Staff Favorite: What Did They Mean By That?

Drake, Paul. What Did They Mean By That?: A Dictionary Of Historical And Genealogical Terms Old And New. Westminister, Md.  Heritage Books, 2008, c2000. Call no. PE1667 .D73 2008.

As we dig through old probate, land, court and other documents, genealogists often come upon terms that are unfamiliar. Other terms may be familiar but their meaning has changed over time. What Did They Mean By That? is a must-have for serious genealogists.

The front of the book contains a helpful list of abbreviations such as:

10br = December
orpns = orphans
p:cells = parcels, usually of land

The balance of the book is set up dictionary style, with a few illustrations sprinkled throughout. Definitions are concise and easy to understand. Each entry also includes a sentence further demonstrating use of the term. Here are some seasonal examples:

kersey: a heavy wool or wool and cotton fabric used for outer coats e.g., “She needed 4 ells (q.v.) of kersey to make winter coats for the children.”

plumcake: a sweet cake made with raisins, e.g., “the term ‘raisins’ meant the same in the early days as it does today, and plumcakes were not made with plums.”

snow roller: a horse-drawn vehicle having a huge roller instead of front wheels, used to flatten the snow on streets so as to facilitate the use of sleighs and cutters, e.g., “The purchase of a snow roller by the little town was a boon to those who had to move about during the winter.”

For more historical terms, also try:

Drake, Paul. More What Did They Mean by That?: A Dictionary of Historical and Genealogical Terms  Old and New. Westminster, Md: Heritage Books, 2006.

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