ROOTS Genealogical Dictionary


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.

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

[Irish, son of] from the British "*mapos" meaning "son"
compensation paid to a family  
[Latin] Master of Soldiers, head of the Roman armies, and equivalent to the British Field Marshal.  In the East there were five, including two magistri in præsenti (Masters in Presence) of the Emperor; and two in the West, including one Master of Foot and one Master of Horse in præsenti.  The Master of Foot in præsenti tended to be the most powerful though, and controlled the government.  Later this office assumed the tile of magister ultriusque, or master of both army and cavalry.
One of the 25 Barons who agreed to enforce the Magna Carta against King John of England 1215.
[Welsh narrow, thin] Also as vain.
The age at which a person becomes an adult. See "AGE OF MAJORITY"
a soldier holding his land, usually 60-120 acres, in return for military service.  Also called a yeoman.
compensation for a crime
goods, possessions, including slaves
30 pence
a British self-governing agricultural estate, with its own courts.  The manor as a unit of land was generally held by a knight's fee.  The Lord of the Manor was the head of the estate.   
[Welsh toothless] Also as fantach.
a formal written act to free serfs or slaves
used in the United States to indicate a slave that was set free. For the Palatinate immigrates it indicates release from obligation to the land and by extension the gentry/royalty/church that owned that land. They could not leave without a document of manumission.
a gold coin of the Arabs of Spain  
[Welsh son, boy] 'Son of'' is usually ab,ap. Also occurs as 'Mab' . 'Map' or 'Mab' is not related to the Latin "ab", but is rather from the British 'mapos' meaning 'son' and is a cognate of Irish "mac". The word becomes 'map' in Old Welsh and 'mab' in Modern Welsh. When following a personal name the "m" lenites in a v-sound, still spelled 'm' in Old Welsh, but increasingly spelled 'v' and 'f' later on. The v-sound tends to be rather weak in Welsh (cf. 'tref' becoming 'tre'), and in the highly formulaic nature of these names is lost. British "Moricantos mapos Totorigos" (genitive of Totorix) -> Old Welsh "Morcant map Tutur" -> Modern Welsh "Morgan ap Tudur". See also bachgen.
the palatine lord, usually an earl in England, but a margrave in other European countries, whose responsibility is was to protect the kingdom from their march, or property.  Typically, these lords were given extraordinary powers to govern these border or frontier areas.  In England, Chester and Durham were considered marches for Wales and Scotland; in Germany, the Rhineland was consider the march between Germany and France and governed by a palsgraf.
a gift of land a bride takes into a marriage as part of her dowry.  If the marriage produced no heirs, the property would revert to the bride's family
[Medieval] English unit of currency worth 13 shillings and four pence. An English mark equaled 2/3 pound; on the continent the mark was equivalent to 8 oz. of silver.
[Heraldry] symbolic changes to show seniority of the sons of the bearer of a coat of arms, as standardized by the 18th C. The marks were usually placed in the chief, unless it had to overlap all four quarters of a quartered shield. The mark is permanent and passed down to his sons. Illegitimate sons could be granted arms, but their mark usually involved a differenced border, most often wavy, but occasionally plain, compony, or engrailed. The marks were:
- eldest son: no change, except a label until he succeeds his father.
- second son: a crescent
- third son: a molet
- fourth son: a martlet
- fifth son: an annulet
- sixth son: a fleur-de-lis
- seventh son: a rose
- eighth son: a moline
- ninth son: a double quatrefoil
earldoms/counties at the edge of a realm were called "Mark". Such earldoms/counties were more important than the ordinary earldoms. The count of a Mark, a Mark-Count, later became Marquis. The German equivalent is Margrave (female equivalent Margravine).
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 State, should the marriage not take place.
a civil contract between two individuals dealing with lands, inheritance, dower, etc.  It could be executed at any age, and perhaps many years prior to the ceremony.  It preceded the marriage marriage ceremony, but otherwise was for the most part was unrelated to it. 
the date on which the father or guardian of the bride transferred the agreed upon dower money or land
originally an official who had charge of horses, as a groom, or farrier. But it became the title of various high military and civil officers. The term was also used for a kind of guardian of etiquette; in the British royal household there is an official in the lord chamberlain's department called the marshal of the ceremonies. The marshal of the king's bench was judge of the Marshalsea court. A grand jury is sworn in by the judge's marshal. etc. See also Earl Marshal.
the religious holiday occurring on the 11th of November  
[Heraldry] a representation of a bird without feet, used as a crest or bearing
