When performing obituary and genealogy related research, you are likely to encounter language and jargon, specific to the field that may be confusing to the beginner.   To help with this, we have provided a glossary (from Brigham Young University Broadcasting) of common terms that will help you in your obituary and genealogy research.

Archive - a place in which public records or historical documents are preserved.

Banns - public announcement of an intended marriage before the time of the actual marriage to allow advance notice to those who might have reason to protest. In most churches, the banns were read aloud in church on three successive Sundays prior to the marriage.

Baptismal Record - written notation kept by a church official about the baptism or christening of an individual; generally includes the individual’s name and the date of the baptism; for the baptism of an infant, the date of birth and names of parents are often also recorded.

Bible Records - pages from family Bibles which record births, marriages, deaths, family relationships, and some genealogies. These pages may have been copied, collected, or indexed by family name.

Bolshevik Revolution - The Russian Revolution that took place in 1917 and resulted in a Communist government (the name of the party was changed in 1919) for most of the twentieth century, in what was then known as the USSR. One side effect of this revolution was the deliberate destruction of records of any genealogical value.

Bounty Land - a specified amount of land issued by either the federal or a state government to an individual in return for military service, particularly in the Revolutionary War.

Bureau of Land Management - federal government office responsible for purchase, sale and development of all federally owned land; maintains extensive records on transactions transferring property from public to private possession (see

Burial Record - written notation kept by a church official about the death, funeral and/or burial of a church member.

Census Record - population survey conducted every ten years in the U.S. which provides information on our ancestors, such as ages, addresses, family relations, and country of origin.

Chronology - a date-based approach to family history, addressing each event in a time sequence

Church Record - generally refers to birth, marriage and burial registers maintained by most churches, but may also refer to other records such as minutes, confirmations, etc.

City Directories - predecessor to today’s phone books, directories which usually listed residents (head of household or all those over 18), addresses, and occupations; often used in conjunction with census records to close the gaps in between census years.

Civil Registration - the recording of births, marriages, deaths and divorces by government agencies; a term frequently used outside the United States in lieu of “vital records”.

Communicants - those members of a church who are entitled to partake in Communion; often used to refer to church members in general.

Communion - the part of a religious service in which the consecrated elements are partaken of.

Compiled Military Service Record - an envelope (sometimes referred to as “jacket”) containing abstracts of an individual’s service records, as well as some original documents; most often pertain to attendance, enlistment and discharge, hospital and prison stays, and payroll.

Compiled Records - a record (usually in book or database form) consisting of information that may come from original sources, other compiled records, or verbal testimony (e.g., a book titled The History of the Wright Family or an online database such as the SSDI).

Compilation Ceremony - Chinese ceremony celebrated every 50 years for the purpose of honoring ancestors and updating a family’s records.

Confirmation - a rite supplemental to baptism, administered usually to those who have reached years of discretion. It confers upon them the fullness of the privileges of members of that church.

Consent Papers - papers filed by the parent (or guardian) of a legally underage son or daughter, establishing that the parent has agreed to an intended marriage of the child.

County Courthouse - the building at which the business and legal matters of the county are conducted; usually contains extensive local records such as probates and deeds.

County History - a book covering the history of a county from the time of its founding to the time of writing; frequently containing biographies of local citizens, especially the more prominent.

County Recorder - county employee charged with maintaining land records.

Daughters of the American Revolution Society (DAR) - patriotic society founded in 1890 in Washington, D.C., open to women with ancestors who aided in the American Revolution, and focused on “historic preservation, promotion of education and patriotic endeavor.” The Society has extensive holdings (including many compiled records) which it makes available to the public through its library.

Declaration of Intent(ion) - first step in naturalization process; sworn statement of an alien announcing intention to become a citizen.

Deed - a legal document transferring ownership of property; private land records generally maintained at the county level.

Denomination - a name, designation, or title used to denote a society of individuals, often those belonging to a particular religion.

Diary/Personal Journal - a personal record kept by date, on a daily or regular basis, in which a person tells about his or her own experiences soon after they occur.

Dispensation - a personal record kept by date, on a daily or regular basis, in which a person tells about his or her own experiences soon after they occur.

