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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compensation for injury to a person in a holy order
a tradition relating to an action, utterance or decision of the Prophet, under Islam  
[Latin heretical]
[Welsh ugly]
the pilgrimage to Mecca required by islam at least one in an individual's lifetime
a common medieval construction made of a wooden frame with wattle and daub in between
Manorial Court
a fine to avoid punishment
breaking into a man's house  
the privilege that a man had to hold his house or castle
a different type of secular marriage where vows were made before witnesses, with a more 'regular' (contract or church 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. Term evidently is of Scottish origin pre-dating feudal times. In Highlands custom, the heir of one should live with the daughter of the other as her husband for twelve months and a day. If in that time the lady became a mother, or proved to be with child, the marriage became good in law, even although no priest had performed the marriage ceremony in due form; but should there not have occurred any appearance of issue, the contract was considered at an end, and each party was at liberty to marry or hand-fast with any other.
under Islam, that which is forbidden or taboo
the value of various gold coins circulating in international commerce as established by Act of Congress, passed February 9th, 1793
[Heraldry] an achievement of a dead person set forth in large diamond-shaped panels  
[French] coat of mail
[French] to provide a hauberc. Essentially, the french equivalent on a knight's fee.
a measure of wine
[Belgian] a measure of grain
the right to take wood in return for mending a lord's fences
an manorial official in charge of fencing, hedges, putting stray animals in a secure area, and the harvest
right to a certain number of acres (usually 50) of land guaranteed in advance for each settler in a new territory. Virginia was settled by this method in the 17th century. From Hening's Virginia Statutes at Large, vol. 3, p. 304, October, 1705 states: "....all and every person male or female imported and coming into this colony dominion free, has a right to fifty acres of land; and every Christian servant, male or female imported after he or she becomes free, or time of servitude is expired, has a right to fifty acres of land for his or her importation; and every person coming into this colony, and importing a wife or children under age, hath a right to fifty acres of land for himself, his wife and every such child so imported...."
tax on individuals, also called a poll tax or capitation tax
a pillory
hue and cry  
anyone who inherits either by operation of law ("heir-at-law") or by operation of will ("legatee").  May be a child, but could easily be any person, even unrelated. Originally, heir meant only heir-at-law and only applied to the person who inherited real property, but has come to mean just about anyone who inherits any part of an estate. -- Thelma Jones

There are a number of variations under both Roman law as well as English civil law:
Roman -
- Hæres Natus - heir by right of birth
- Hæres Factus - heir by right of testament or will
- Hæres Fiduciarius - heir to whom an estates is given in trust for another
- Hæres Legitamus - a lawful heir - one who is heir by virtue of the marriage of his parents
English -
- Heir General - heir at common who after the death of his father has a right to his father's estate. Must be of the whole blood, i.e. not a bastard
- Heir at Law - An heir to a person's estate by virtue of his relationship to the decedent
- Heir Legal - someone who takes succession of an estate by force of law
- Heir Conventional of Testamentary - heir by will
- Heir of the Body - a direct descendant
- Heir Male - a male descendant, but not necessary a direct descendent.  Unless specified as "heir of the body", it could be the descendent of a sibling, or other male relative 
a measure of liquid equal to approximately 10 fluid ounces  
[Welsh old] father of fychan
[Welsh very old] superlative of hen
the seven early kingdoms of England: Wessex, Mercia, Kent, Northumbria, East Anglia, Essex and Sussex
a right or entitlement by birth
property that can be inherited
the practice of devising, blazoning, and granting armorial insignia (coats of arms)
military service, later a corvé
a medieval death duty paid to one's lord in arms, armor, or chattel, usually the best beast
a Scandinavian knight
[Ger. duke]
German troops used by the British in the Revolutionary War
[Latin Ireland]
a medieval English unit of land measure, signifying the 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
the highest-ranking sheriff, as opposed to deputy sheriffs. The term was popular in England and Colonial America 
one who covers a house with slate
membrane or covering
[Welsh tall, long]
the New England Historic Genealogical Society, the oldest genealogical society in North America
[Anglo-Saxon, loaf-eater] servant
[Anglo-Saxon] landlord
[Anglo-Saxon, lord's gift] rent
a following of men
the second Tuesday after Easter.  Like Michaelmas, it was a day on which annual or semi-annual rents were paid.  Along with Michaelmas, these two dates divided the year between the summer and winter seasons.
a document written entirely by the hand of the person whose signature it bears
[medieval] the ceremonial act of demonstrating one's subordinate status to another before witnesses. To do an act of homage, one customarily knelt and placed one's joined hands (as if in prayer) between the similarly joined hands of one's lord.
