2020.08.02 – How to Learn the Jargon

Seekerz 1


  • If you don’t know the language, it’s hard to talk
  • Knowing terms help you ask the right questions
  • Start with the Simple and progress toward the Complex
  • Break the Complex down into simple bite-sized things
  • Terms to Start with
  • Add to your list of terms as you go


If you don’t know the language, it’s hard to talk

Have you ever tried to talk to someone that doesn’t speak your native language or any language you might be familiar with? It is very difficult and time-consuming. Assuming both of you want to take the time to try to communicate, you’ll need to start by pointing to things or showing pictures of them and saying the word associated with the object or action, so the other person can understand what in the world you are talking about.

Speaking to someone in a foreign language is difficult if you don’t understand it, but it is the same in any specialized area of endeavor. Each area of expertise uses specialized terms specific to how they do their work. Mechanics use words that are not used by everyone, as to Doctors and Software Engineers. Family History is no different, but many of the terms look very similar to things we readily understand from our native language. Though you normally can understand the basic meaning, if you don’t understand the context of how Family History uses the term, you can miss an important twist on the term you need to understand.

And you may find that you need to learn terms in an actual foreign language, assuming your ancestry can be extended back far enough. Note that you don’t need to learn a whole language to determine the terms that are important to Family History. You just need to know the ones which will help you pick out important details from foreign records. Learning the important Family History words can help significantly on simple records. But note that the further back in time you go, the more free form and complex records tend to get and the less like the paper forms we are used to filling out. Note that there are websites such as Google translate that can help translate foreign language text.

Knowing terms help you ask the right questions

Even if you know the language, a record is recorded in, if you don’t understand how the term is used in a Family History context, you can get tripped up. This is also true of time periods. Languages change over time, and a word that had a common meaning at one point of time can mean something different in another.

A good starting point is to learn the terms in the context of Family History. All words and terms we work with have to be taken in context. For example, if you say the word “ball,” what are you talking about? Without context, you won’t know if you’re talking about a basketball, a football, a soccer ball, a ball bearing, a ball joint, a dance, etc. You get the idea. Without context, you can’t truly understand the term.

For example, if you were to ask someone for a date in Family History, they’d ask you what kind of date you’re looking for: Marriage, Death, Burial, or Birth. However, if you ask an acquaintance for a date, they may think you want to go out with them. In Family History, using terms may have a different shade of meaning than normal usage. If you don’t understand the difference, you may come up with blank stares or complete silence from the one you’re asking while they attempting to figure out what you mean.

Start with the Simple and progress toward the Complex

In any endeavor, it is always best to start from the simple and progress toward the more complex. As you build up your vocabulary of simple terms, you begin building your understanding of Family History as a whole. If you don’t understand the context of simple terms, it will hinder your understanding of more complex ones. You will not understand why a complex term means what it does. Simple terms can be easily understood, but there may be more implications to them that meets the eye.

For example, the term Vital Statistics is comprised of two words, each of which has their own meanings, but those meanings do not comprise the meaning of the whole. The word Vital means something essential or very important. Statistics is a discipline that collects, analyzes, and presents data in specific formats and which uses probability to discover relationships between things. Using these two words without understanding the full term meaning could lead you to think that we’re talking about the statistical probabilities of things that are essential to the national economy. You’re close, but not quite there. In a different context, that of Measurements, Vital Statistics would mean measurements taken in order to make clothes, not exactly what we were looking for. In a Family History context, the term means the recording of information on Birth, Marriage, Divorce, and Death.

Break the Complex down into simple bite-sized things

We have found that Complex terms can be made up of simple terms, but at the same time have their own meanings. Once we understand the terms and the context they are used in we can apply the terms to the records we are looking for.

When you run into difficulties, sometimes it’s just a matter of stepping back and looking at the big picture and then breaking it down into its components. A very large construction project is made out of many much smaller pieces. Even the largest skyscraper is built of individual components, which, when connected make up the whole. Whenever a Software Engineering project occurs, the users decide on what their objectives are, but the software engineer has to break down the objective into bite-sized pieces until they can get to the point where a piece of code can be written. Then when all of the pieces are coded, they are put together to make up the project as a whole.

Family History is the same. A person is a complex thing. A person can generate a tremendous amount of data during their lifetimes. Just think about all of the homework that was done and discarded. For schooling, all that hard work adds up to a diploma and it is the diploma that is the important piece of information that is retained. In Family History, we also tend to keep only the essential pieces of information, such as Birth, Marriage, and Death. But if we can’t find them, we need to fall back on information that will point us to what we want. For example, if we don’t know the Marriage date or place, but we do know that the ancestor lived in a specific city at a marriageable age, by finding that piece of information, we may be able to search for a marriage notice in a newspaper in that area. Knowing everything about the person may not be necessary, but finding specific things that lead us to the important information will be. And knowing the terms used will aid us in finding it.

Terms to Start with
So let’s start with some terms and give them definition and context.