Divorce Records - documents generally found in civil courts (but frequently also registered at the state level) recording the dissolution of a marriage. In some cases, access to these records may be limited to the parties in the divorce.

E-Mail - a means of sending messages instantly and inexpensively via the Internet.

Electronic Images - photos, documents, and other items that have been scanned or otherwise digitized into electronic files that can be printed, inserted into genealogical software packages, sent as attached files with E-mail messages, uploaded to web sites, and used and shared in other ways.

Enumerator - census taker; the person who went from residence to residence to record census data.

Estate - the property – belongings and assets - left by an individual at the time of death, for dispersal among surviving heirs.

Extant - in existence; often used to refer to whether the originals of certain records still exist.

Family Group Record - a widely used genealogical form listing a husband and wife and all their children, along with their dates and places of birth, marriage and death.

Family History Library (FHL)/Family History Center (FHC) - established in 1894 in Salt Lake City, Utah; the largest of its kind in the world. The library houses millions of microfilms, thousands of microfiche and books, and many other records, most of which have been acquired through an extensive microfilming program that began in 1938. Microfilmers are presently filming original documents in churches, courthouses, and archives in many countries. Because not everyone is able to come to Salt Lake City to use the FHL, most of its extensive holdings are accessible at numerous Family History Centers located throughout the world. Anyone is welcome to request a loan of these FHL microfilms through their local FHC.

Family History - records that contain genealogical information, biographical sketches, or stories about members or branches of a family, or those having a common surname.

Family Records - the documents, photos, diaries, Bibles and other memorabilia that can be found at your own home or tucked away in your grandmother’s attic.

FHL Catalog - descriptive list of the contents of the FHL, including more than two million rolls of microfilm and hundreds of thousands of books and maps. Available for searching by surname or place at local family history centers and online at

Final Distribution - see settlement.

Final Papers - another term used for the petition for naturalization in the naturalization process.

Finding Aids - tools such as compiled records, inventories, registers, indexes, or guides to collections held by archives, libraries, and other repositories. Their purpose is to facilitate the identification, evaluation and location of primary sources.

First Papers - another term used for declaration of intent(ion) in the naturalization process.

Gazetteer - dictionary of geographic locations and place names; useful for locating former names of towns and villages.

General Land Office - former name of the Bureau of Land Management; the term is still used to refer to extensive land patent records generated at the time the office was known by this name.

Genogram - a medically-focused family tree construct for the purpose of understanding the health history of a family. Widely used by therapists and physicians as an assessment tool, the genogram is a graphic way of organizing information gathered about a family to reveal health patterns such as prevalence of cancer, alcoholism, depression, and other diseases and conditions.

Grid System - a land surveying system used especially for land patents; for more information, go to

Immigration and Naturalization Service - U.S. Federal agency with responsibility for overseeing all immigration into the U.S. and the naturalization of new citizens; source of post-1906 naturalization records for genealogists; see

Immigration Record - a term generally used to refer to ship passenger arrival lists and/or naturalization records.

Indefinite Loan - a term used to refer to FHL microfilms which have been borrowed for three weeks at a local family history center, subsequently extended to a six month loan, and then extended again to be on hand indefinitely; occasionally used by patrons for records that require extensive searching or that they find themselves using repeatedly.

Informant - the individual who provides the information found on a death certificate. This person is often the spouse, child or other close relative of the deceased.

International Genealogical Index® (IGI) - a database of over 600 million names, mostly extracted from vital records from throughout the world and available for searching at local family history centers and at Go to the Compiled Recordsepisode to learn more about using the IGI.

Interlibrary Loan Program - a system found at most libraries allowing patrons to borrow holdings from other libraries; useful for genealogists seeking to view specialized books (e.g., on a particular surname, family, or locality) that are not widely or locally available.

Intestate - said of an individual who dies without leaving a will to specify his/her wishes for the disposal of the estate in question.

Inventory - when an individual dies intestate, the administrator prepares a list and appraisal -- or inventory -- of all items in the possession of the deceased for the purpose of devising a fair division of the property among the eligible heirs. Land Grant - a free transfer of land from the federal or a state government to individuals or corporations (e.g., railroads); often given for military service or in return for developing the land.

Land Patent - a document giving the possessor ownership and permanent claim to a piece of land.

