria

Almeric, Almere or Ambry
– (probably a corruption of Almry) A large cupboard.

Almsman. Someone supported by charity or one who lived on alms

Ancient Planters.
Those who arrived in Virginia 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'



Appurtenances. The rights and duties attached to the holding of manorial land. The most important were submission to the manor court, grazing rights and the payment of various fines to the lord of the manor. A pew, or part of a pew, in church was often an ‘appurtenance’ of a specific house in the parish.

Artificer. Soldier mechanic who does repairs

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

Armiger. An armiger is someone entitled to bear heraldic arms, as opposed to an esquire, carried someone else's arms..

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."

Aum. An old Dutch and German unit of liquid varying from 36-42 gallons

Backsyde. Back yard, outbuildings etc. attached to a dwelling.

Bacteremia. Blood poisoning

Bad Blood. Syphilis

Bailiff. The manorial lord’s representative and estate manager, but subordinate to the steward.

Baiting Place. (Colonial America) A place to stop for rest and food

Bank-rag. Paper money

Barrel weight. A measure equal to 196 pounds

Bays & Says. A type of wool cloth made around Colchester with wool from Leicester

Baymaker. See Bays & Says.

Bearing Cloth. A child's christening robe or blanket

Behoofe. Use, benefit, advantage.

Bettering house. A reformatory or charitable organization for the sick and poor; a workhouse for wayward people

Bilious Fever. Disease caused by liver disorder.

Bishops Transcript. A copy of one year’s entries in a Parish register, sent by the incumbent to his bishop, usually at Easter.

Black Death. Typhus

Black Plague. Bubonic plague.

Black Rent. Rent paid in corn and meat instead of money

Blockmaker. One who crafted pulleys.

<>Boluter. A sieve


A person at an inn whose business was to pull off boots.

A measure of land varying in amount from 10 to 18 acres

Brasiler. Dyer

Bright's Disease.
Kidney disease

Bronze John.
Yellow fever

Buttery book.
A book containing names of members of a colleg, and the account of their commons

Cachexy. Malnutrition

A public record, survey or map for tax purposes showing ownership and value of land
. In 1752 the year start was moved from March 25th to preceding January 1st. Transcribing pre-1752 copy ‘5 Feb 1626’ as ‘5 Feb 1626/7’. September sometimes written 7ber, October - 8ber etc - not to be confused with present month numbers.

Carner. Granary keeper

Carnifex. Butcher

Carter. Maker, or driver, of carts

Castor. Hat maker

Catalepsy. Seizures or trances

Chaffing dish. Chaffer. Small enclosed brazier containing hot coals, usually charcoal, for heating food and drink.

Chandler. Candle maker.

Chapman. A dealer in small items e.g. haberdasher.  At times a traveling salesman

Chiffonier. Wigmaker

Chilblain. Swelling of the extremities caused by exposure to cold

Chin Cough. Whooping Cough

Chirugion. Apothecary

Chorea. Disease characterized by convulsions and contortions

Clerk of the Market. On market days the Clerk attended from 10am to sunset, and trading commenced and ceased on his announcement.

Codicil. An addition to a will to record changes.

Coemeterium. Cemetery

Cold Plague. Ague which is characterized by chills.

Collateral relationship    Relationship between persons descended from a common ancestor, but not in the direct line, for example, a great-aunt, uncle, cousin, or nephew

Colporteur. Peddler of books

Congestive Fever. Malaria

Coniger. Conygrye etc. Rabbit Warren.

Consanguinity    Blood relationship; relationship among descendants of a common ancestor

Consumption. Tuberculosis

Cony. Rabbit. Kept in conigers for food.

Copyhold. The tenant was protected by title written on the manor court rolls, of which he was provided with a copy - hence the name of the tenure. When transferring the property the tenant first surrendered it to the lord who held the fee simple, and then the new tenant was admitted on payment of a fine.

Cordwainer. ‘cordner’. Generally a shoemaker or cobbler.

