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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in November 2013. It is an excerpt from their course US Court Records  by C. Ann Staley, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Selected Terminology (cont.)

heir at law
One who inherits property (real and personal) in cases of intestacy; or a common law right to all of the estate of an individual who dies intestate.
heirs and assigns
A standard clause normally indicating that there are no restrictions.
heirs of the body
A child of direct descent, excludes a spouse, adopted children, and collateral relations of the decedent.
The dwelling house and adjoining land were the family dwells.
homestead exemption
A law passed to allow a head of family to protect his house and land from creditors.
A deed in which two or more persons enter into obligations to each other (generally involving property, both real and personal).
A formal written accusation originating with a prosecutor and issued by a grand jury against someone charged with a crime.
A person who is under the age of legal majority.
A court order prohibiting a specified act or commanding someone to undo a wrong or injury.
Early usage: married or widowed; landless, living in the same house as another or in another building on the same property.
Written questions sent by one party in a lawsuit to an opposing party as part of pretrial discovery in civil cases. The party receiving the interrogatories is required to answer them in writing under oath.
A detailed account of articles of real and personal property with the estimated value of each item.
A court’s official decision on the matters before it.
The legal authority of a court to hear and decide a certain type of case. The geographic area over which the court has authority to decide cases.
The study of law and the structure of the legal system.
justice of the peace
A judicial magistrate with limited jurisdiction such as prescribed by statute in civil matters, such as performance of marriages and jurisdiction over minor offenses (criminal or civil depending on the statutes of a particular state).
An agreement between the landlord (lessor) and the tenant (the lessee).
A person receiving a legacy as stated in a will.
Issued by the court making the appointment of an executor, administrator, or guardian.
A claim, encumbrance, or charge on property for payment of a debt.
Anyone engaged in a law suit.
A case, controversy, or lawsuit.  Participants (plaintiffs and defendants) in lawsuits are called litigants.
locus sigilli (L.S.)
In the place of the seal.
A public civil officer, possessing such power as the government appointing him may order (legislative, executive, or judicial). Generally, an inferior judicial officer, such as a justice of the peace.
magistrate’s court
The court has limited jurisdiction and differs from state to state. Generally, their jurisdiction is restricted to hearing minor offenses, small claims or preliminary hearings.
Full age; legal age at which a person is no longer a minor (or infant) and is capable of being legally responsible for all of his or her acts.
male tail
An entail which descends to males only, usually set up as the eldest.
The commission of some act which is positively unlawful.
A document which is presented to a legislative body or its executive containing a petition or statement of facts.
Dwelling house with the adjacent buildings.
metes and bounds
A method of describing a parcel of land using points of a compass, natural corners (trees, stack of stones, etc.), and distances.
Half of anything, but may also be used to reflect an equal part of three co-owners.
natural heirs
See .heirs of the body
next friend
A person acting on behalf of another person (possibly on behalf of a widow or minor).
nolo contendere
No contest. A plea of nolo contendere has the same effect as a plea of guilty, as far as the criminal sentence is concerned, but may not be considered as an admission of guilt for any other purpose.
The plaintiff in a chancery (equity) action.
In some states, the judge of a probate court. The term is now, generally, abandoned.
A person (generally a minor) who has lost one or both of his parents.
The dividing of land (or personal property) by co-owners.
One of the litigants. At the trial level, typically the plaintiff and defendant.
See grant.
penal code
See criminal law.
The early reference to people meant “all white men;” later the term broadened to “all men regardless of color, who were eligible to vote;” and in 1918 the term was upgraded to encompass “all adults registered to vote.”
The term expressed the reservation of a nominal rent.
personal property
That which is peculiar or proper to the personal belongings of an individual, i.e., household furnishing, stocks, books, etc.
petit jury
A group of citizens who hear the evidence presented by both sides at a civil or criminal trial and determine the facts in dispute.
A written request presented to a governing body.
The person who initiates a lawsuit against another.
plaintiff in error
Appellant in an appeals case.
In American law this refers to a farm on which crops are grown (term primarily used in the southern states).
A map of a specific land area (sometimes synonymous with plot).
noun - An individual person (head.); a register of persons.
power of attorney
A legal document empowering another to perform certain specified acts.
Record of attorney of plaintiff orders to the clerk of the circuit court to prepare one of the following court decrees: a) Prepare or issue to the sheriff writs of executions of transcripts of change of venue for appeal to a proper court. b) Any writ demanding specific actions may be filed in this record.
Allowed settlers who had illegally “squatted” on land, prior to government surveying, to purchase the land they were living on.
First born or eldest son.
pro se
A Latin term meaning “on one’s own behalf”; in courts it refers to persons who present their won cases without lawyers.
Abbreviation for the Latin term, quod vide, meaning “which see.”
quitclaim deed
A type of release which passes any claim or interest that the grantor may have in a certain property.
Rent paid annually by a tenant to the government.
real property
Land, and generally whatever is erected or growing upon or affixed to the land.
The right of a person to repurchase his property which has been sold at a forced sale because of a judgment.
register of executions
See docket.
The survivor of a married couple, the widow or widower.
An action whereby the rightful owner to recover goods or chattels from one who has wrongfully distrained or taken those goods of chattels.
residuary legatee
One who receives all that remains in an estate after all debts and other legacies are paid.
One who responds to a complaint or bill (the defendant)―usually used in equity cases.
sale bill
See bill of sale.
Scire Facias
The name of a judicial writ, founded upon some record, and requiring the defendant to show cause why the plaintiff should not have the “advantage of such record, etc.
Possession of real property under claim of freehold estate.
The process by which property or funds are attached pending the outcome of litigation. The seizure of the property of an individual…
Sometimes the wife of a married brother-in-law, stepsister, or adopted sister. Currently, the wife of a married brother.
Abbreviation for scilicet (to wit, namely). Indicates that the acknowledgement took place in a specific locality. The clause for the acknowledgment or proving which starts with the locality followed by ss (often written as an old styled double s).
A formal written enactment of a legislative body, whether federal, state, city, or county.
statutory law
Laws relating to a statute; created or defined by a statute.
A writ commanding a person designated in it to appear in court under a penalty for failure.
An action applying to any proceeding in a court of justice in which the plaintiff pursues the remedy which the law affords him.
Notifies a defendant that an action has begun against him and that he is required to answer at a certain date and place.
support docket
A record of court ordered support payments for dependants.
Commonly applied to houses and other buildings.
to wit
That is to say…
A civil wrong or injury.
transcript record
A true copy.
trial jury
See petit jury.
Ultimate; ultimo (ult.). In dates it is a reference to previous month.
venire facias
A writ, according to the English law, indicating that the proper process to be issued on an indictment for any petit misdemeanor, or a penal statute.
A written order authorizing official action by law enforcement officials, usually directing them to arrest the individual named in the warrant. A search warrant orders that a specific location be searched for items, which if found, can be used in court as evidence.
widow’s allowance
The amount which a widow may claim (usually set by law) from her husband’s estate, free of claims, for her support and the maintenance of minor children.
widow’s third
Term meaning a widow’s one-third dower.
A written court order generally directed to a sheriff or other officer to carry out that order of the court.
writ of certiorari
An order issued by the U.S. Supreme Court directing the lower court to transmit records for a case which it will hear on appeal.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course US Court Records

offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at 

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.

  • This page was last modified on 16 September 2014, at 00:29.
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