Learning Legal Lingo

By Sharon DeBartolo Carmack Premium

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

Unlock the treasures in all the records you can find with our Ultimate Guide to Genealogy Records eBook!

Discover the best genealogy records using the tips and strategies in this guide, which shows you how to find and use census records, birth records, marriage records and more.