Often when researching your ancestry you may come across a word or a term that will perplex you. Here is my fun family history dictionary that will help you make sense of the genealogy lingo that comes with being a family history detective.
Go directly to a particular letter by clicking below:
If you can’t find a term listed then please feel free to comment below. I will only be too glad to add it. Alternatively you may want to check out the Family Search website that contains a very comprehensive glossary of genealogy words and terms.
Gena Philibert-Ortega at GenealogyBank has compiled a list of genealogy acronyms that may also interest you. To check that out please visit her post The Language of Genealogy (Words & Acronyms).
Acknowledgement: I would like to thank MyCanvas for giving me the inspiration to create such a dictionary.
Before you do continue with the dictionary
There’s just one more thing that I would like to share with you before you continue with the dictionary. I came across the following video when I was researching fun genealogy activities that you can involve your children in.
It’s quite an amusing video as you see what kids think genealogy is all about. So please check it out before you head to the dictionary.
The Family History Dictionary!
Abstract – This is just a short form of a document, i.e. an abbreviated transcription. It will include the date of the event and every name within it. It may also include hints as to relationships between the people listed, for example, son, widow, etc.
Ahnentafel – This is a German word that means “ancestor table“. This table assigns a number to each person in your family tree so that it makes organization much easier. Fathers are even numbers and mothers are odd numbers. If you want to find a father in the table then you just double the child’s number. For example, you are #1, so your father is #2. To get your mother you just add 1 to your father to get #3.
Ancestors – People who are directly related to you. This includes your parents, grandparents, great grandparents and so on. As you go back through the generations the number of ancestors doubles. Another word for this is “progenitor”.
Autosomal DNA – Looks at the DNA in your direct ancestors for both your paternal and maternal sides. Only really accurate to about 5 generations back.
Banns (marriage banns) – Primarily used before civil registration in 1837 in the UK. These are a record of your ancestors intention to marry.
Births – The birth of your ancestor. Certificates can include their name, date of birth, where born, address, father’s name and occupation. There are also a few other clues that you can use from these certificates for your family history research.
Block number – This is a 1, 2 or 3 digit number that will describe a block of load within a township.
Bond – An agreement that is written, signed and witnessed that states that someone will pay a specified amount of money by a given date.
Bounty land – This was land granted by the Colonial and Federal governements as a reward for military service. Land was granted to soldiers, their heirs and other individuals as well.
Cemetery – Where your ancestor was buried. Finding your ancestor within the cemetery can give you much needed clues to your ancestors.
Cemetery records – These records will include their name and death dates. They can also help you locate your ancestor’s grave with a map of the grave site.
Census – Usually carried out every ten years a census gathers useful information for the government about the population. As a family historian we can use these censuses to find out details about our ancestors. However, the most recent US census is from 1940 and for the UK it is 1911.
Chromosome – This is a strand of DNA that carries genes, which can be used to find out about our ancestry.
Cluster genealogy – A term used to describe a group of your ancestors that you are researching.
Collateral relative – Not a direct ancestors of yours but is related, such as an aunt, uncle, cousin for example.
Cousin – Your parent’s sibling’s children. To work out how your related to a cousin please check out my family relationship chart post.
Deaths – The death of your ancestor. Certificates can include their name, date of death, where and how died, address and their occupation. There are also other details included which can help your research.
Declaration of intention – Also referred to as “first papers”, these are sworn statements by immigrants stating that they want to become a US citizen.
Deed – A useful resource of information that shows the the transfer of a property, this could be a home or a farm. You can get useful information such as your ancestor’s name, details about the property and who they sold the property to.
Descendant report – A report of every person directly related to the person selected. It can give details such as their name with dates and places of important events.
Descendants – The opposite of ancestors. These people are direct relatives of yours that includes your children, grandchildren, and so on.
DNA – A molecule that contains each cell’s genetic code, i.e. instructions on how we are made.
Documentation – This is the practice of citing your sources. It is useful for you as you will know where you have gotten a certain piece of information. It is also helpful for other researchers or may take on your genealogy research.
Enumeration district – Counties and even some large cities are divided so that the collection of valuable data is more efficient, i.e. a census.
Family group record – This is a collection of data for a given individual that includes their spouse and children. It will include everyone’s name, with also dates and places of important events.
Family history – Includes a wealth of information such as where your ancestors originated from, what they did for work, and any family heirlooms such as jewelry, medals, coins, silverware, photographs. Old family stories, tales and anecdotes tell your family history.
Family History Library (FHL) – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints possesses genealogical records that you can freely view and access.
Family tree – This is a tree-like structure that shows your direct ancestors and descendants as well.
Freedman – A male who was released from slavery.
GEDCOM – Stands for GEnealogy Data COMmunications. It is a file that you can export from your genealogy software program. Creating such a file makes it easier for you to share your research with others, particularly if they are using a different program.
Gene – This is part of a DNA sequence located at a spot on a chromosome. It can tell information about your characteristics about your as well as your health.
Genealogy – As opposed to family history this is solely information regarding your ancestors. Using information about your information such as their name and dates of important events you can build your own family tree.