(1) relative to a ship, he today would be called the Captain, but in American colonial times was called the Master
(2) magister (q.v)
          (3) younger sons of a nobleman
[Latin] usually a maternal aunt, although in Medieval times, it is occasionally used as the paternal aunt
part of the monastic timetable for liturgy, called horarium.  This worship service typically occured between 2am-3am in winter and 1am-2am in summer
a surname based on a maternal ancestor.  In medieval times, a younger son or son-in-law would occasionally take the mother's name in association with the property that may have come with it.
[Arabic] a freed slave
the drinking festival after a lord's fields were mowed
The practice of allowing formerly ruling houses to maintain their dynastic rights even when they lost sovereignty over territory. It meant that even if they no longer ruled, they were still "equal" in dynastic dignity to the luckier families that did retain sovereignty over lands and would remain equal provided their members married equally. This practice was in use primarily after 1815 in the German states which were absorbed into a lager German state.
[Greek] a measure equivalent to six pecks
a haymaker's fee, equivalent to as much hay the haymaker could lift with his middle finger to his knees
see POTENT  
Louise Littleton Davis in "The Mystery of the Melungeons" refers to them as a "mystery race tucked away between the ridges of East Tennessee mountains long before Daniel Boone and the long hunters arrived." These are a number of theories about their origins:
a legal document, which represents the facts of the owners right and title to the property. South Carolina had an entire series of Memorials, because the legislature ordered everyone to file one, explaining how they came by their land. There was no such law in Virginia, so they are scattered in deed and court books. They generally are of two types in Virginia. First, they are used like a caveat, or warning, that there was some kind of problem with the title. ["This is a memorial to announce that a previous deed was judged invalid."]  Memorials can be used if someone defaults on payments of a sale, and the land reverts to a previous owner. The owner makes it clear what happened and why he is the true owner again. The second type might just be making clear how someone obtained title, usually for the purpose of a sale.  Details of previous ownership are usually given. This type might give a line of descent in a family, proving how the land was passed from grandfather to father, to son. This is done when the land passed by operation of law, [as in intestate succession] without a deed being filed. Sometimes they just state previous sales. This might be done if a buyer wanted proof that the seller had a right to sell, and not necessarily because there was problem with the title. Memorials are informal, much like a deposition concerning title. They are filed in addition to any deeds, in order to make the chain of title clear. -- Langdon Hagen-Long, GEN-MEDIEVAL, 23 Nov 2004
a Swiss Protestant group formed in 1525 who were followers of Menno Simons, which migrated to America by way of Alsace, England and Russia. They settled primarily in Kansas, Pennsylvania and Minnesota.
[Latin] month
[Welsh] girl, daughter.  Also as verch.
a sum paid by a villein to his lord to give his daughter in marriage  
[French] See martlet
the high segment of alternating high and low segments of a battlement of a castle   
[medieval] the dynasty of Frankish rulers of central Europe. The dynasty is named after Merovch [Merovee], King of the Franks. There were certainly a number of Frankish kings before him, but they tend to by mythical, and the exact relationships are speculative. This dynasty prospered until the 7th C., when their authority was taken over by the Carolingians, who were their Mayors of the Palace. The genealogical connection between the Carolingians and the Merovingians is probable, although actual relationship is at present uncertain.
a piece of land with a dwelling on it
an intermediate conveyance, one occupying an intermediate position in the chain of title between the first grantee and the present holder 
military personnel of a castle
custodian of the manor's harvest  
[English] a small homestead with garden average 90x120 feet in size, usually with a right to farm several strips in a communal field and to pasture animals in an open common field
[heraldry] There are two metals: or and argent
council, meeting
in the eastern orthodox church, the bishop of a large metropolis, overseeing a provincial area.  
A description of the boundaries of a piece of land that uses landmarks such as stones, hills, and trees.  A "mete" is where two property lines meet (intersect)
a religious holiday celebrating St. Michael, and occurring annually on September 29th.  Annual rents, the most common form in medieval times, were generally due on this day.  With Hock Day, these two dates divided the year into a summer and winter season.
database of 100,000 men and women who died in the Korean and Vietnam wars.
armed forces raised locally to protect the citizenry, and may be called upon to serve in a wider conflict as happened in the American Revolution and Civil War.
