Learning Legal Lingo

Learning Legal Lingo

Here's a glossary of terms you'll frequently encounter in your ancestors' court records.

Many legal terms from our ancestors’ time are still in use today and derive from English common law. Here’s a glossary of terms you’ll frequently encounter — for other legal jargon, consult Black’s Law Dictionary (Thomson West), which you can find in the reference section of most public libraries.

• affidavit: statement of facts, signed under oath by the party making it

• bastardy bond: the father of an illegitimate child agrees to pay support

et al.: Latin meaning “and others”

et ux.: Latin meaning “and wife”

• guardian: a person appointed by the court to manage property or protect the rights of someone who is unable to do so, such as a minor child

• guardian ad litem: court-appointed person who represents someone who’s incapable of managing his or her own affairs; usually appointed for a specific court action

• infant: a person under the age of legal majority; often, 18 or 21

• instant or inst.: the same month as the previously mentioned date

• interlined: addition of words to a document, inserted between words or lines already written

• issue: children of a person

• moiety: half of something

• orphan: a minor child who’s lost one or both parents

sine prole or s.p.: Latin meaning “without issue”

• surety: one who agrees to be responsible for another, such as assuming financial responsibility for debts in case of default

From the September 2008 Family Tree Magazine