Cornet. The fifth commissioned officer in a troop of cavalry, who carried the colors; corresponding to the ensign in infantry. or - The lowest commissioned rank in a cavalry regiment, equivalent to the present 2nd Lieutenant.

Court Leet. A manorial court, it could also apply to a Hundred Court. It dealt with petty offences such as common nuisances or public affray.

Cousin German. First cousin, the child of an uncle or aunt.

Coverture. The legal condition of a married woman which allows her to keep and control her personal property and wealth

Cow-common. A community pasture; land common to all for grazing animals

Cramp Colic. Appendicitis

Crayman. Driver of a cart carrying heavy loads

Cretinism. Congenital hypothyroidism

Crop Sickness. Overextended stomach

Crowner. Coroner

Culler. A person who grades animals for killing, or gelder of male animals

Currier. One who tans leather, uses curry comb on horses

Cyanosis. Lack of oxygen in blood, dark skin color

Dareman. Dairyman

Deforciant. Defendant who deforces another or prevents him from inheriting an estate.

Demesne. Those parts of the land and rights of a manor that the lord retained for himself, distinct from those used by his tenants.

Demise. To convey by will or lease an estate either ‘in Fee’ i.e. hereditarily, or for a term.

Deponent. One who makes a statement on oath (verbal or written) in connection with a legal case.

Devise. To leave, by will, land as distinct from personal property. ‘Bequeath’ is used for the latter.

Diptheria. Contagious disease of the throat.

Dowager. A widow who holds title or property derived from her dead husband

Dropsy of the Brain. Encephalitis

Dry Bellyache. Lead poisoning

Duitsh man. Probably Dutchman,

Earmarks. Used in identification of livestock. Many times, earmarks stayed within a family, making it possible to identify family relationships, as earmarks could be passed father to son
Escheat. A reversion of property to the state in consequence of a want of any individual competent to inherit. Escheat at feudal law was th right of the lord of a fee to re-enter upon the same when it became vacant by the extinction of the blood of the tenant. This extinction might either be per defectum sanguinis or else per delictum tenetis, where the course of descent was broken by the corruption of the blood of the tenant. As a fee might be holden either of the crown or from some inferior lord, the escheat was not always to the crown. The word "escheat", in this country. merely indicates the preferable right of the state to an estate left vacant, and without there being any one in existance able to make claim thereto.
Esquire. 1)A member of the English gentry who ranks just below a knight, 2)A candidate for knighthood who serves as an attendant to a knight, and carries his arms, 3)Someone who holds an office from the crown such as a Justice of the Peace, a sheriff, or a judge, 4)An attorney who has graduated from law school and passed the bar.(modern use), 5)Landed proprietor, or landed gentry, 6)When a son is named after his father, he is called I, II, III, etc. When the first born mail heir of that lineage is given a different name, he is given the title "esquire".
Fach. [Welsh] junior, as in younger son or other relative

Failure of Issue. In a will or deed, this indicates that in the event of there being no children born to or surviving the deceased person, the property will go to a third party, or  In common law, the condition continues with the children of the first taker.
Falling Sickness. Epilepsy

Famulary. of or belonging to servants

Fantach. [Welsh toothless] Also as mantach

Fatty Liver. Cirrosis

Fawr. [Welsh big, great] Also as mawr. or rights held under fealty 

Fealty. Loyalty or fidelity owed to a feudal lord by his tenant. Originating in the Carolingian capitularies, it is essentially an oath promising service and fidelity (loyalty) to one's lord or king.
Fee Simple. Unqualified ownership and power of disposition of a piece of real property. An estate in fee simple is one which the owner can fully convey, by deed or by will.

Feet of Fines. These records contain judgments as to the ownership of land and property, quite often the result of collusive actions brought by parties to establish title in the absence of documents.

