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Researching your ancestry? Get familiar with yesterday’s language

Too often, we attempt to understand the lives of our ancestors through today’s lens.

You can hit some major stumbling blocks in your research if you do this. To interpret old records and earlier times, you must have some knowledge of the world they lived in.

Take, for example, legal terms and the legal structure. If you are dealing with Colonial South Carolina, you must factor in primogeniture — the oldest son got the real estate, whether that was stated in a will or not. Colonial Georgia did not adhere to primogeniture. Many legal terms and other abbreviations used in records and newspaper notices can throw one off, such as “ob. s.p.” That means, the person died without issue (children). It was sometimes written as “d.s p.”

I was confused early in my genealogy work by the abbreviation “do,” which stands for “ditto.”

Occupations are sometimes difficult to figure out. There could be several names for the same occupation, or different variations of it. A caddie was a messenger in old England. A carter drove a cart. The terms for certain diseases in the past were vague, with catchall phrases like “general debility” covering a lot, or someone dying of “consumption.”

There are numerous websites with long lists of legal terms, abbreviations, occupations, diseases and old medical terms. Search for “abbreviations used in genealogy,” or “historical occupations” to discover some very useful ones. Many link to FamilySearch.org, RootsWeb, or to British sites. A search for “old medical terminology” also turns up some great places to check. Beware of having the “Viper’s Dance.”

Switzer Library’s Georgia Room reopens in Marietta

The Georgia Room, the genealogy room of Marietta’s Charles Switzer Library, reopened September 3 in a small room near the main entrance. Until the entire library is renovated and reopened in 2021, the Georgia Room will have limited materials available for patrons — only the Georgia Book Collection and the Military Collection, as well as some microfilm, computers and scanners. Check cobbcat.org for more information.

FGS to merge with NGS

The Federation of Genealogical Societies has announced it will merge with the National Genealogical Society over the next year. Both will hold their separate national conferences in 2020, but only one conference in 2021. For more information, see fgs.org and ngsgenealogy.org.

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Contact Kenneth H. Thomas Jr., P. O. Box 901, Decatur, GA 30031 or gagensociety.org.