Common Genealogy Jargon

Definitions of common terms used in genealogy research

Abstract: A transcription of a document or record that is a summary or shortened version of the information.

Ancestors: The people from whom you are descended, which includes your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and beyond.

Autosomal DNA: This is DNA inherited from both parents and can help you to identify living relatives with whom you share DNA that you got from common ancestors.

Brick Wall: This is when you come to a block in your research. You can't find any records to help you find more information and you can't seem to work around the barrier.

Common Ancestor: An ancestor that two (or more) people have in common or share.

Descendants: People of a particular ancestor that will live after them. This will include all children, the children's spouses and their children, and so on.

Direct Paternal or Maternal line: A direct paternal line is the male line from your father (and his father and his father and so on). Same thing for the direct maternal line: the female line from your mother, and her mother and so on.

Emigrant: A person who has left one country or area for another country or area. (See "Immigrant" definition to understand the difference).

Enumeration: The act of counting people, such as when recording the census.

GEDCOM file: A GEDCOM is the standard file type used to store genealogical information. You can usually download your tree from one website or genealogy software as a GEDCOM file and then transfer it to another one.

Genealogy: The line or trace of a person's ancestral history using records to prove relationship.

Genetic genealogy: DNA test results that are used to support genealogy research and ancestral history.

Given Name: This is typically the person's first name or the name given to them at their birth.

Immigrant: A person who has arrived to settle in a new country or area., i.e. A woman from Ireland moves to the United States. The people in Ireland call her an emigrant and the people in the United States call her an immigrant.

Land records: Land records are legal documents that show ownership of property (i.e. deeds, mortgages, and leases). They are a common type of record in the United States because they were started and kept when the colonists first settled.

Lineage: Your direct line of descent from an ancestor.

Military records: These are records and documents of military service such as volunteer cards, pensions, bounty land applications, draft registration cards and military discharge papers.

Mitochondrial DNA: This is DNA both males and females inherit from their mothers (it's also known as mtDNA). It's passed down mostly unchanged from mothers to daughters, so it can tell you about your maternal line.

Mortality schedule: Part of the federal census that will list information about people who died during that year.

Naturalization: The process used by an immigrant to become a citizen of a country.

Obituary: A published notice of an individual's death that will often have a brief biography and other relevant information about the person and their family.

Paternal DNA: This is Y-DNA inherited from father to son and is used to learn more about the direct paternal line. Females have no Y chromosome, so they are not able to do Y-DNA testing.

Primary sources: These are the sources of information that are recorded at the time of the event and often involve witnesses. Examples are census records, birth, marriage and death records, and newspapers.

Probate records: These records are legal documents about the distribution of a person's estate after death. Information found there can include the death date, names of heirs, family members, relationships, residences, and names of witnesses.

Secondary Sources: Records which are not created at the time of the event, but are written down later such as biographies, family histories, general histories, or online trees. Secondary sources should be proven from primary sources for accuracy.

Surname: Sometimes called the last name or family name, this is the name that members of the family have in common.

Vital records: Records that document important events in a person's life such as birth, marriage, and death.

Need help finding more records? Try our genealogical records directory which has more than 1.3 million sources to help you more easily locate the available records.

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