Felyn. Yellow, fair-haired, also called mellyn

Feofee. A person who receives the fief. Today this would be synonymous with "trustee". Feoffees were often related to the party for whom they held property. As such, a list of feoffees is often helpful in ferreting out relationships which might be difficult to prove otherwise. The same person who served as feoffee of property might also serve as a witness for a marriage settlement or as supervisor of a will. That is usually a sign that the parties were related in some way.

Feoffment. Transfer of land from one person to another.

Fesse. (heraldry) a large horizontal stripe

Filiam, Filium. Latin for daughter, son

Final Concord. During the English Medieval period, a decision by a panel of judges, usually four, to render decisions usually regarding property disputes. The concord was made permanent and binding if uncontested for a year and a day. The record of the final concord was in three parts -- one to the plaintiff, one to the defendent, and the third bottom part called the feet of fines, went to the Royal Treasury.

Firelands. A tract of land in northeastern Ohio reserved by Connecticut for its own settlers when it ceded its western lands in 1786. The state of Connecticut deeded land there to its citizens whose homes were burned during the Revolutionary War, therefore the territory became known as "fireland"

First Papers. declaration of intention filed by an alien in a court of law

Fitz. Fitz is the Norman French equivalent of "son of", having the same root as French "fils" and Latin "filius". The patronymic would change from generation to generation. Then came a soldification into a surname on the order of Johnson, Anderson. Some examples are FitzAlan, FitzGerald.

Flauner. Confectioner

Fleakes. (fleacks, felks) Hurdles, presumably for fence making.

Flock. Wool refuse used for stuffing mattresses and pillows.

Flourit. [Latin, he lives] in genealogy, used to describe the years during which an individual lived the the birth and death dates are not known..  Frequently shown as the abbreviation fl.

Flux. Bloody flux is a bloody diarrhea and is usually caused by the bacteria Shigella. It is most commonly spread by food contaminated with fecal matter. A possible source is apples off the ground in a field that included livestock

Foel.  [Welsh bald] Also as moel.

Fortalic, Fortelace, or Fortilage. [Latin fortalitia a little fort] An outwork of a fortification

Fortnight. 14 days

Free Warren. [Eng] the right to hunt small game on a property, usually granted by the King

Freeholder. One who has a freehold estate, by holding the land by fee simple, which is to hold a piece of property outright with no other claims on it. In colonial times, a freeholder had the right to vote and hold public office.

Freemen. A man who was free of trade taxes and who shared in the profits of the borough in which he lived and traded, or, a tenant who was free of feudal service, and/or, a man who had served his apprenticeship and who could then work at his trade in his own right.

French Pox. Syphilis

Furst. [Ger.] a ruling prince, as opposed to prinz, who was a titular prince.

Fyrd. [Anglo-Saxon] organization of the military

Gaol Delivery. A judicial hearing of the charges against all prisoners awaiting trial in the area prisons. By a Commission of Gaol Delivery, the king appointed certain persons justices and empowered them to deliver his gaols at certain places of the prisoners held within them. It ordered them to meet at a certain place and at a time which they themselves could appoint, when the sheriff of the county would bring all the prisoners of the area before them.

Galloping Consumption. Pulmonary Tuberculosis

Garnish. A set of vessels for table use, especially of pewter. Garnish of pewter - complete set of twelve each of platters, dishes, saucers, cups and small flat plates. Often displayed on the cupboard head.

Gazetteer. A book which alphabetically names and describes the places in a specific area. For example, a gazetteer of a county would name and describe all of the towns, lakes, rivers, and mountains in the county.

Gearing. Harness for horses, presumably to pull the wagons, harrows & plough.

Glandular Fever. Mononucleosis

Goodman. A solid member of the community who ranked above a freeman but below a gentleman on the social sc

Gredyron. A gridiron, a platform of iron bars, with short feet and a long handle, for cooking meat over a fire.

Green Sickness. Anemia

Gripe. Influenza

Haberdasher. A hats and caps dealer or maker. Later a dealer in thread, ribbons and other small wares.