  • Event: An event is something that happened at a particular point in time and at a specific location. When we talk about events, we document them with a Name, Date, and Place. For example, a birth (the name of the event) is an event that may have happened on 1550.06.15 (universal time YYYY.MM.DD), and it may have happened in Oslo, Norway. The person may also have other events, such as divorce, emigration, graduation, census, burial, etc.. However, the main events are Birth, Marriage, and Death. The main thrust is to prove that a person really did live on the Earth at some point in time.
  • Relationship: A relationship is a relation between individuals. Relationships are defined by Types. For example two individuals can be related by marriage, or they may be related by Parentage (such as siblings). However, there are many different kinds of parental relationships, such as biological, adoptive, step, and guardian. Do not fall into the trap of documenting only the “favorite” relationship. Yes, some relationships have hard feelings. A child may not like their biological parents and may like their adoptive parents. But the reality is that they had BOTH relationships, so document both.
  • Interment: When we think of interment, we normally think of burials, which means to bury in the ground. But remember that some are buried above ground in mausoleums and tombs. Also remember that if a person is cremated, his or her ashes may be stored in an urn, which may also be stored in a mausoleum. We normally record this information as a burial, but interment is its synonym.
  • Certificate: Certificates are official documents which record events of interest to the officiating entity, such as a State or National Government or a Church. Certificates are given more priority than other documents because they have witnesses to the event. There are many ways to document an event, but we need to look for those documents that have the highest priority first, such as Birth, Baptism, Marriage, and Death Certificates. We can collect other documents, but they will not carry as much weight as these when attempting to prove events.
  • Parish: A parish is a Religious, geographical area, similar to smaller governmental geographic areas. Another name for similar areas is Wards. These names have been used for both religious and governmental areas, so be careful to note whether or not you are referring to a religious area or a governmental area. And they may also be used for both at the same time during some periods of history. Also note that different countries have different names for their smaller religious and governmental areas. Areas such as Parishes are normally smaller than counties (shires) or states (provinces) or nations. Don’t confuse the term Parish with the term Parish Church. Parish Churches are buildings, Parishes are not.
  • DNA: The chemical name for DNA is Deoxyribonucleic Acid. DNA is a blueprint of a person’s body. It is what allows all the cells in the body to know what part they play in the scheme of things. It is what lets the body know what, where, and how the cell should function. It is useful in not allowing body parts to grow in the wrong places. When DNA mapping is done, men have a Y chromosome and an X chromosome, and women have two X chromosomes. There is also mitochondrial DNA. DNA is useful when proving relationships. If there is a direct male to male relationship back to a common ancestor with no females in between, the relationship can be established through DNA. Other similar things can be determined through other combinations of DNA. But if they are not direct relationships (all male or all female going back in time), proving the relationships become less effective the further back in time the relationship existed with the person living today. There are also different kinds of DNA testing that are done. Be careful in choosing the test that will best indicate what you are looking for.
  • Newspaper: Yes, just about everyone today knows what a newspaper is, but this is changing. Today’s children may go for a lifetime without ever subscribing to a newspaper. Why? We have the internet, and the internet has many, many different kinds of media available, including our blog from Seekerz.net. However, when we’re looking back in time, we are looking for documentation of events, and newspapers have been around for a long while. They include Obituaries (death notices), Funeral notices (ceremonies held to commemorate a person’s life, after death and before burial), Announcements (articles of achievement in business, sports, religious life, government, etc.) and news items (articles written to induce people to subscribe, such as national and local events). All of these offer secondary priority documentation proving that events happened. Note that news articles have been known to have errors and omissions, so it is important that they be not the only source of information if possible.
  • Probate: Probate is a process that courts use to “prove” a Will. Wills are documents created to pass on the earthly possessions of a person to those they decide to pass them on to, including heirs. The probate court decides the legal validity of a deceased person’s will, and may or may not grant approval to an executor. The executor then uses the probated will as a legal document to distribute the deceased person’s property, resolving all claims first, then distributing the remainder as specified in the will.
  • Census: There are many kinds of censuses. They are records kept about members of a given population. For purposes of Family History, we are interested in the national population census. A national population census is a governmental record of the families that live at a specific location at a specific time. The UN guidelines require essential information to be recorded universally within a defined territory, done simultaneously, and at periodic intervals, at least every 10 years. The more recent the census has been taken, the more information it contains. Originally the Romans used to keep censuses to track adult males fit for military service. Early in American history, only males had names associated with them. The rest of the family consisted of counts for females, males, and others staying with the family. More recently it shows the names and ages of all the family members. The recent censuses are more useful in proving family relationships because all members of the family are named and ages are given.

Add to your list of terms as you go

As you can see from the above, the definitions I’ve given have included terms that have not been defined, at least not above. For example, what is a birth, marriage, death, or mausoleum? I did this to show you that simple terms can turn out to be a bit more complex than it looks like on the surface and to show you that complex terms are made up of simpler terms. You can go to Seekerz.net>FAQ>Family History Terms to look up each of the individual terms you find within the above terms if you wish, or you can use an on-line dictionary.

Whichever source of information you start with, it is a good idea to keep a list of your own which you can add to as you learn new terms and meanings. This way, you can add additional comments as you find new innuendos and sub-definitions you want to add to the terms as you go. Then if you don’t remember a term, you can just refer back to your list.

Seekerz, © 2020

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