Glossary of Common Terms

ABEYANCE - a condition of undetermined ownership, as of an estate that has not yet been assigned

ABSTRACT - Summary of important points of a given text, especially deeds and wills.

ABSTRACT BOOK - record books containing abstracts of the information contained on deeds or land entries, usually listed in alphabetical order by surname of the purchasers

ACRE - See measurements.

ACTION - A legal proceeding filed in a court of law.

ADMINISTRATION (of estate) - The collection, management and distribution of an estate by proper legal process.

ADMINISTRATOR (of estate) - Person appointed to manage or divide the estate of a deceased person.

ADMINISTRATRIX - A female administrator.

AFFIDAVIT - A statement in writing, sworn to before proper authority.

AHNENTAFEL - a table of one's ancestors, from the German Ahnen (ancestor) and Tafel (table or list)

ALIEN - Foreigner.

AMERICAN REVOLUTION - U.S. war for independence from Great Britain 1775 - 1783.

ANCESTOR - A person from whom you are descended; a forefather.

ANTE - Latin prefix meaning before, such as in ante-bellum South, "The South before the war"

APPRENTICE - One who is bound by indentures or by legal agreement or by any means to serve another person for a certain time, with a view of learning an art or trade.

APPURTENANCE - That which belongs to something else such as a building, orchard, right of way, etc.

ARCHIVES - Records of a government, organization, institution; the place where records are stored.

ASSIGNEE - the person to whom a privilege or property is signed over by the court

ASSIGNOR - the person who signs over a right or property to another

ATTEST - To affirm; to certify by signature or oath.

BANNS - Public announcement of intended marriage.

BENEFICIARY - One who receives benefit of trust or property.

BEQUEATH - To give personal property to a person in a will. Noun -- bequest.

BOND - Written, signed, witnessed agreement requiring payment of a specified amount of money on or before a given date.

BOROUGH - Self-governing incorporated town, larger than a village

BOUNTY LAND WARRANT - A right to obtain land, specific number of acres of unallocated public land, granted for military service.

CADASTRAL - A public record, survey or map for tax purposes showing ownership and value of land

CANON LAW - a law of the church

CAPITATION TAX - tax on people, also called a head tax or poll tax

CENSUS - Official enumeration, listing or counting of citizens.

CERTIFIED COPY - A copy made and attested to by officers having charge of the original and authorized to give copies.

CHAIN - See measurements.

CHATTEL - Personal property which can include animate as well as inanimate properties.

CHRISTEN - To receive or initiate into the visible church by baptism; to name at baptism; to give a name to.

CIRCA - About, near, or approximate -- usually referring to a date.

CIVIL WAR - War between the States; war between North and South, 1861 - 65.

CODICIL - Addition to a will.

COLLATERAL ANCESTOR - Belong to the same ancestral stock but not in direct line of descent; opposed to lineal such as aunts, uncles & cousins.

COMMON ANCESTOR - Ancestor shared by any two people.

CONFEDERATE - Pertaining to the Southern states which seceded from the U.S. in 1860 - 1, their government and their citizens.

CONJUGI - a husband, wife, or spouse

CONNUBIUM - marriage

CONSANGUINITY - Blood relationship.

CONSORT - Usually, a wife whose husband is living

CONVEYANCE - See deed.

COUSIN - Relative descended from a common ancestor, but not a brother or sister.

CURTESY - the life tenure which by common law is held by a man over the property of his deceased wife and has by her issue born alive who is capable of inheriting her estate; in this case, on the death of his wife, he holds the lands for his life, as tenant by courtesy

DAUGHTER-IN-LAW - Wife of one's son.


DECEDENT - A deceased person.

DECLARATION OF INTENTION - First paper, sworn to and filed in court, by an alien stating that he wants to be come a citizen.

DEED - A document by which title in real property is transferred from one party to another.

DEMOGRAPHY - characteristics of human populations, such as size, growth, density, distribution and vital statistics

DENIZEN - a foreigner permitted certain rights of citizenship

DEPOSITION - A testifying or testimony taken down in writing under oath of affirmation in reply to interrogatories, before a competent officer to replace to oral testimony of a witness.

DEVISE - Gift of real property by will.

