ROOTS Genealogical Dictionary



Dictionary of Genealogy & Archaic Terms


Last Update: Wednesday, April 30, 2008

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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[Welsh strong] see also cadarn.
[Celtic] the name given by the Celts to their inhabitants of Britain and Ireland and the Isle of Man
rented land
(1) a platform upon which an individual was hanged
(2) a medieval jurisdictional authority which has the right to try and execute capital crimes
[Hebrew] ancient Jewish religious teacher and leader, whose key role was to provide interpretation of the Talmud
an acronym for Gateway Ancestor of Royal Descent  
a toilet built into a castle wall and projecting out over the moat
a ancestor which provides a link from one culture or time period to another
in medieval England, land which descended equally to the male heirs, rather through the rules of primogeniture
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.
a dependent cultivator of the soil
GEnealogy Data COMmunications - GEDCOM is a specific file format invented to allow sharing of data between two potentially dissimilar computers. All vital information on each individual in the database is collected and put in a format the receiving computer may understand.  
[Heraldic] thin bars usually in pairs
a meeting
the Internet mail list/discussion group dedicated to ancient genealogy, roughly the period before the fall of Rome (453), although many genealogist prefer to use GEN-MEDIEVAL for the same purpose, especially in the absence of an active pre-medieval group.  To subscribe, send an email to, with no subject, and only the word "subscribe" in the body text.  
the Internet mail list/discussion group dedicated to medieval genealogy, roughly the period after the fall of Rome (453) and the colonization of America (1607), although participants regularly test those boundaries, especially in the absence of an active pre-medieval group (although GEN-ANCIENT does exist).  To subscribe, send an email to, with no subject, and only the word "subscribe" in the body text.
[archaic] referring to a person as a member of the gentry
a family tree designed to show the medical history of a family to show genetically inherited health patterns
a person who is not Jewish
[Roman] the middle Roman name (prænomen, gentilicum, cognomen) signifying the family, or gens, to which a person belonged.  It served as what we today would call a surname.  Example: In Gaius Julius Cæsar, the famous dictator belonged to the Julian family.  Females took the feminine form of the gentilicum as their common name.  Thus all of Cæsar's sisters would have been known as Julia.   
In medieval times, the word 'gentile' meant noble, but gentleman' came into use in the fifteenth century to signify a condition between baron and yeoman, or sometimes between knight and yeoman, after a statute of 1413 had laid down that in certain legal documents the 'estate, degree or mystery' of the defendant must be stated. In 1429 the term 'les gentils' was used in an Act of Parliament, of men having freehold property worth 40 pounds per year or more. From the sixteenth century onward, the distinction between gentlemen and yeomen lay more in their way of life than in their relative prosperity. A gentlemen did not work with his hands, so his household included personal servants; whereas the servants of a yeoman were his assistants on the land and in the dairy. A gentleman's son was often described as a yeoman while he was working his holding, pending inheritance of his father's lands. Members of the professions, i.e. army and naval officers and barristers, were regarded as gentlemen, some of them being entitled to the description 'Esquire'. For apprenticing a son to a London citizen a property qualification was required, so many gentlemen's sons entered the more profitable trades of the City. When a man, who during his working life was designated by his occupation (for example, tailor), retired, he would often then describe himself as 'Gentleman' as he was no longer gainfully employed. {F}
the landed people. The gentry lacked hereditary titles, but exercised extensive political influence at the local level. Sheriffs and Justices of the Peace were usually chosen from among the gentry, for instance. The gentry were regarded as gentlemen, that is to say men of sufficient landholdings that they could live on the rents and not themselves do manual labor. In England, they numbered about 16,000 men who, together with their families, constituted about 3-4 percent of the English population at the end of Elizabeth's reign. -- John Steel Gordon (edited)
young, unmarried Anglo-Saxon warriors, often the sons of dugu , who, having as yet no land of their own, resided with their lord, attending and accompanying him as he progressed through his estates, much as the companions' of Tacitus' day had done. When a gesi of this sort had proved himself to his lord's satisfaction, he received from him a suitable endowment of land, perhaps even the land his father had held from the lord. This made him into a dugu.
