Genealogical Terms

There are a number of uncommon terms and phrases used in genealogy and this page details a number of the more commonly found ones. Many of these come from the legal nature of the documents that are found during researching.

Administration or AdmonA device used to administer the estate of a deceased person due to a number of reasons; there was no valid will (the person died intestate, there was an incomplete will, or if the named executor(s) could not perform their duties.
Bastard handA form of handwriting used between 1300s and 1500s, a more upright form than its predecessors.
CodicilAn addition clause to a will, usually minor in nature, produced in order to save rewriting the whole will again. Any number of codicils are permitted. All codicils that are properly witnessed and signed are valid, providing that they do not clash with each other or the main will.
CurtilageAn area of enclosed land around the dwelling, but not including it.
DeviseLand or buildings (not goods and chattels) bequeathed in a will.
EscheatForfeiture of a tenancy if the tenant died without heirs or was convicted of felony.
ExecutorA person who agrees to take on the duties of distributing the estate according to the provisions of a will.
Fee simpleBy which land was bequeathed to the common law heir only if the previous owner died intestate.
Fee tailBy which land was always bequeathed to the common law heir regardless if the owner died intestate.
FrankpledgeA system where ten households were bound together and responsible for each other’s conduct.
Holograph willA will not witnessed by others.
InventoryA list of goods and chattels drawn up by the executor and presented to the probate court.
LegacyGoods and chattels (not land or buildings) bequeathed in a will.
MessuageThe whole of an estate, including land and buildings.
Nuncupative willAn oral will, usually made on the death bed in the presence of reliable witnesses.
Principle Probate RegistryFrom 1858 the body responsible for retaining copies of all proven wills.
ProbateAuthority given to an executor to distribute the estate of a deceased person. Up until 1858 this was granted by ecclesiastical (church) courts. The ‘Letters of Probate’ are a copy of a will and a copy of the Probate Act, originally on parchment.
Regnal YearA year dating system based upon the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom, that started following the Norman conquest. The first year begins upon the day of succession to the throne and the last, usually a partial year, finishes on the day of death. Example: the 1881 census was taken in Victoria year 44, which ran from 20 June 1880 to 19 June 1881.
RelictSurviving spouse, often called a ‘Widow relict’.
Scutage (Shield Money)Money paid in lieu of a physical commitment to military service
Secretary handA form of handwriting widely used between 1450 and 1650, increasingly sloping in style (italicised).
SocageMoney paid in lieu of a commitment to providing physical labour.
TitheLiterally a tenth of something, and usually a tax or levy.
Testator or TestatrixPerson dying (male/female) leaving a valid will.
TortA civil wrongdoing.
WasteCommon land in the manor that could be used by all for pasture.
Will and TestamentThere was a distinction dating from Norman times between a will which dealt with property (realty) and a testament which dealt with personal property (goods & chattels). This has long fallen into abeyance and it is considered as one document nowadays. The ‘last will and testament’ is the last valid will made and executed, which may of course not actually be the last one actually written.