DEVISEE - One to whom real property (land) is given in a will.

DEVISOR - One who gives real property in a will.

DISSENTER - One who did not belong to the established church, especially the Church of England in the American colonies.

DISTRIBUTEE - one entitled to a share in the estate of a person who died intestate (without a will)

DISTRICT LAND OFFICE PLAT BOOK - Books or rather maps which show the location of the land patentee.

DISTRICT LAND OFFICE TRACT BOOK - Books which list individual entries by range and township.

DOUBLE DATING - A system of double dating used in England and America from 1582-1752 because it was not clear as to whether the year commenced January 1 or March 25

DOWER - Legal right or share which a wife acquired by marriage in the real estate of her husband, allotted to her after his death for her lifetime.

D.S.P. - died sine prole - died without offspring

EMIGRANT - One leaving a country and moving to another.

ENUMERATION - Listing or counting , such as a census.

EPITAPH - An inscription on or at a tomb or grave in memory of the one buried there.

ESCHEAT - The reversion of property to the state when there are no qualified heirs.

ESTATE - All property and debts belonging to a person.

ET AL - Latin for "and others".

ET UX - Latin for "and wife".

ET UXOR - And his wife. Sometimes written simply Et Ux.

EXECUTOR - One appointed in a will to carry out its provisions. Female = Executrix

FATHER-IN-LAW - Father of one's spouse.

FEE - An estate of inheritance in land, being either fee simple or fee tail. An estate in land held of a feudal lord on condition of the performing of certain services.

FEE SIMPLE - An absolute ownership without restriction.

FEE TAIL - An estate of inheritance limited to lineal descendant heirs of a person to whom it was granted.

FRANKLIN, STATE OF - An area once known but never officially recognized and was under consideration from 1784 - 1788 from the western part of North Carolina.

FRATERNITY - Group of men (or women) sharing a common purpose or interest.

FREE HOLD - An estate in fee simple, in fee tail, or for life.

FREEDMAN/WOMAN - a man or woman who has been freed from bondage or slavery

FREEMAN - one who held the full rights of citizenship, such as voting and engaging in business (as opposed to an indentured servant)

FRIEND - Member of the Religious Society of Friends; a Quaker.

FURLONG - See measurements.

GAZETTEER - A geographical dictionary; a book giving names and descriptions of places usually in alphabetical order.

GENEALOGY - Study of family history and descent.

GENTLEMAN - A man well born.

GIVEN NAME - Name given to a person at birth or baptism, one's first and middle names.

GLEBE - Land belonging to a parish church.

GOODMAN - a solid member of the community who ranked above a freeman but below a gentleman on the social scale

GOODS AND CHATTELS - personal property, as distinguished from real property

GOODWIFE - a woman married to a "gentlman." Often the title was shortened to "Goody."

GRANTEE - One who buys property or receives a grant.

GRANTOR - One who sells property or makes a grant.

GREAT-AUNT - Sister of one's grandparent

GREAT-UNCLE - Brother of one's grandparent.

GUARDIAN - Person appointed to care for and manage property of a minor orphan or an adult incompetent of managing his own affairs.

HALF BROTHER/HALF SISTER - Child by another marriage of one's mother or father; the relationship of two people who have only one parent in common.

HEADRIGHT - right to a certain number of acres (usually 50) of land guaranteed in advance for each settler in a new territory

HEAD TAX - tax on people, also called a poll tax or capitation tax

HEIRS - Those entitled by law or by the terms of a will to inherit property from another.

HEREDITAMENTS - property that can be inherited

HIBERNIA - Ireland

HOLOGRAPHIC WILL - One written entirely in the testator's own handwriting.

HOMESTEAD ACT - Law passed by Congress in 1862 allowing a head of a family to obtain title to 160 acres of public land after clearing and improving it for 5 years.

HUGUENOT - A French Protestant in the 16th and 17th centuries. One of the reformed or calvinistic communion who were driven by the thousands into exile in England, Holland, Germany and America.

ILLEGITIMATE - Born to a mother who was not married to the child's father.

IMMIGRANT - One moving into a country from another.

IMPRESSMENT - the act of seizing people or property for public service or use

INDENTURE - Today it means a contract in 2 or more copies. Originally made in 2 parts by cutting or tearing a single sheet across the middle in a jagged line so the two parts may later be matched.

