Saturday, December 18, 2010

Archaic Terms

Beginning Genealogy Lesson #4
(c) 2010
As your collection of family history documents grows, you are likely to notice some peculiar wording. You can certainly “Google” the word for an answer, but included below are a smattering of websites with information to help researchers shed 21st century viewpoints. Did you know circa 1800s PINK used to be for baby boys and BLUE was for baby girls? How we think of things today isn't necessarily the way our ancestors did.
Abbreviations & Acronyms: Guide for Family Historians, Second Edition

Black’s Law Dictionary is the definitive source, though you’ll want to look at earlier editions for older terms. Our friends at Archive CD Books USA carry the 1891 and the 1910 editions.
See also:

Checkout Rudy’s List of Archaic Medical Terms at (shown below) featuring descriptions, time periods and some specific examples from medical documents. (Just tiptoe around the advertising.)

See also:

Creative research could probably determine that a “Medicus” is an early term for a physician, but the synonym “Mayer
” isn’t as obvious. For more ideas, see’s Glossary of Old Occupations and Terms. See also:

The phrases we use currently to describe relationships between people are not necessarily the definitions used in previous centuries. For instance:
    The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy, Third Edition
  • A husband and wife were thought of as a single entity, so the term SISTER could mean either sister or sister-in-law.
  • IN-LAW could also mean a step child.
  • COUSINS could mean anything in a familial relationship OTHER than the immediate family of parents & children.
  • Frequently during the colonial American time period, NIECES and NEPHEWS were referred to as COUSINS.
  • BROTHER and SISTER could denote a religious association, not a blood relationship.
  • SENIOR and JUNIOR didn't always imply father-son relationships; merely that one was the OLDER of that name in the community or extended family.
  • NEPOS is Latin for GRANDSON not nephew. 
  • MY SON'S NOW WIFE didn't imply a previous marriage. It was used to protect the estate from being diluted from claims by subsequent wives should this one die and the son remarry. 
See also: Vall Greenwood's The Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy, Third Edition, illustrated above.

Once you’ve typed all the names you’ve gathered into your genealogy software, you can determine relationships between individuals, as shown by this screen shot (below) from RootsMagic Version 4 indicating my relationship to Lorenzo Jacob Froman, born in Kentucky in 1810. I visited his grave and that of his wife this past summer in Clinton County, Missouri.

If you haven't typed everything into your genealogy database program yet, you may want to manually calculate relationships between you and your cousins once or twice removed, etc. There are several relationship charts on the web, but Ol’ Myrt here particularly likes the one from the TSGraves website. See also the Relationship Chart from our friends at Family Tree Magazine.

There is a RootsWeb OLD-WORDS mailing list for the discussion of old words, phrases, names, abbreviations, and antique jargon useful to genealogy. Search the archives for a specific word or phrase or browse the archives, going from one message to another.
Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this, it is extremely helpful! I'm bookmarking this entire post so I can refer to all the links.