Glossary. 18th Century terminology

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This is one of a series of articles on Genealogical Methods, prepared in association with The Tapestry. See Index for a list of related articles.


AMO Archives of Maryland Online

Other terms added as noted.


Actionformal procedure in introducing and carrying through a court suit.AMO
Administration accountaccount of an executor or administrator listing costs of administration, payments to creditors, and sometimes distribution to heirs.AMO
AdministratorIn older records, this is a person appointed to settle estate of the deceased.AMO
Administratixfemale administrator.AMO
Affirmationa solemn statement, equivalent by law to an oath, but without religious significance or reference to a Supreme Being.AMO
Aguerecurring fever or chills of malaria.AMO
Amercementa payment applied to both parties in a civil suit for the privilege of using the courts, more especially to discourage frivilous suits; the losing party paid both amercements. County court amercements were thirty pounds of tobacco; those of the provincial court were fifty pounds.AMO
Artificersoldier mechanic.AMO
Assigneeperson to whom property has been assigned.AMO
Assumpsita court suit filed when a written or oral contract has been broken.AMO
Bannspublication or posting of the announcement of a coming marriage, a period of time before the actual marriage to allow advance notice to those that might have reason to protest. In most churches the banns were read aloud on three successive Sundays.AMO
Bequesta gift by will of personal property.AMO
Bilious Feverfever caused by liver disorder.AMO
Bill of complainta written statement introduced by a plaintiff into court.AMO
Bill of salean instrument transferring title to personal property from one person to another.AMO
Bloody Fluxdysentery.AMO
Bolusa medicinal dose, in the form of a round mass of medicine larger than an ordinary pill.AMO
Calavancesdried beans or pease used as army-stores, probably a corruption of Spanish "garbanzos".AMO
Capiasa writ to take a person into custody.AMO
Carnergranary keeper.AMO
Causaa court suit.AMO
Caveatan action used to prevent land from being patented.AMO
Certiorarisee Writ of certiorari.AMO
Chanceryanother term for equity.AMO
Chattelsarticles of personal property.AMO
Circaabout (for example c. 1790).AMO
Citationa writ commanding a person's presence in court to perform a specific action.AMO
Civilcourt suit dealing with recovery of private rights or compensation for their infraction, such as nonpayment of debts or claims for damages.AMO
Codicilan addition or supplement to a will.AMO
Common Recoverya court proceeding to break an entail.AMO
Complainantanother term for plaintiff.AMO
Conveyancetransfer of title to land from one person to another.AMO
De bonis nonconcerning goods not settled by preceding administrator.AMO
Decedenta person who has died.AMO
Decreefinal decision rendered in an equity case.AMO
Dedimus potestatumA legal procedure that permitted one party to take and record the testimony of a witness before trial, but only if that testimony might otherwise be lost, as for example with a witness who was terminally ill and might not live until the trial took place.AMO
Deedan instrument transfering title to land from one person to another.AMO
Deed of trustAn instrument transfering title to real or personal property to a trustee in order to secure repayment of money or performance of other conditions.AMO
Demurrera pleading which acknowledges facts presented but contends they are insufficient to proceed further with the case.AMO
Deponentthe person who takes an oath or affirmation.AMO
Depositionsworn, written testimony of a witness.AMO
Desperate debtsuncollectable debts.AMO
Devisea gift of land by will.AMO
Docketan abbreviated agenda of court proceedings, outlining papers filed and actions taken.AMO
Dower rightThe right of a widow to a life estate in one-third of her husband's real estate.AMO
Dropsyswelling of tissue; congestive heart failure.AMO
Duces tecuma form of supoena requesting the transfer to the court of a thing (i.e. a document or some other object) to serve as evidence in a trial.AMO
EjectmentLegal action to regain possession and clear title to real property.AMO
ElectuaryA medicine usually consisting of a powder mixed with syrup or honey to form a pasty mass.AMO
Emolumentrefers to all wages, benefits, or other benefit received as compensation for holding some office or employment.AMO
EnceinteBearing an as yet unborn child. "George Campbell

of Augusta died, testate, leaving 5 children, viz: Robert, Mary, Jane, Betsey and Joseph, and widow Agness, enceint on a child named George." Chalkley's Chronicles

