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Q. In a guardianship order I’ve found for Onondaga County, NY, in 1825, the guardian is called the nephew of the deceased. Did nephew in that time and place generally mean the son of one’s sibling or the son of one’s spouse’s sibling as it does today?
A. In earlier centuries, nephew sometimes referred to a male or female child of a sibling or spouse’s sibling, a male or female grandchild, a cousin or another relative. The habits or preferences of individual clerks and courts may have played a role in determining when nephew took on its current meaning in a given locale.
By the end of the 17th century, though, most locales had narrowed the definition to the current meaning. Thus, you’d probably be safe in approaching 19th-century research with the current definition. Keep an open mind, and let available records guide your discovery of specific family relationships.
Unravel your family tree kinship questions with Kinship: It’s All Relative by Jackie Smith Arnold, available from Family Tree Shop.You’ll find more genealogy Q&A in 101 Brick Wall Busters: Solutions to Overcome Your Genealogical Challenges, from the editors of Family Tree Magazine.