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Glossary


Many of the definitions given below are genealogy-specific, but most of these words have other meanings also. For more information or to look up additional legal or archaic terms, consult the Oxford English Dictionary, and Black's Law Dictionary. (Follow the cross-references in Black's to get the full definition.)

abstract: a written summary of the main points in a document.

abstract company: a private firm that maintains and compiles legal histories of pieces of real estate, called abstracts of title.

administrator: the court-appointed person who handles the business of a deceased person's estate, or the affairs of an incompetent person (female: administratrix).

agricultural schedule: a separate part of the federal census, listing the farmers, with statistical information about their farms and crops; 1850-1880.

allied and associated families: those families who traveled, attended church, and intermarried with and witnessed legal documents for the families being researched.

archives: a repository containing primarily the retired official records of public or private agencies.

baseline: the east-west survey line in public domain states.

bequest: specific property transferred by a will.

Bible records: vital records written in the family record pages of a Bible.

bounty land: land received from state or federal government by a veteran, his family, or an assignee, for military service.

burned county: a common term for a courthouse whose records have been lost or destroyed through fire, flood, vermin or neglect.

census: the counting or listing of inhabitants of a certain region; done by a census enumerator commonly on a federal or state basis.

chancery court: a court of equity; usually dealing with divorce or family matters.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: commonly known as Mormons; interested in family history because of their religious beliefs.

civil lawsuits: legal cases between two or more private parties.

collateral relatives: people who share an ancestor but do not descend from one another.

compiled service record: military records that have been abstracted from various original documents, into one record, and filed alphabetically by the soldier's name.

compiled source: information abstracted from various original documents into one record; secondary source.

conflicting information: data that comes from different sources but does not agree; must be evaluated.

county court: a local jurisdiction, handling day to day business of county government.

county formation date: the creation date of a new county, either from other existing counties or from previously unorganized territory.

criminal lawsuit: legal case involving the state against one or more parties who have broken the law.

death notice: a short mention of a person's death, differentiated from an obituary by its brevity.

deed: a legal document transferring some type of property.

emigration: the act of moving from one country to another.

enumeration order: the sequence in which census entries were recorded; house to house.

estate: the property held by a person at the time of his or her death.

evidence: facts that indicate whether or not something is true; proof.

executor: the person who is named in a will to handle the affairs of an estate after the death of the deviser, (female: executrix).

extract: to copy a record, or portions of a record, verbatim from a body of records.

family group sheet: page (often a pre-printed form) listing a family unit: father, mother and children of that union, with the dates and places of birth, death and burial given for each individual, in addition to other information and source documentation.

family history: the study of the genealogy of one's family with emphasis on accumulating information on the events and circumstances of their lives, rather than mere dates, places, and lineage.

Family History Center: a genealogy library operated by the LDS Church (Mormons), where any visitor can access the extensive records amassed by the LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Family History Library: the repository of the largest collection of genealogical materials in the world; operated by the LDS Church, located in Salt Lake City, Utah; open to the public; distributes copies of microfilmed records to Family History Centers.

Family Tree Maker: a widely-used genealogy computer program from Ancestry.com.

footnote: a note at the bottom of the page citing the source of or additional information about information appearing on the page; sometimes this same data appears as endnotes: the notes for the entire article appearing at the end of that article.

genealogical society: an organization of people associated because of their common interest in the genealogy of the families in an area (county, state, country) or an ethnic or a family group.

guardian: the person appointed by the court to oversee the interests of a minor or incompetent person; sometimes specified in a will; can be the father or mother of the minor or incompetent person.

head of household: the term used for the person whose name appears first in the census enumeration of a family or group of people living together; before 1850, the only peoples' names who appear in the census enumeration.

heirloom: an object passed down, generally within the family, from generation to generation, often of worth only due to sentimental value.

heir: a person designated by a will or by the court to receive the property of the deceased.

historical society: an organization of people associated because of their common interest in the history of an area (county, state, country).

home guard: an organized group of men in a region liable to call to arms in an emergency.

Homestead Act of 1862: law passed by the federal government setting liberal terms for the acquisition of land by people who agreed to settle on the land.

immigration: the act of moving into one country from another.

industry schedule: the additional part of the federal census detailing the business activities of those enumerated within each county; also called Products of Industry.

inter-library loan: one library borrowing, for a patron's use, books from another library system; genealogical books are often not available through inter-library loan.

intestate: without a will or a person who dies without a will.

inventory: a list of the property held by a person at the time of his death; usually compiled by several court-appointed people, who submit the list to the court for approval.

in-law: person related by marriage or by another legal tie.

irregular military unit: group of armed men informally organized for a specific purpose not officially recognized by traditional army or government.

jurisdiction: the legal (or traditional) authority to carry out certain activities; political boundary within which officials have authority.

justice of the peace (JP): a local elected official with the authority to witness legal documents, perform marriages, and implement some areas of local law.

LDS: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; Mormons.

legal notice: an advertisement in a newspaper fulfilling the requirements of the law for notification of other interested parties or the public.

