The other day I was researching Colonial Maryland guardianship and probate records. As you might expect the records themselves are part of the Maryland Archives and not terribly accessible; however, the indexes and/or abstracts are published and readily available.
And that’s where I got flummoxed. I found the reference to the right time and place in Maryland, and it pointed to “Liber XX.” So, what’s a “liber?” I couldn’t be so lucky as it meaning “This is where your ancestor’s information is. Look here.”. Was it the type of record? Was it the location of the records? I didn’t know what it really meant or what to do with the word. Or was it a word?
I tried the obvious choice. I “Googled” “the definition of ‘liber,'” and nothing came up. To be honest, I don’t know exactly what I did next, but I stumbled on a page in the Family Search Wiki of Latin Genealogical Words. Latin! It would seem logical that our Colonial fore-bearers used Latin terms.
Long story, short, “Liber” means “book” or “volume.” Ah ha! The index pointed to specific volumes of guardianship records organized by year. Liber 1751 -1777, 1778 – 1783, and so on. That makes sense.
There are a number of good genealogy dictionaries available through libraries or by purchase through genealogy booksellers. I’ll reference two that I found online for free at the Family Search website, here.
- The Latin Genealogy Word List — It is one extremely long page with Latin words and their meanings organized alphabetically. You can scroll down the page to find what you like, or just hit Cntrl “F” and type in the word you’re looking for and the browser will find it for you.
- A Glossary of Genealogy Terms – This glossary is about terms often used in genealogy that fall outside of the realm of normal vocabulary. Terms such as “land grant,” or “patent,” that were very familiar to our ancestors but are unfamiliar to us. Alternatively, you’ll find terms that are germane to the practice of family history research such as GEDCOM or gazetteer. All very helpful information.
- BONUS! There’s another handy dictionary online called “Roots.” This is a cross between a Black’s Law Dictionary, an Old English Dictionary, and a Latin Dictionary. It is all of those terms you find in land, court, and probate records that make no sense whatsoever.
With these tools, I hope you will feel a little less flummoxed than I did when you come across a word with which you are not familiar.