Dictionaries

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General References and Guides

This article is part of a series.
Introduction to the General References and Guides
Overview of Databases and Indexes
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This article originally appeared in "General References and Guides" by Kory L. Meyerink, MLS, AG, FUGA in The Source: A Guidebook to American Genealogy

Another important tool for genealogists is dictionaries. Many genealogical records were created in time periods, places, or societies that researchers are not familiar with. Dictionaries are excellent tools to help understand such records. For many, a standard desk or library dictionary is sufficient. Major, unabridged dictionaries available at every library are also useful. Especially note the following specialized dictionaries that are useful for understanding older records:

  • Black, Henry Campbell. Black’s Law Dictionary. 8th ed. St. Paul, Minn.: West Publishing Co., 2004. This dictionary defines the terms and phrases of American and English jurisprudence, ancient and modern, and is useful for understanding terms in court records and other legal records.
  • Evans, Barbara Jean. A to Zax: A Comprehensive Genealogical Dictionary for Genealogists and Historians. 3rd ed. Alexan-dria, Va.: Hearthside Press, 1995. This is an excellent list of terms often encountered by genealogists and their definitions. It also includes a list of nicknames and their usual given names.
  • Harris, Glen, and Maurine Harris. Ancestry’s Concise Genealogical Dictionary. Salt Lake City: Ancestry, 1989. This volume defines many out-of-use terms that are often overlooked in many dictionaries, yet frequently found in old documents and sources used by genealogists.
  • Lederer, Richard. Colonial American English: A Glossary. Essex, Conn.: Verbatim Book, 1985. This dictionary explains words found in early American documents that are now archaic, obscure, obsolete, or have different meanings.

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