INDENTURED SERVANT - One who bound himself into service of another person for a specified number of years, often in return for transportation to this country.

INFANT - Any person not of full age; a minor.

INSTANT - Of or pertaining to the current month. (Abbreviated inst.)

INTESTATE - One who dies without a will or dying without a will.

INVENTORY - An account, catalog or schedule, made by an executor or administrator of all the goods and chattels and sometimes of the real estate of a deceased person.

ISSUE - Offspring; children; lineal descendants of a common ancestor.

LATE - Recently deceased.

LEASE - An agreement which creates a landlord - tenant situation.

LEGACY - Property or money left to someone in a will

LEGISLATURE - Lawmaking branch of state or national government; elected group of lawmakers.

LIEN - A claim against property as security for payment of a debt.

LINEAGE - Ancestry; direct descent from a specific ancestor.

LINEAL - Consisting of or being in as direct line of ancestry or descendants; descended in a direct line.

LINK - See measurements.

LIS PENDENS - Pending court action; usually applies to land title claims.

LODGE - A chapter or meeting hall of a fraternal organization.

LOYALIST - Tory, an American colonist who supported the British side during the American Revolution.

MAIDEN NAME - A girl's last name or surname before she marries.

MANUMISSION - a formal written act to free slaves

MANUSCRIPT - A composition written with the hand as an ancient book or an un-printed modern book or music.

MARRIAGE BOND - A financial guarantee that no impediment to the marriage existed, furnished by the intended bridegroom or by his friends.

MATERNAL - Related through one's mother, such as a Maternal grandmother being the mother's mother.

MEASUREMENTS - Link - 7.92 inches; Chain - 100 Links or 66 feet; Furlong - 1000 Links or 660 feet; Rod - 5 1/2 yds or 16 1/2 ft (also called a perch or pole); Rood - From 5 1/2 yards to 8 yards, depending on locality; Acre - 43,560 square ft or 160 square rods.

MESSUAGE - A dwelling house.

METES & BOUNDS - Property described by natural boundaries, such as 3 notches in a white oak tree, etc.

MICROFICHE - Sheet of microfilm with greatly reduced images of pages of documents.

MICROFILM - Reproduction of documents on film at reduced size.

MIGRANT - Person who moves from place to place, usually in search of work

MIGRATE - To move from one country or state or region to another. (Noun : migration)

MILITIA - Citizens of a state who are not part of the national military forces but who can be called into military service in an emergency; a citizen army, apart from the regular military forces.

MINOR - One who is under legal age; not yet a legal adult.

MISTER - In early times, a title of respect given only to those who held important civil officer or who were of gentle blood.

MOIETY - A half; an indefinite portion

MORTALITY - Death; death rate.

MORTALITY SCHEDULES - Enumeration of persons who died during the year prior to June 1 of 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880 in each state of the United States, conducted by the bureau of census.

MORTGAGE - A conditional transfer of title to real property as security for payment of a debt.

MOTHER-IN-LAW - Mother of one's spouse.

NAMESAKE - Person named after another person.

NECROLOGY - Listing or record of persons who have died recently NEE - Used to identify a woman's maiden name; born with the surname of.

NEPHEW - Son of one's brother or sister.

NIECE - Daughter of one's brother or sister.

NONCUPATIVE WILL - One declared or dictated by the testator, usually for persons in last sickness, sudden illness, or military.

OATH OF ABJURATION - sworn statement renouncing a former allegiance

ORPHAN - Child whose parents are dead; sometimes, a child who has lost one parent by death.

ORPHAN'S COURT - Orphans being recognized as wards of the states, provisions were made for them in special courts.

PASSENGER LIST - A ships list of passengers, usually referring to those ships arriving in the US from Europe.

PATENT - Grant of land from a government to an individual.

PATERNAL - Related to one's father. Paternal grandmother is the father's mother.

PATRIOT - One who loves his country and supports its interests.

PATRONYMIC - a name derived from a paternal ancestor, such as "Johnson, the son of John"

PEDIGREE - Family tree; ancestry.

PENSION - Money paid regularly to an individual, especially by a government as reward for military service during wartime or upon retirement from government service.

