Glossary of Genealogical Terms
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Glossary of Genealogical Terms

A glossary of terms used in genealogical research will help the new researcher from stumbling in the dark over dusty ancestors.

Genealogy has risen in popularity till now it is the number one hobby in the world. It is great fun and also very useful. This article will provide definitions for some of the words you will encounter in genealogy and family history research. I have not included many words that are computer related since I think they are more common and recognized than those that refer to genealogical subjects.

*Ancestors or progenitors—these are the people who are in your direct line like your parents and grandparents. Aunts, uncles, and cousins are relatives, but you do not descend from them; you may, however, want to document their families and your relationship to them.

*Dawes Rolls—this is a census of the Five Civilized Tribes living in the Oklahoma Indian Territory.

*Descendents –these are the people who are your children or grandchildren or their children and grandchildren. Nieces and nephews are valuable as family members, but they are not descended from you.

*Family Group Sheet—a document that contains information about a family. The forms are readily available on the internet to print. A genealogy program will provide one for you to fill out on each person and family in your searches. You will appear on a group sheet with your parents and again on another sheet with your spouse and children.

*Family history—this term is often used interchangeably with genealogy, but it also refers to the narrative or document that traces a family’s growth and change through generations.

*GEDCOM—a standard software format that enables data to be shared between genealogy programs. It stand for GEnealogy Data COMmunication. (Sometimes it helps to know why things are named like they are.)

*Maternal—has to do with which side of your family an ancestor belongs to. You maternal grandfather is your mother’s father.

*Message boards—on the internet a message board where you may post an inquiry about a family member or a location or other brick wall name. Hopefully, someone will respond to your query.

*Parish—means the territory of a church, but in our parlance it may also be the equivalent of a county in Louisiana. Louisiana was heavily Catholic, and the term for the area of the church was applied to the civil matters, too. Of course, it can refer to any church records as well.

*Paternal—has to do with the father’s side of the family. Your paternal grandmother is you father’s mother.

*Pedigree Chart—an important listing of the direct ancestors or descendants of an individual. It is very useful in keeping all the names and families straight.

*Primary source—genealogical records and documents created at the time of the event. A birth certificate or marriage license is a primary source.

*Secondary source—a document created at a later time or by a person who may have second hand information. A death certificate may give details of the birth of the individual, but because it was recorded after the birth it is considered a secondary source for the birth and a primary source for the death. A newspaper account may be a secondary source since it was not created by people who were involved in the event.

*Soundex—a phonetic/numeric index that uses the first letter of a name and numbers for the next three consonants. It is easier to use than to explain.

*Vital Records—a term used to refer to state and legal documents like birth certificates, marriage licenses, and death certificates. They may also be referred to as Civil Registration or Vital Statistics.

Other words and strange acronyms will become familiar as you pursue your study of genealogy, but this list will help you through the early stumbling in the dark.

Source: Quillen, W. Daniel, Secrets of Tracing Your Ancestors, Cold Spring Press: 2003

Mr. Quillen’s new book The Troubleshooter’s Guide to Do-It-Yourself Genealogy is also available.

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