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Colonial American and 19th Century Terms

Colonial AmericaThe very best sources for a family historian are the primary vital documents; such things as Wills, deeds, journals, letters, certificates and ledgers. Where a problem could arise is in transcribing and interpreting such writings that date back to the 19th century or even into the period of Colonial America.

The English language written and spoken today has changed over the decades. Phrases, words, terms and even slang a researcher might come across from an ancestor’s Will dated 1825 might not be understood. In any transcription the original word does need to be written out, but then a note has to be added of its meaning, especially as it is related to life in 19th century America.

The following are just a sampling of the numerous colonial and 19th century terms and what they meant. When running across any other terms while doing research, make it a point to find out what they mean.

Colonial and 19th Century Terms and their Meanings:

Orphan – Anyone under the age of 21 years whose father had died, even if the mother was still living.

In-law – A relative who married into a family, but also an stepdaughter, stepson, stepmother or stepfather.

Grandsire – A grandfather.

Ad litem – Something being done only once.

Affront – To insult.

Oxor – A wife.

Peevish – Very irritable.

Handsome – A pretty woman.

Appurtenance – The attachment of something to a larger item, such as a shed to the barn.

The biggest toad in the puddle – The most important individual in a business, club or family.

Chirpy – Very happy and cheerful person.

Elbow relation – A distant relative.

All-overish – Being uncomfortable in a situation.

Bub – A brother.

Infant – Anyone under the age of 21 years old.

Dowry – A gift of property, possessions and / or money for a bride given by her father.

Fag end – A person’s final years.

To see the elephant – To have experience everything, especially relating to wars and battles.

Seisin – Ownership of land.

Dishabille – Night clothes.

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