one whose head has been shaved  
[medieval] a group of manors or estates, held by the tenant-in-chief of the king
the monastic timetable: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, None, Vespers, Compline
an exceptional and transitory combination of a number of peoples to meet a particular danger or achieve a special enterprise, after which the horde usually dissolved
the House of Lords is the upper chamber in the British Political system. The term was first used in 1544, to describe those councilors, hereditary and other, whom the crown was accustomed to summon by special write to parliament. Later it was applied to the great council chamber of the palace of Westminster in which they sat. The House of Lords was thus originally the king's council in Parliament, and its members sat in Parliament solely by virtue of a special summons from the crown. So, anyone who sits in the House of Lords, is a lord, including dukes, earls, viscounts, marquesses, barons, archbishops, bishops and judges. Baronets are not members of the peerage, so they are not lords. Peerage is a comparatively modern conception. Edward I was ignorant of it, and the only persons who were necessarily present in his parliaments were the members of his council. They were always summoned by writ from the lord chancellor, who shared with the king, the distinction of sitting in Parliament without any summons at all. Edward I, however, established the custom of also summoning to parliament, besides the representatives of shires, boroughs, and lower clergy, a number of great tenants-in-chief of the crown, such as the archbishops, earls, and bishops, and some barons and abbots selected by the crown. No-one had a right to be summoned; it was a matter of obligation and duty, of suit and service at the king's court due from tenants-in-chief in return for the lands they held of the king; and the general tendency in the Middle Ages was to evade it. In time, however, a place in Parliament came to be a seat of authority, and the service to be regarded as a privilege which was sought by some and denied to others. A peculiar and not very consistent theory of baronage and peerage was evolved, which restricted "peerage" (which meant "equality") to a narrowing circle of increasingly powerful barons, and associated it with the tenure of land, and subsequently with the possession of certain dignities created by the crown; and the possessors of these qualifications succeeded in denying to those councilors who did not possess them, a vote in the great council chamber in Parliament. even Sir Thomas More, who was chancellor, summoned every peer to parliament, and presided over their deliberations, was denied a vote. -- Renia Simmons (edited)
A house of private entertainment did not dispense alcoholic drinks. Its facilities were generally more limited than those of an ordinary--and license fees were lower, as opposed to an ordinary, or house of  public entertainment, was a tavern offering its guests food, lodging and alcoholic beverages also stabling and feed for horses.
In England, a householder is one who inhabits a dwelling or tenement of such a nature as to qualify him for the exercise of the franchise. The word "house-keeper" was formerly synonymous with "householder." 
the right to take wood from a lord for the repair of one's house  
In England, a householder is one who inhabits a dwelling or tenement of such a nature as to qualify him for the exercise of the franchise. The word "house-keeper" was formerly synonymous with "householder." Louis B . Wright writing on Middle-Class Culture in Elizabethan England, says that, in the old manorial sense, house-keepers were those who gave "employment to swarms of retainers and dispensed hospitality to the countryside.
[Latin] here - to this place
fish tub
all members of a village were required to pursue a criminal with horn and by yelling.  Those who did not were subject to amerciament, as was the entire village if the felon managed to escape.
French Protestants who fled from religious persecution. They first went to Prussia, the German Palatinate and then came to America. Those in the French West Indies escaped to the southeastern coast of America. Others went to England and Ireland.
[Latin] of this
[Latin] of this month & year
A British political subdivision larger than a city, but smaller than a county.  Famous American hundreds were Bermuda Hundred, and Martin's Hundred which had at least 21,500 acres in the first settlement and 200 settlers. The hundred held its own Hundred Court, dating back to these early days.  This term is conjectured as having a number of originins:
(1) a military and administrative district, dating to the 10th C. under King Æthelred, but in use as late as the 17th C., in early British colonial America. A hundred is not 100 acres but 100 hides, one of which will support a family of that day. Each hide varied from 60 to 120 acres depending on the quality of the land .
(2) a canton or division of a county, perhaps once containing one hundred "manors". (Latin; "hundredum"), and quoting Bacon, and again by Johnson (same title, 1802), "a rule or government which a man has over such as (people who) hold land within his fee" , and (citing Corvel) "...touching the original of these manors, it seems, that in the beginning, there was a certain compass or circuit of ground granted by the king to some man of worth, for him and his heirs to dwell upon, and to exercise some jurisdiction -- Samuel Johnson, Dictionary of the English Language  (1755)
(3) a manor is defined as: from Saxon times, "...each county or shire comprised an indefinite number of hundreds, each hundred containing 10 tithings or groups of ten families of freeholder or frankpledges.... the division was probably known to the ancient German people...." {B}
see Hundred Court
a person whose occupation is husbandry; a farmer. He may have held some freehold, or more likely copyhold, but he tilled it himself, or along side servants.
see Borough Court
a chest, box coffer or bin.
in medieval times, the entourage of a king or nobleman
a pet or affectionate name, usually a form of the surname or forename, not to be confused with a nickname

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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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