Land Records - documents containing information pertaining to transfers of ownership of land between parties.

Letter of Administration - a document from a probate court authorizing the administrator of an intestate estate to settle the estate.

Library of Congress - the national library of the United States and research arm of Congress; home to an exceptional genealogical collection, particularly of compiled records. Its catalog of holdings can be searched at

Link - connections between web sites that allow a browser to easily travel from one site to other, generally related sites.

Marriage Bond - a document obtained by an engaged couple prior to their marriage. It provided a guarantee that there was no moral or legal impediment to a marriage. In addition, the man affirmed that he would be able to support himself and his new bride.

Marriage License - a document issued to a prospective bride and groom upon application at a local court house. They present this document to the person performing the marriage ceremony who, in turn, fills out the necessary information and returns it to the city or county office that issued it. This information is then transferred to the couple’s marriage certificate.

Marriage Record - written notation kept by a church official about the marriage of a pair of individuals; sometimes also used to refer to civil marriage records.

Medical Genealogy - the study of a family’s medical history with an aim toward identifying and assessing health risks, preventing future occurrences in other family members, locating suitable organ or marrow donors, and assisting medical researchers in the development of cures.

Mexican Revolution - brought on by, among other factors, tremendous disagreement among the Mexican people over the dictatorship of President Porfirio Diaz , who stayed in office for; thirty-one years, this uprising began in 1910 and ultimately resulted in the Diaz's overthrow.

Microfilm - a widely used means of preserving records of genealogical value, microfilm is a very durable media with an estimated lifespan of more than 500 years when stored in the proper environment. Repositories such as the National Archives and the Family History Library make many rolls of microfilmed information available to researchers for viewing.

Military History - a summary of the participation of a given military unit or regiment in a war; often contains a roster of those who served, information about the engagements in which the unit was involved, and other details.

Minutes - records noting the entry, removal and dismissal of church members; alternatively used to refer to the notes taken at church council or vestry meetings.

National Archives - commonly used term for the National Archives and Records Service (NARA) which maintains original and microfilmed copies of many documents critical to American genealogical research. These include census, military, and ship passenger arrival records. See

National Genealogical Society - official home of the U.S.’s largest nationally focused genealogical society, offering a multitude of services, programs, and publications, including a library whose holdings may be searched in person in Arlington, Virginia or online at

Naturalization Record - the documents, including the declaration of intent(ion) and the petition for naturalization, of an individual of foreign birth wishing to become a citizen of another country.

New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS)  - a particularly valuable resource for those with New England heritage and the oldest and largest genealogical society in the United States, NEHGS has been helping researchers trace their heritage for more than 150 years. In addition to a 200,000-volume library in Boston, NEHGS also supports a 25,000- volume book-by-mail circulating library; a mail-order sales department; educational programs, lectures, conferences, and tours; an active publications department, publishing and editorial service; and Enquiries Research Service.

Necrology File - obituary index.

Oath of Allegiance - the oath taken by an individual of foreign birth in which he or she renounces any allegiance to the government of their country of origin and pledges their allegiance to the country of which they intend to become a citizen.

Obituary - a news story written about a recently deceased person; generally includes some biographical information such as age, birthplace, occupation, names of surviving relatives, place of residence, etc.

Online Database - an electronic repository of information you can easily search, usually by surname, place or keyword (e.g., the SSDI).

Original Record [go to the site] - a record created at or close to the time of an event by an eyewitness to the event (e.g., a birth record by the doctor who delivered the baby).

Parish Register - a term sometimes used for church records, denoting the recording of baptisms, marriages, and burials within a given church or parish.

Passenger Arrival List - Lists of (mostly) immigrant passengers generated by officers of the ships carrying them at the port of entry into the new country.

Pedigree Chart - a widely used genealogical form, showing the direct line ancestors of a particular individual. Most such forms provide spaces to list at least an individual, his or her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, but specialized or computer-generated pedigree charts may show many more generations.

Pension Record - a file of documents pertaining to a veteran’s claim for compensation as the result of military service; may also be filed by a veteran’s surviving kin; often genealogically rich in information.

Personal History - a writing that summarizes experiences and events that make up a person’s life.

