Making Sense ofTerminology

There are some terms that are used in everyday language that are then misunderstood in genealogical reference. Perhaps they are terms people hear but never use because they are not certain of the meaning. This list is some of the words you may have come across on this website or in other conversations about your family history. This does not cover all the terms nor does it imply these are the only definitions to these words. 


Ancestor:  a distant relation somebody is descended from, especially more distant than a grandparent, usually in a direct line

Ancestry:  ancestral descent or lineage


Bastard:  a child born of parents not married to each other; illegitimate

Blended Family:  a family consisting of a couple and their children from this and all previous relationships; including foster children


Cemetery Records:  an account of the names and death dates of those buried within a cemetery

Census Record:  records that were created to number the population, especially sponsored by governments to determine the available men for soldiers; the amount of information given in a census varies, according to the needs and purposes of those who sponsored the census

Coat of Arms:  a design on a shield that signifies a particular family and direct descendants

Common Ancestor:  an ancestor that two or more descendants have in common

Commoner:  an ordinary member of society who does not belong to the nobility


Decedent:  a person who is deceased
                        (not to be confused with descendant)

Descendant:  somebody related to one that lived in the past     (not to be confused with decedent)

Distant Relative:  somebody with whom another is connected because of similar ancestry


Emigrant:  a person who leaves one country and settles in another  (not quite the same as immigrant)


Forebearer:  an ancestor, especially one who died a long time ago


Genealogy:  the study and tracing of family pedigrees; finding date and place records related to ancestors


Heir:  somebody who holds the right to receive a property, position, or title of somebody else when that person dies


Immigrant:  a person who settles in one country after having left another       (not quite the same as emigrant)


Kindred:  related to somebody by blood (formal)
(not the same as a kindred spirit, who is someone who resembles another in character, interest or temperament.)


Legacy:  something that is handed down or remains from a previous generation


Maternal:  relating to or inherited from the mother or the mother's side of a family


Naturalize:  to grant citizenship to somebody of foreign birth


Paternal:  relating to or inherited from the father or the father's side of a family

Ancestral:  relating to something belonging to former generations of someone's family

Archives:  the collection of older records or the place where those records are housed

Bequeath:  to leave personal or other property to somebody after death by means of a will

Bloodline:  a direct line of descent from a specific ancestor

Census:  official listing or systematic counting of persons that make up the population

Circa:  approximately or estimated; usually used in front of a date or year

Citation:  official acknowledgement of merit; the source or authority from which information or data is taken, used to support the argument

Collateral:  a relative descended from the same ancestor as another person but through a different lineage

Common Law Marriage:  a marriage without ceremony, civil or ecclesiastical, which may or may not be recognized as legal

Cousin:  a child of one's aunt or uncle; also called first cousin - OR - a relative descended from a common ancestor

Degree:  an indication of the genealogical closeness of a relationship within a family

Direct Line:  a relationship of one person to another in a direct line; i.e. parent to child, grandparent, great-grandparent, etc.

Dowry:  an amount of money or property given in some societies by a bride's family to her bridegroom or his family when she marries

Estate:  the whole of somebody's property, possessions, and capital

Family History:  the systematic narrative and research of past events relating to a specific family

Generation:  all of the people who were born at approximately the same time; a single stage in the descent

Heraldry:  the profession or study of the devising and granting of coats of arms and of determining who is entitled to bear them

Lineal:  being descended in a direct line from another

Mulatto:  a dated term used offensively to describe somebody who has both black and white ancestors

Nee:  used to introduce a married woman's maiden name

Pedigree:  the line of ancestors of an individual, especially an aristocratic or upper-class person

Probate:  describes the process of legally establishing the validity of a will of a deceased person


Relative:  a member of the same family by birth, marriage, or adoption


Surname:  the name that identifies somebody as belonging to a particular family and that he or she has in common with other members of that family

Removed:  distantly related; separated from somebody by a particular degree of descent


Theory:  an idea of or belief about something arrived at through sometimes incomplete information


Vital Records:  civil records of birth, marriage and death