Handfast. A different type of secular marriage where vows were made before witnesses, a church or contract marriage to follow. Handfasting was mainly done in remote areas where there were no officials of the church or government readily to perform the wedding.

Hatchment. Funeral board with Arms painted on.

Hearth Tax. Tax on fireplaces (1662-1689).

Hereditament. Property which may be inherited.

Hide. a medieval English unit of land measure, signifying te area which would support a family of that day. A hide could vary from 60 to 120 acres depending on the quality of the land. The name relates to the hide, or shield, a man could provide for military service, and so a hide originally was expected to provide one man for military service when called upon. A hundred hides was an administrative unit known as a Hundred

Hind. farm laborer

Hostler. One who takes care of horses at an inn

Hovel. Open shed; outhouse for cattle, storing grain, tools etc.

Husbandman. Usually a smallholder who may also have to work on others land to support himself, a person below the status of yeoman.

Husslements. (Hustylment, hushelles, husoulment, householdments) Minor household goods of little value; odds and ends.

Impressment. The act of seizing people or property for public service or use

Jacobi. James I.

Jail Fever. Typhus

Journeyman. A qualified tradesman working for someone else.

Joyned. (E.g. 'joyned stoole' & other furniture). Made by a joiner.

Kettle. An open cooking pot or pan with semi-circular handles fixed to both sides, not the modern type.

King's Evil. Tuberculosis of neck and lymph glands

Land Patent. A grant of land in colonial America

Lay Subsidy. A tax on movable property.

Limner. Draftsman or artist

Lock Jaw. Tetanus

Lung Fever. Tuberculosis

Marasmus. Similar to malnutrition, progressive wasting away

Marriage Bond. Ancestors of our modern marriage licenses, were required in colonial America at least as early as the 1660s.  They were supposed to guard against illegal marriages (if one party were already married or under age, for instance) by making people personally known to the man and woman libel for payment of a large amount of money if they failed to disclose an objection to a legal marriage before it took place. The bond was executed to guarantee that no legal or moral impediments existed to an intended marriage. A payment was made which would be forfeited, usually to the bride's father, should the marriage not take place.

Meet. Suitable, fit, proper.

Melungeon. A race, or family, of people who lived between the ridges of the East Tennessee mountains long before the long hunters arrived, and whose origin is disputed.

Messuage. A dwelling house with the ground around it and any outbuildings.

Miasma. Poisonous vapors thought to infect the air

Milk Sickness. Disease from the milk from cattle which had eaten poisonous weeds

Moiety. A half.

Moot Hall or Hallmoot. A manor court.

Mormal, or morsal. Gangrene

Mulatto. A person with both black and while heritage.

Naked. A note made in a burial register when the corpse was unshrouded and the coffin unlined (This was sometimes the case with a poor family who could not afford the expense of a woolen shroud) or, the payment of a fine for using any other type of cloth.

Oath of Abjuration. A sworn statement renouncing a former allegiance

Orphan Trains. From 1853 to 1928, it is estimated that between 150,000 and 200,000 "orphan" children in the big cities of the East were relocated to new homes in the Midwest via the Orphan Trains. But the term "orphan" is used loosely in many cases.

Pale. A stake for fence making.

Pathmaster. A person responsible for maintaining a particular road or roads in the town

Patriotic Service. 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.

Perambulation of the Bounds. The Vestry had the responsibility of walking the bounds of the parish. The Incumbent, parish officers, prominent vestrymen and a good many schoolchildren employed for the occasion, armed with the authority of a wand of office, checked that boundary stones were in position and that no buildings encroached, unrated, on parish territory.

Per Stirpes. A method of dividing an estate so that children act as a group, rather than individually, taking what their deceased ancestor was entitled to

Phthiriasas. Lice infestation

Pillow beers. (Also pillow codds & pillow drawers) - Pillow cases.

Podagra. Gout

Porcher. Pig keeper

Porringer. Bowl for soup or porridge.

Pott's Disease. tuberculosis of the spinal vertebrae

Processioner. 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

Proved. 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.