Library of Congress: repository located in Washington, DC, originally created to serve the needs of Congress, now open to the public.

local history: the events of the past that impact a certain area; often includes family histories.

loose papers: the original legal documents (decrees, inventories, depositions, receipts, claims, petitions, etc.) usually gathered into packets as they relate to one person or action, and filed at a courthouse.

maiden name: the surname a woman is given at birth.

manuscript collection: an assortment of unpublished related papers, letters or documents, held by a library or archives, usually unindexed.

meridian: in the rectangular system, a north-south survey line.

metes and bounds: a system of land description that uses physical objects, frequently trees and rivers, and the property lines of adjacent landowners to define the boundaries of land; measurements frequently expressed in poles, a distance of about 5 1/2 yards.

microfiche: cards made of photographic material containing reduced images of printed material; used with a special reader that illuminates and enlarges the images.

microfilm: rolls of photographic material containing reduced images of printed material; used with a special microfilm reader that illuminates and enlarges the images and allows the spool of microfilm to be rolled forward and rewound onto the spool.

militia: organized armed forces of an area subject to a call to arms in an emergency.

mortality schedule: an additional part of the federal census detailing the deaths in each family within the preceding twelve- month period.

mortgage: a document placing conditions on the sale of property; usually recorded at the county level.

NATF-8... form: a form used when submitting a request for military, military pension, or bounty land records from the National Archives.

National Archives: the United States repository for documents relating to the history and people of our country.

negative research: a search of a source that yields no information, yet reveals information of a sort by the very fact that nothing was found, and gains importance from the knowledge that the source will not have to be searched again for the same reason.

neighbors: those who appear to reside in the same vicinity as the family being researched, hence may have connections to that family; inferred from their proximity of enumeration in the census record, their listing together in a tax book, intermarriage, and various other records.

nickname: first name by which one is commonly called, differing from the formal name one was given at birth.

obituary: an announcement of a person's death, giving details which may include information about the deceased's origins, biographical data, survivors, religion, and burial information; usually both a primary and secondary source.

parent county: the county from which another county is or was formed; the county from whom land was taken to create a new county or part of a new county.

pension: a stipend provided to an elderly or disabled military veteran, or to his widow or children, upon proof of military service.

periodical: a publication produced at regular intervals, such as quarterly or monthly.

Personal Ancestral File (PAF): a widely-used genealogy computer program; available from the LDS Church.

personal property: possessions held by a person, which may include livestock, gold watches, carriages, and slaves; as opposed to real property, which refers to land.

petition: a document addressed to a government entity, making a request of some sort, signed by a group of people who agree with the premise of the request.

plantation account: records kept pertaining to the business activities of a plantation, either narrative or tabular; often included vital statistics of slaves.

political boundary: the borders of a governmental jurisdiction; lines drawn on paper or maps, as opposed to physical borders.

population schedule: the main part of the federal census, listing the inhabitants (the free inhabitants, before 1870) of an area, with varying degrees of other personal data.

primary source: a record containing information recorded at or about the time of the event, as opposed to compiled or secondary information; primary sources are generally more reliable than secondary sources.

probate: the legal process by which the property of a deceased intestate individual is dispersed.

Quaker: common term for a member of the Society of Friends, a religious group noted for opposition to war and refusal to swear (they affirm instead) in legal matters.

query: an advertisement of sorts, requesting an exchange of data with readers who are interested in the history of the same family.

real property: land.

reapportionment: periodic redrawing of geographic boundaries of districts from which legislative representatives are elected; a primary purpose of early census enumeration.

rectangular survey system: a grid-like system of land division based on lines surveyed from baselines (east-west lines) and meridians (north-south lines); in use in public-land states.

regular soldier: military man serving a prescribed tour of duty in the standing army, as opposed to volunteer soldiers, those called upon to serve in an emergency or for a specific purpose.

research calendar: a list of sources searched showing surnames sought and results.

reunion: an organized gathering of people descended from a common ancestor, bearing the same surname, or bound together by some common tie.

Revolutionary War: the American war for independence, 1776 - 1783, which involved many citizens and created a variety of records helpful to genealogists.

SASE: self-addressed stamped envelope; an envelope provided to another person or correspondent by a researcher, already addressed back to that researcher and stamped with first-class postage, for the convenience of the correspondent.

secondary source: record containing information compiled long after the events discussed; generally not as reliable as a primary source.

slave: usually a black, mulatto, or mixed race person, bought and sold as property, kept in servitude with few individual rights.

slave schedule: an additional part of the federal census (1850 and 1860), listing the slave owners name, with a tally, by age, sex, and color, of the slaves owned by that person; no names of slaves are given.

source citation: a note, footnote or endnote, stating where the information given was derived.

superior court: a court to which cases with unsatisfactory results in the eyes of either party was referred for another judgment.

surname: last name; usually the same as the surname of the father.

survey system: a plan to describe a parcel of real property (land) so ownership of it can be transferred.

tally: a counting by mark, rather than a listing by name.

tax record: list of people liable to pay taxes in a given area, with a list of their property, real and/or personal; usually compiled annually on a county level.

topographic map: map showing the physical contours of a region of land; landmarks, churches, schools, roads, and cemeteries are sometimes shown.

volunteer soldier: those called upon to serve in the armed forces in an emergency or for a specific purpose; as opposed to regular soldiers who are members of the standing armed forces; includes drafted soldiers.

War Between the States: also called the Civil War, the War of the Rebellion, or the War of Northern Aggression; fought from 1861 to 1865, between the North and the seceded Southern states.

widow's pension: the monthly or annual stipend received by a woman due to her husband's qualifying service or employment; often refers to a military pension.

will: a legal instrument directing the disposition of a person's estate, the handling of a person's affairs, and the appointment of an executor for the estate and/or a guardian for dependents after a person's death.

witness: person who signs his name to (or makes his mark on) a document, attesting to the correctness of the statements or information in the document or that the principal's signature is genuine.


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