Enfeoffto transfer land.AMO
Entailto transfer land with restrictions, usually only to male heirs.AMO
Equitycourt suit involving a matter needing an equitable solution, which cannot be decided on the basis of common or statute law, such as settlement of an estate or divorce.AMO
EscheatReversion of land to the state (and in colonial Maryland, to Lord Baltimore) for want of heirs.AMO
EssoynedEssoin, Essoign. An excuse for not appearing in court at the return of the process; presentation of such excuse.AMO
Estatethe interest anyone has in lands or other property; property composing the assets of a decedent or a ward.AMO
Estrayscattle of unknown owners.AMO
Et al"and others"AMO
Et ux"and wife"AMO
Executionprocess of carrying into effect a court judgment or decree.AMO
Executorappointed by testator (deceased) to carry out the direction and request of his will.AMO
Executrixa female executor.AMO
Farrierhorse doctor; blacksmith who shoes horses.AMO
Febrifugea medication that reduces fever; acting to reduce fever (adj.).AMO
Fee simpleunencumbered title to land, clear of restriction or conditions.AMO
Femme Covertmarried woman.AMO
Femme Solesingle woman.AMO
Fieri faciasa writ directing property to be seized and sold in order to satisfy a judgement against a debtor.AMO
Glebechurch land.AMO
Grantconveyance of right to land, particularly from the proprietor to others.AMO
Granteeperson to whom land is deeded.AMO
Grantorperson who deeds land.AMO
Hundreds (Hds.)an old English term for land division equaling a land area of less than a county or shire but larger than a town or parish.AMO
Imparlancetime granted by a court to respond to allegations.AMO
In caradsencourages.AMO
Instrumentlegal document.AMO
Intestateperson who dies without making a will.AMO
Inventorydetailed list of articles or property of a decedent with estimated value.AMO
Jeofailan error or oversight in pleading; the acknowledgement of such an error.AMO
Judgmentdecision of the court after a case is heard, used particularly in reference to a civil case.AMO
Juratto swear. The certificate signed and sealed by a notary which is affixed below the sworn or affirmed statement and signature of the deponent.AMO
Legateea person who recieves personal property by will.AMO
Letters of Administration (LTA)formal instrument appointing an administrator to settle an estate.AMO
Letters Testamentaryauthorization granted by a court to administer the estate of a testator.AMO
Locus Sigiliin the place of the seal.AMO
Manucaptionactual bodily possession.AMO
Manumissionact of freeing a person from bondage.AMO
Melilotor Sweet Clover, a fabaceous (bean-like) member of the genus Melilotus.AMO
Nemine Contradicenteunanimously; without dissent.AMO
Next Frienda person who acts for the benefit of a minor or married woman in a court suit.AMO
Next of Kinpersons most nearly related to a decedent by blood.AMO
Non Compos Mentisnot of sound mind.AMO
Nuncupativedescription of a will orally created, not written.AMO
PalatineThese were inhabitants of the Palatinate of the Rhine, which was ravaged and almost depopulated by the French armies in 1688 and the following years. For further details see page 10 of the preface in Volume 27.AMO
Patenta grant of priveleges; in Maryland records, a grant of title to land from the proprietor or the state.AMO
Perchland measurement equaling 16.5 feet.AMO
Plaintiff -a person who files suit in court.AMO
Plant shaverstobacco cutters.AMO
Probatethe act or process of proving a will; a general term referring to administration of a decedent's estate.AMO
ProthonotaryClerk of the Court.AMO
Prout petitoras is asked.AMO
prt petcontraction for "prout petitur".AMO
Relictwidow or widower.AMO
Renunciationact by which a person abandons rights to serve as an executor, etc.AMO
Replevinan action to recover property taken unlawfully.AMO
Scire Faciasa writ to revive or renew a judgement.AMO
Skiddawimported cloth, known by the name of the area of Cumbria in which it was produced.AMO
Sperate Debtscollectable debts.AMO
Stilliards (Steelyards)a portable balance with two unequal arms, the longer with a movable counterpoise, and the shorter with a hook or similar device for holding the object to be weighed.AMO
Summonsa writ notifying a person that legal action has been commenced against him or her.AMO
Sudorificcausing or increasing sweat.AMO
Supersedeasa suspension of legal proceedings.AMO
Tenantin the broad sense a person who possesses land; in a restricted sense one who rents land.AMO
Testatorone who dies leaving a will.AMO
Testatrixfemale testator.AMO
Testamento will.AMO
Testatum Fi Faa writ for Sheriff to levy judgment against a debtor.AMO
Testimonyverbal or written evidence given by a witness in court proceedings.AMO
Theriaca Andromachian antidote for poison, prepared by mixing pulverized drugs with honey to form an electuary. Named for Andromachus, the Greek physician of Roman emporer Nero, who is credited with inventing the antidote.AMO
Tomusts and woull?AMO
Trespass on the Casecourt action taken to recover damages inflicted without force by the defendant, often used for the collection of debts.AMO
Trustan estate held by one person for the benefit of another.AMO
Ut Supraand above.AMO
Voucherreceipt, acquittance, or release which serves as evidence of payment or discharge or a debt.AMO
Warda person, usually a minor, placed under the care of a guardian.AMO
Warranta writ directing an official to take certain action.AMO
Writlegal document issued by a court ordering or prohibiting an action.AMO
Writ of certioraria discretionary writ issued by an appellate court requiring a lower court to deliver a case record for review. Often shortened to 'cert' (e.g. "the Court granted cert").