When we search for our ancestors, we often come across terms that are rarely used anymore and some that were never particularly common. We may find Latin terms in church books, medical terminology in death records (he died of what?), abbreviations on tombstones, and legalese in court records.
Modern dictionaries do not always help, particularly if the word is archaic as these are often only found by searching for the modern equivalent which brings to mind the old saying “if I knew how to spell it I wouldn’t need a dictionary” although in our case the spelling could change from record to record, it is the meaning we need in order to understand the information we have uncovered.
With these things in mind we have collected and selected terms from various sources and fields of study that you may come across in your genealogical research. These lists are added to and edited as terms are added and definitions are refined. Think of them not just as research aids, but as living lists of dead (or almost dead) words.
Relationship terms explained – with diagrams.
Abbreviations – A list of common abbreviations used in genealogy.
Diseases – A list of by-gone and technical medical terms to aid in understanding a death certificate, military medical record, or published sources.
Epidemics – While not a glossary as such, this list of known epidemics that swept areas of the United States makes a handy reference when seeking out individuals who disappear suddenly and seemingly without trace.
Latin – Here we include useful words and phrases for Latin, the language of the church, and the law, a very useful reference when working in older records for the first time.
Old Time Occupations – The names of many occupations and professions have altered through the years, this list attempts to bridge the gap for modern researchers.
Terminology – This is a catch-all list of the terminology used specifically in genealogy.
A glossary of English Surnames can be found in the book:
Dictionary of English Surnames
Click here for a dictionary of historical terminology:
Where Queen Elizabeth Slept & What the Butler Saw: Historical Terms from the Sixteenth Century to the Present