a fine paid to a lord upon entering a holding
[late Saxon] a group of professional warriors in the direct service of the king, living in his hall and receiving gifts from the king in return for their service. They accompanied the king on journeys, served as ministers in peacetime and formed his bodyguard and the backbone of his royal host in times of war. Although often seen as mercenaries, because they received payment from the king, their service arose from the obligation to serve their lord rather than just a cash inducement.
[Anglo-Saxon] a follower of the king
(1) a guest's portion
(2) a allowance for meat and drink
a young male slave
the names given to an individual by his/her parents.
still used in some traditional churches, e.g., Presbyterian, for the land on which the manse (minister's residence) stands. Also, land belonging or yielding revenue to a parish church or ecclesiastical benefice.
[Welsh pure, sacred, clean, handsome]
[Latin] the rank of administrative official instituted in the 6th C., to be the highest rank of civil service, even high that the former rank of the illustres. {H}
[Welsh red-haired] See also coch.
a man or woman who sponsors a child at baptism, also called a Godparent
an medieval ensign, standard or banner used, and formed after the fashion of the 'vexillum', or standard of the Roman cavalry. It consisted of a flag attached to a cross-bar and suspended by cords at right angles to the pole. Though at first a war banner, it subsequently became peculiar to the Church. A gonfalonier is one who carries the standard. In Italy today, a gonfalonier is a magistrate.
a solid member of the community who ranked above a freeman but below a gentleman on the social scale. In Scotland, he could be of landed status not directly held from the crown.
personal property, as distinguished from real property
originally, a woman married to a "gentleman". Often the title was shortened to "Goody". If you come across names such as Goody Cook or Goody Whitten, they are not first names but the abbreviation of a title  In colonial America, the term was more closely associated with Puritam New England than the South.  It took on the connotation of a woman of humble origins, slightly below the status of  'Mrs.'
[Ger.] the German equivalent of an English earl or continental count.
an uncle/aunt of one's father or mother. In U.S. frequently seen as "great-uncle" which is equivalent. Grand uncle is the older form, and is preferred.  
(1) a farm estate of a monastery
(2) a system of farming created by the Cistercians
to transfer property by a deed
one to whom a grant is made
index to grantees of deeds recorded in a deed book
one from who a grant is made
1. [German Stroh Witwer Straw Widow] an unmarried woman who has cohabited with one or more men, a discarded mistress. Akin to the artificial "Straw Man" of debate or corn field. . . and "Straw Witness" (who advertised his willingness to perjure himself by displaying a 'straw' in his shoe when appearing near the court.)
2. A wife who has been put aside/away/retired or just plain "Left". . . much as one puts an animal "to grass." just as business puts old and faithful employee "out to pasture". . . . It can also mean a woman whose husband is 'absent' from her (for whatever period of time) husband.
the calendar in use today. Pope Gregory XIII ordered the replacement of the previous Julian Calendar in 1582, although it was not adopted by England and the American Colonies until 1752. See also Old Style Date.
after a village of southern Scotland on the English border. It was famous as a place for runaway marriages from 1754 until 1856, when the Scottish law was changed to require a 21-day residence period for one of the parties before issuance of a license. {A}
the right to hold an inquisition on the breach of peace
[heraldric] a fabled monster, usually having the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion
(1) a vulture living in southeastern Europe
(2) a medium-sized wire-haired Belgian dog
(3) medieval slang for "Greek"
(4) a variation on "griffin"
peace, protection
breaking of the peace
an appointee of the court who cares for the property and rights of a minor or someone incapable of handling his or her own affairs.
a medieval trade association
(1) [Heraldric] one of the seven allowed colors -- red, or represented in greyscale as or a shading of vertical lines  
(2) the first day of a month 
gutter or drain pipe.
[Welsh boy, servant]
[Welsh wild]
[Welsh white] See also wynn.
women's quarters

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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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