Petition for Naturalization - the second document generated in the naturalization process whereby the immigrant formally requests a court decision on their request to become a citizen of a new country.

Photobase - a searchable database of photographs, frequently used online in genealogy for old family photos, tombstones, and the like.

Primary Source - a source created at the time of the event, as opposed to records written in later years. For example, a primary source for a birth date would be a birth certificate. Other documents such as marriage and death certificates might also include a date of birth, but would not be considered primary sources for the birth date since they were created long after the birth.

Privacy Laws - laws which restrict access to selected records (usually birth or death records) for a specified period of time (often 50 or 72 years). Generally, only the individual whose record it is, or their closest surviving kin, is allowed to obtain copies of these records. The intent is to protect the privacy of the individuals in the records.

Probate Packet - all of the loose papers that have been submitted throughout the course of the probate process, bound together and archived chronologically and by case number; alternatively called a case file, estate file, or probate estate papers.

Probate Records - documents generated in the course of settling an estate.

Probate Petition - a petition that asks for authority to settle or wind up an estate; usually contains a list of all heirs and their addresses.

Quit-Claim Deed - a document transferring the interest a seller (or sellers) had in a property; often filed when the multiple recipients of an inherited property are disposing of their shares or signing them over to one individual.

Regimental History - see military history.

SASE - self-addressed, stamped envelope. It’s considered common courtesy to include these in all requests for vital records and other genealogical correspondence.

Search Engine - essentially an electronic version of the traditional card catalogue found in libraries; used to help genealogists and other users quickly find needed information from the millions of web sites now on the Internet.

Second Papers - another term used for the petition for naturalization papers in the naturalization process.

Secondary Record - a record created some time after the event. For example, a marriage or death certificate would be a secondary source for a birth date, because the birth took place long before these other events.

Service Record - a record of an individual’s enlistment in and discharge from the military, as well as presence during the service period as evidenced from muster rolls on certain dates; also generally includes rank and unit.

Settlement - a final accounting of how the property of an estate was divided among the heirs; includes an acknowledgement by all the heirs that they received their fair portion and that they have no further claims to make upon the estate.

Sexton - the office of the person or persons who are in charge of the cemetery.

Ship Passenger List - see passenger arrival list.

Social Security Death Index (SSDI) - a searchable database (available online at and other locations) which includes most deceased individuals who died having owned a Social Security number (from roughly 1962 when the reporting process became automated); generally provides the deceased’s name, Social Security number (SSN), date of birth, date of death, state where the SSN was issued, zip code of last residence, and zip code of where the death benefit was sent.

Software - in a genealogical sense, usually a lineage link computer program that allows the user to enter and print out information on individuals and their relationships to others in the database; other specialty software packages provide additional functionality such as scrapbooking, source citation, reunion planning, etc.

Soundex - a coded surname index (using the first letter of the last name and three digits) based on the way a name sounds rather than the way it’s spelled. Surnames that sound the same but are spelled differently – such as Smith, Smyth, and Schmidt -- have the same code and are filed together. This system was developed to make it easier to find a particular name even though it may have been spelled (or misspelled, as was more often the case) a variety of ways. Go to the Soundex help topic in the Census extras section for sites that will help you determine the Soundex of your families’ surnames.

State Census - an accounting of the population authorized and executed by a state government, rather than the Federal Government; see also census record.

Statewide Registration - the centralized gathering of vital records data on a statewide basis in addition to, or instead of, local registration of this information. The introduction of statewide registration varies from state to state beginning with Massachusetts in 1841 and ending with New Mexico in 1920.

Transcription - a record compiled or copied from an original source or from a record which has been compiled previously.

Unit History - see military history.

Vital Records - documents that record the major events of a person’s life: birth, marriage, divorce, death.

Vital Records Index - an index of all the births, marriages, deaths or divorces within a state or local jurisdiction, making it easier to locate a specific document. An index may be alphabetical, chronological or a combination of both.

Will - legal document specifying how a person wants his or her estate – belongings and assets –bequeathed to relatives and others.

Young Irelanders - a group of young Irish idealists who devoted themselves to plans of revolution around 1848, a time of revolution throughout Europe in general.


Source: Brigham Young University Broadcasting