Genetic marker – Locations within a chromosome that can give you clues as to your ancestry, i.e. where your ancestors originated from.
Genotype/signature – A collection of multiple genetic markers. This is a unique genetic identifier for a person.
Gregorian calendar – Today’s modern calendar that replaced the Julian Calendar in 1582. It wasn’t until 1752 that the United Kingdom and the United States would adopt this calendar.
Haplogroup – Your paternal and maternal haplogroup can tell you where your ancestors originated from. Tests can reveal this information to about 25 generations back.
Haplotype – These are marker values for your yDNA test results.
Homestead – Home and land that was given to your ancestor by the US government. This was on the condition that they would improve the land for farming or business.
Index – A list of names within a set of records.
Indexing – The work of volunteers who digitize data from an index and can then be put online.
International Genealogical Index (IGI) – This is just one resource that is available to you through the Family History Library. It is an index of approximately 250 million names.
Intestate – This refers to a situation where a person has died and hasn’t left a will.
Julian calendar – Our ancestors prior to 1752 used this calendar that got its name from Julius Caesar. Please be careful with dates when researching your family tree this far back.
Kin – Usually a person related to your ancestor.
Kindred – These are blood relatives.
Land claim – An application by a settler to receive block of public land.
Land grant – Public land that was given to an individual by the government. This was usually given as a reward for military service.
Land patent – A document detailing the transfer of land from the government to an individual.
Legacy – What your ancestor has passed down to his or her descendants. This can include property, money and material wealth such as furniture, jewelry, etc.
Lien – A claim that has been placed on a property by a person that is owed money.
Local history – The history of an area where your ancestors originated from. It can give you an interesting description of what life was like where they lived.
Manuscripts – Refers to original documents and records that have been handwritten. Examples include letters, diaries, journals, wills and even the family bible.
Medical records – Can give you an interesting insight into the health of your ancestors. These records are usually found within your family’s collection of documents and files.
Military records -Includes information regarding your ancestor’s military service. Records can include a physical description of them, where they signed up, where they were deployed, medals awarded, and where they were discharged.
Mitochondrial DNA – A particular DNA test that looks at your maternal ancestry, i.e. your mother’s, mother’s, mother and so on. This type of testing can give you details about your ancestry to about 25 generations back.
Mortality schedule – The US census included a section where persons who died during the census years were recorded.
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) – The official archive of federal records in the US. Records includes censuses, military service records, passenger and immigration records, and also land warrants.
Naturalization records – These are documents detailing the process of your ancestor immigrant who wanted to become a citizen.
Oral History – Stories, tales and anecdotes that have been passed down through the generations to you. This is how I became fascinated about my ancestry hearing all these wonderful stories about my ancestors. These stories can be very valuable as they may not have been recorded, so please preserve them now!
Passenger list – A list of names and details about the people who were passengers on a ship. This is a useful resource for you as you can find out from these where your ancestors originated.
Pedigree – Shows your family tree with details that include their name, when and where they were born, when and where they married and when and where they died.
Pension (military) – A benefit that was paid regularly to a military veteran, or a widow.
Primary source – A record of an event such as a birth, death or marriage. Recorded at the time of the event.
Probate – Refers to the administration of a person’s estate, i.e. what and who to leave someone after their death.
Quaker – This is a member of the religious group called the Society of Friends.
Real property – Your ancestor’s land and anything that is connected to it, such as houses, buildings and crops as well.
Secondary source – As opposed to a primary source this is a record that has been made after an event. This can include a biography, index, or oral history.
Social Security Death Index – The index for Social Security death records. It can include the recipient’s relatives who applied for benefits after his or her passing.
Soundex – This is an index of Social Security Death records. This will usually include names of deceased Social Security recipients. This is a useful system as it may list alternate spelling variations of your ancestor’s name.
Township – This is a square tract measuring 36 square miles in a government survey. It also refers to civil or political subdivisions within a county.
Usury – A term used to refer to all interest paid.
Vital records – This is information that will help you build your family tree. Information that you can use for your tree include your ancestpr’s birth, marriage and death details. All from vital records.
Voter registration – This is a list f registered voters for each state.
Will – An document written and signed by your ancestor detailing what is to be left and who to.
Witness – A person who has witnessed an important event in the life of your ancestor, such as their birth, marriage or death. Usually these are family members, such as a wife, son, or daughter, but could also be a friend as well.
X – Your ancestor may have signed a document with an ‘X’. This was not an unusual practice as someone people may not have actually known how to spell their name.
Y chromosomes – This is genetic material that has been passed through male ancestor. This particular test can therefore trace your paternal ancestry to about 25 generations back.
Zouaves – This was a name that was adopted by some Civil War Union volunteer regiments. They wore brightly colored uniforms that were similar to French light infantry units that bared the same name
Zzz – What you really need to be doing instead of staying up in the early hours tracing your family tree.
I Need Your Help!
No doubt I have left a genealogy word or term out of this dictionary. I would therefore love for you to get involved and come up with suggestions to add to the dictionary.
If you would like to add your own definition to the word then that’s great.
Please comment below to get your word added to the dictionary. I will give credit.
Thank You and Please Leave A Comment
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