a dry measure in Provence
a coin used in the western Mediterranean
[paleography] a description of the problem of medieval manuscripts, in which the script appears as a series of vertical letters.  This word becomes the example, for "minim" appears to look like "iiiiiiiiii".
when one hides one's knowledge of an intended treasonable act
a royal agent under the Carolingians
[Latin: envoy of the lord] an official sent by some Frankish kings and emperors to supervise provincial administration. Used sporadically by Merovingian and early Carolingian rulers, the missi became a normal part of the administrative machinery under Charlemagne (reigned 768-814). From about 802 onward almost all of his empire was periodically divided into missatica, or inspection circuits; these were visited--in theory for four months out of every year but often in practice less regularly--by at least two missi, one a bishop or abbot, the other a layman, probably a count. The missi were powerful men protected with a wergild equal to that of a member of the sovereign's family. They had full investigatory powers and were to rectify all error and injustice. Missi administered the oath of allegiance exacted from all freemen on the occasion of a new sovereign, informed local communities of the content of imperial decrees, and reported back on local conditions and needs. The difficulties that beset the Carolingian empire after about 830 paralyzed and finally virtually destroyed the system of missi dominici by the end of the 9th century.  
an order by the court of jurisdiction to the sheriff to arrest and convey an individual to jail as a prisoner, subsequent to further order by the court
a book of one's descendants
[Welsh bald] Also as foel.  
an undivided part or share, usually used in conjunction of a split of area, such as a medieval Honour.  Moities generally develop either where a person dies intestate, and the property must be dividing between several heirs, especially if their are no male heirs, and it must be divided between co-heiresses.
[Heraldry] a five-pointed star  
[Heraldry] a cross each arm of which is divided at the end into two rounded branches or divisions
an individual licensed to mint coins.  Traditionally he was allowed to keep 1/240 for himself as payment for the effort.
an unequal marriage in social status, which meant (and still often does mean) that any child of such a marriage will be denied succession rights and will have a lesser status
a gift from a husband to his wife the morning after the wedding
[Scot.] a medieval territorial ruler usually considered equivalent to an earl/jarl/count, but really more a sub-king. Literal translation meant "greater man" and in early medieval times functioned as Great Steward; later although subject to the king, he acted fairly independent with almost kingly powers.  There were seven mormaers in the 9th C., when it began to be absorbed into the English feudal system.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), more commonly known as the Mormons. This church is very active in collecting genealogical information for religious purposes. Their huge collection of data is available to the general public as well
a court pleading regarding claims of an heir the another individual has usurped his property
the enumeration (census counting) of deaths during the 12 months preceding census day. The U.S. Census included Mortality Schedules from 1850 through 1900, although the 1890 and 1900 schedules have been destroyed
[French dead hand] a medieval feudal principle, later common law, that property could not be sold or given to a entity other than a person, specifically to a corporation or religious entity, except by permission of the king. During that period, most all was owned by the king, and by grant to his lords. The property was subject to fees, including military service. To allow property to be owned by an alienated entity deprived the lords, and subsequently the king, of their their income and military support.  Mortmain was not in effect in the U.S., with the possible exception of Pennsylvania.
[Latin] death
a gift to the church upon one's death
Mourning jewelry and mourning gifts often borne the name or initial of the deceased, the date of death and sometimes the age of the dead person, such rings, bracelets, pins, gloves, scarves and pendants were given to mourners as remembrances of the deceased.
[Welsh tender, sweet-natured]
a title that could only precede the names of gentlemen, clergymen or government officials.
a feminine equivalent of Mr., it did not denote marital status but social position (women of the aristocracy). An unmarried woman of social status might be referred to as "Mrs."
an individual with both black and white heritage
[Latin woman]
[Heraldric] star
payment of a portion of grain to the miller for his effort
[Old English] the King's Peace
[Old English] breach of the King's Peace
[Old English] guardianship
an early colonial census where inhabitants were called out to appear to be counted

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.

Return to Genealogy Home Page

Send your comments to Randy Jones