Puerperal Exhaustion. Death from childbirth

Quadroon. A person with one black grandparent

Quicksett. Hedge.

Quissions. Cushions.

Redemptioner. a Colonial emigrant from Europe to North America who paid for his voyage by serving as a bondservant for a specified period of time after arrival

Remitting Fever. Malaria

Scots-Irish. The descendants of the Presbyterian Scots who had been placed in the northern counties of Ireland by British rulers in the early part of the 17th Century. Most came to America from 1718 until the Revolution. They settled first in PA, then moved south and then westward to the frontier

Shopps. House or building where goods are made or prepared for sale and sold (workshop).

Skomar. Skimmer; either of iron for taking the ashes from the hearth, or of other metal for use as a cooking ladle.

Sloes. Milk Sickness

Smock Wedding. One of the more unusual customs that came to America. Under English common law if a widow remarried and brought any of her late husband's property to the marriage, the new husband became liable for any and all the debts of the previous husband. Women owned nothing in their own right, and this included their clothing. So it became the custom for indebted widows to get married in their underwear, or smocks. The smock wedding was triple-fold. It was a bankruptcy proceeding; it was a marriage ceremony; it was an investiture because the bride then got a new wardrobe from her new husband. In theory the ceremony was held for all to see, on a public highway. But in practice many smock weddings were indoors.

Sollars. Upper rooms in a house

Spotted Fever. Typhus

Sprue. Tropical disease characterized by intestinal disorders and sore throat

Spytt. A spit, for roasting meat over a fire.

Stirk, sterke or styrke. A heifer, usually between one & two years old.

Stranger's Fever. Yellow fever

Surveyor of the Highways. (Overseer of the Highways, Boonmaster, Stonewarden, Waywarden). A parish officer established by the Highways Act 1555. He was unpaid and appointed from among the parishioners. Obliged to survey the highways three times a year and organize the statute labor that was provided by landholders to repair the roads, or else collect the money commutations.

Stuler. One who accompanies troops in the field or garrison and sells food, drink and supplies

Tainters. Wooden framework for cloth to be stretched after milling, so that it would dry evenly and without shrinkage.

Tallow Chandler. A person dealing in Tallow, a Candle maker, (using animal fat)

Tenement. A holding of land and buildings.

Tithingman. Tithing. A group of men or boys held responsible to the manor court for its members’ good conduct. The elected representative of the tithing was the Tithingman.

Trade Tokens. Tokens issued by traders in times of coin shortage, usually brass or copper.

Trammel. A series of rings or links, or other device, to bear a crook at different heights over a fire; the whole being suspended from a transverse bar (the crook tree), built in the chimney.

Treen Ware. Wooden ware - made from trees.

Trevytt. A trivet.

Venator. Huntsman

Vestry. An elected body of people, usually around 10 people, to make decisions necessary for an Episcopal church's continued function. Terms of office vary from time frame to time frame, and parish to parish

Virginalls. (pair of) Keyed musical instrument, popular in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, similar to a spinet but without legs, played on a table.

Visitation. Heralds visitations took place from 1530 onwards to check on peoples claims to bear arms. Ecclesiastical visitations by archdeacons or bishops checking on the conduct etc of their parishioners.

Water bailiff. An officer in seaport towns who was empowered to search ships for contraband etc.

Waynscotte. Wooden panelling used to line the walls of a room. The word also used for panelled chests, chairs etc.

Winter Fever. Pneumonia

Wool. Burying in Woolen Act, passed in 1660 and reinforced in 1678, to support the woolen trade by making it an offence to wrap corpses or line coffins in any material other than wool. The only bodies exempt were those of people who had died of plague.

Woolstapler. A merchant who buys wool from the producer, grades it, and sells it to the manufacturer.

Worm Fit. Convulsions associated with teething, worms, elevated temperature or diarrhea

Yeoman. Farmers who would work on their own land as either freeholders or tenants. Husbandmen would tend to have less land.