While doing family history research quite often we encounter some unknown terms that can make us feel confused. To help you understand the lingo and save time on googling we’ve compiled this glossary of genealogy terms.
Ad litem – used to refer to someone chosen by the court to represent someone in a particular legal action who is not considered able to represent themselves.
Ahnentafel chart (also continental pedigree) – a numbering system used to display each individual in a family tree in a fixed sequence of ascent. The descendant is listed number 1, the father as number 2 and the mother as number 3, the paternal grandparents as number 4 and number 5 and the maternal grandparents as number 6 and number. 7, and so on. All even-numbered ancestors are male, and all odd-numbered ancestors are female.
Antebellum – existing or occurring before a war, particularly the US Civil War.
Banns – a public announcement in church of a proposed marriage.
Base-born (also bastard) – illegitimate child.
Bond – a written agreement to perform as specified.
Bounty land – land granted by the government to citizens as a reward for military service.
Census – a periodic governmental enumeration of population and compilation of economic, social and other data about it.
Codicil – an addition to a will that explains, modifies, or cancels it.
Collateral line – line of descent that connects people who have a common ancestor but are related through an uncle, aunts, etc.
Conveyance – a legal document that states that property or land has passed from one owner to another.
Country of origin – the country where a person was born.
Cultural diversity – a region where different ethnic groups coexist within society.
Cultural mosaic – a region where different ethnic groups, cultures and languages coexist within society.
Debarkation – the process of leaving a vessel or aircraft (sy. disembarkation).
Declaration of intention – a document submitted to the court by a foreigner who wanted to become a US citizen.
Deed – a document transferring the ownership of property or legal rights to another person or entity.
Deed poll – in the UK, a type of legal document that allows someone to officially change their name.
Devise – a clause in a will leaving something, especially real estate, to someone.
Double date – the practice of using double dates because of the switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar.
Dower – a share of money or property of a husband given by law to his widow after he dies.
Embarkation – boarding on a vessel or aircraft.
Et al. – means “and others”.
Et ux. – used to indicate that the wife as well as the husband own property.
Family group record (also family group sheet) – reflects a family (parents and children) and provides information about their places of birth, death, and marriage.
Family tree – a chart that depicts all the people in a family and how they are related to one another.
Fee simple – a form of ownership that doesn’t impose limitations to any class of heirs or restrictions on the transfer of ownership.
Gazetteer – a book that lists places in a specific area, usually with some extra information.
GEDCOM – a universal file format that allows exchanging information with other researchers who use different genealogy software.
Given name (first name) – the name given to a child at birth or baptism.
Grantee index – a list of persons purchasing or receiving real property.
Grantor index – a list of persons selling, granting or conveying real property.
Heir apparent – a person with the automatic legal right of inheritance provided they outlive the ancestor.
Heraldic symbols – official symbols granted to a family.
Hereditary society (also lineage society) – an organization that limits its membership to those who meet group inclusion criteria, such as descendants of a particular person of historical importance.
Indentured servant – a person who works for another individual for a specified period to repay travel expenses for moving to another country.
In loco parentis – the term means that a person is assuming the parental obligations for the minor.
Land grant – a tract of land given or sold to an institution or an individual by the government.
Land record – is a legal document that proves that land has been transferred to another person.
Lien – a legal right to retain the property of an idividual who owes them money until it has been paid.
Lis pendens – a written notice of a pending lawsuit involving property.
Maiden name – a woman’s family name before she marries.
Manumission – release from slavery or servitude.
Marriage bond – a written promise of payment made by the groom indicating his intention to marry the woman.
Maternal line (also matriline) – a line of descent that follows the mother’s ancestry.
Melungeon – a person of mixed white, black, and American Indian ancestry.
Mensis – month.
Metes and bounds – a method of demarcating the limits or boundaries of a tract of land as identified by natural landmarks, such as rivers, roads or other markers.
Naturalization record – a document recording the process an immigrant becomes a citizen of the US.
Nuncupative will – a will that has been declared orally.
Octoroon – a person having 1/8 black ancestry.
Passenger list – a list of people who arrived on ships into the US.
Paternal line – line of descent that follows the father’s ancestry.
Patronymics – the practice of creating names derived from the name of a father or ancestor.
PERSI (PERiodical Source Index) – a bibliography of articles that enables you to easily find information about people and places. It contains over 2.7 million record entries from genealogy and local history periodical articles.
Point of entry – the first place of a port or border entry an immigrant arrives when entering the country.
Power of attorney – the legal right to act for someone else in their business and financial matters.
Preponderance of evidence – superiority in the weight of evidence that is more convincing than the opposing evidence.
Primogeniture – the right of inheritance belonging to the firstborn legitimate son.
Probate record – a document that disposes of the property of a dead person.
Public domain – land that cannot be sold because it belongs to the government.
Pull factors – reasons that attract a person to a country, religion, etc.
Push factors – opposite to pull factors, conditions that motivate a person to leave.
Quitclaim deed – a legal document in which one individual transfers their interest in real property to another person without making any guarantees of ownership.
Quit rent roll – a list of landowners who paid the annual fee to the King be eligible to live on the land.
Reconveyance – the process of transferring the title by the trustee back to the borrower when the secured debt is paid in full.
Schedule – the term given to each of the types of forms used for US censuses. These include the population schedule, the agricultural schedule, the slave schedule, etc.
Sic – a word written in brackets signifying that there might be a mistake in the original document.
Social Security Death Index – a database of death records that includes deceased individuals with social security numbers, and whose deaths were reported to the Social Security Administration.
Tithable – an individual who is subject to payment of tithes.
Tithe – a tenth part of earnings or annual produce paid as a tax or voluntary contribution for the support of the Church.
Ultimo – the preceding month.
Unprobated will – a will that wasn’t submitted for probation.
Vital records – records of life events kept under governmental authority, including birth, death, marriage, and divorce records.
Warranty deed – a document where the seller guarantees that they hold clear title to real estate and have a right to sell it.
White rent – rent reserved or to be paid in silver.
Writ of attachment – a form of prejudgement process in which a court orders the seizing of property to ensure the satisfaction of the verdict.
Writ of summons – an official order for someone to appear in court.