PENSIONER - One who receives a pension.

PERCH - See measurements.

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

POLE - See measurements.

POLL - List or record of persons, especially for taxing or voting.

POST - Latin prefix meaning after, as in post-war economy.

POSTERITY - Descendants; those who come after.

POWER OF ATTORNEY - When a person in unable to act for himself, he appoints another to act in his behalf.

PRE - Latin prefix meaning before, as in pre-war military build-up.

PRE-EMOTION RIGHTS - Right given by the federal government to citizens to buy a quarter section of land or less.

PRIMOGENITOR - the earlies known ancestor or forefather

PRIMOGENITURE - the right of the eldest child (especially the son) to inherit the estate of both parents

PROBATE - Having to do with wills and the administration of estates.

PROGENITOR - A direct ancestor.

PROGENY - Descendants of a common ancestor; issue.

PROVED WILL - A will established as genuine by probate court.

PROVOST - A person appointed to superintend, or preside over something.

PROXIMO - In the following month, in the month after the present one.

PUBLIC DOMAIN - Land owned by the government.

QUAKER - Member of the Religious Society of Friends.

QUITCLAIM - A deed conveying the interest of the party at that time.

RECTOR - A clergyman; the ruler or governor of a country.

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

RELICT - Widow; surviving spouse when one has died, husband or wife.

REPUBLIC - Government in which supreme authority lies with the people or their elected representatives.

REVOLUTIONARY WAR - U.S. war for independence from Great Britain 1775 - 1783.

ROD - See measurements.

ROOD - See measurements.

SHAKER - Member of a religious group formed in 1747 which practiced communal living and celibacy.

SIBLING - Person having one or both parents in common with another; a brother or sister.

SIC - Latin meaning thus; copied exactly as the original reads. Often suggests a mistake or surprise in the original.

SON-IN-LAW - Husband of one's daughter.

SPINSTER - A woman still unmarried; or one who spins.

SPONSOR - A bondsman; surety.

SPOUSE - Husband or wife.


STEP-BROTHER / STEP-SISTER - Child of one's step-father or step-mother.

STEP-CHILD - Child of one's husband or wife from a previous marriage.

STEP-FATHER - Husband of one's mother by a later marriage.

STEP-MOTHER - Wife of one's father by a later marriage.

SURNAME - Family name or last name.

TERRITORY - Area of land owned by the united States, not a state, but having its own legislature and governor.

TESTAMENTARY - Pertaining to a will.

TESTATE - A person who dies leaving a valid will.

TESTATOR - A person who makes a valid will before his death.

TITHABLE - Taxable.

TITHE - Formerly, money due as a tax for support of the clergy or church.

TOLVET - a measure, holding half a bushel

TORY - Loyalist; one who supported the British side in the American Revolution.

TOWNSHIP - A division of U.S. public land that contained 36 sections, or 36 square miles. Also a subdivision of the county in many Northeastern and Midwestern states of the U.S.

TRADITION - The handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, genealogies, etc. from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth.

TRANSCRIBE - To make a copy in writing.

TURNOUT - an equippage, a carriage with horses, attendants, and equipment

ULTIMO - In the month before this one.

UNION - The United States; also the North during the Civil War, the states which did not secede.

VENESECTION - the practice of "bleeding" someone as a medical treatment

VERBATIM - Word for word; in the same words, verbally.

VITAL RECORDS - Records of birth, death, marriage or divorce.

VITAL STATISTICS - Data dealing with birth, death, marriage or divorce.

WAR BETWEEN THE STATES - U.S. Civil War, 1861 - 1865.

WARD - Chiefly the division of a city for election purposes.

WILL - Document declaring how a person wants his property divided after his death.

WITNESS - One who is present at a transaction, such as a sale of land or signing of a will, who can testify or affirm that it actually took place.

WPA HISTORICAL RECORDS SURVEY - A program undertaken by the US Government 1935 - 1936 in which inventories were compiled of historical material.

YEOMAN - A servant, an attendant or subordinate official in a royal household; a subordinate of a sheriff; an independent farmer.

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Swept March 2000


© 1998, 1999, 2000 for The NEGenWeb Project by Virginia A. Cisewski