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Genealogy Terminology

A number of terms and abbreviations are used in historical records that may be confusing to people doing genealogical research. This page will list those definitions that have been identified to us as being helpful to people. Should you have terms that you would like to see included, please email your request to webmaster@carothers-carruthers.com. we will try to accommodate you and add more terms to this page as we do.



bailie = the baron's deputy, or someone who presided over the barony court, or a municipal magistrate or officer 

barony = lands held of the crown and erected into a barony, with civil and criminal jurisdiction within its bounds 

Brother German = two men who had the same mother and father

bond = in Scots law usually related to money lent on the security of land, thus more equivalent to a mortgage 


cautioner = guarantor 

censuses = taken in Scotland every 10 years since 1841 (except 1941).  Census records are not available to researchers until 100 years have past.

chamberlain = chief financial officer of an estate 

clachan = hamlet

coat of arms descriptions = see the Coat of Arms page on this site.

commonty = common pasture land

covenanters = those opposing Charles I's imposition of the Anglican Church on the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.  Scottish people signed a national covenant in defense of their own fiercely Protestant religion, which led them into open conflict with the king.  They bound togeher under a National Covenant, under which every able-bodied man and woman in the Kingdom vowed to protect their religious liberties.  They then proceeded to raise an army of the covenant, and thus began the English Civil Wars. 


decreet = the judgement on sentence of a court of law, whereby the question at issue is decided

dispone = to assign, make over, or grant, to convey land, before 1869 it was an essential word in any valid conveyance of land. 

d.s.p. = died without issue (decessit sine prole)

d.s.p. legit = died without legitimate issue

d.s.p.m. = died without male issue

d.s.p.m.s. = died without surviving male issue

d.s.p.s. = died without surviving issue


entail = settlement of the succession to heritable property by specifying the line of heirs

escheat = to confiscate moveables, the moveables themselves, often gifted or sold by the crown

excambion = exchange or barter, specifically of land


factor = an agent or steward who manages land or house property for its proprietor, has charge of an administration of an estate 

fee = the regular payment to a hired or contracted servant 

feu = land held in payment of rent; to let land in rent or take land in rent

feu-duty = annual payment to the superior by the feuar 

freeholders = county landowners who, until the Reform Act of 1832, were entitled to elect or be elected a member of Parliament 


gilpey = a young girl 

gumption = commonsense 

gutscraper = fiddler 


haggis = economic pudding boiled in a sheep's stomach 

heirs portioner = the division of heritable property equally among the surviving daughters of a heritor who had no male heirs 

heritors = parish landowners and property owners who were responsible for building and maintaining parish church, manse and school until 1925 

hodden = coarse grey homespun cloth 

howdie = midwife 

husbandland = the holding of a husbandman - originally 26 Scots acres (.75 English acre) 


in = when used before a property name, denotes the resident of a property, for example, John Carruthers in Twathats 

infeft = to invest with legal possession of heritable property 

infeftment = the investing of a new owner with a real right in or legal possession of land. 


Jacobites = the supporters dedicated to the restoration of the Stuart kings to the thrones of England, Scotland, and the Kingdom of Ireland. The movement took its name from the Latin form Jacobus of the name of King James II and VII. Jacobitism was a response to the deposing of James II and VII in 1688 when he was replaced by his daughter Mary II jointly with her husband and first cousin William of Orange.  The Jacobite movement had religious implications as the Stuarts were Catholic while Mary and her husband pushed the Anglican religion on their subjects.

Justices of the Peace = from 1609, were entitled to appoint constables by parish to apprehend those who breached the peace and regulate weights and measures. 


ken = know, beware of, recognize, identify 

kirk = church

kirklands = land of which a churchman or ecclesiastical institution was superior 

kirtle = gowns, skirt, petticoat 

knowe = knoll or hillock 


lairds =  landed men; men who own the estate and were sometimes called "lord" 

lav(e)rock = lark 


mains = part of the barony reserved for the lord's use, or the home farm of the estate 

mark = two-thirds of a Scots pound

meikle = great or large

merk = 1 mark of silver. Now about 70% of a £, a measure of land

merkland = a unit of land assessment being the area which originally had the annual value of 1 merk


nether = lower or bottom part


of = when used before a property name, denotes the owner of a property, for example, John Carruthers of Holmains - which allows the owner to also be known as simply Holmains 


portioner = the occupier of part of a property originally divided among co-heirs 

precept = authorization by one person to another to act on his behalf. 

protocol book = notary's register 



register of sasines = record of transfers of ownership of heritable property 

relict = widow 

relief = debtor's obligation to relieve (compensate) his guarantor 

retour = to return by a jury on an inquest declaring their decision as to heirship, the verdict of a jury

riding book = an account book compiled during the collection (riding) of the teinds

run-rig =  a division of cultivation rigs among tenants - those of individual tenants being scattered across the cultivation area. 


sasine = investiture, or act of taking possession of feudal property

sheriff = a former judicial and administrative officer, once heriditary - duties were mainly carried out by the sheriff-depute 

shilling = one-twentieth of a £. 12 pence = 1 shilling. 1/6 means 1 shilling and 6 pence.

silver-rent = rent paid in money, not in kind

superior = the granter of land to a person who became his vassal in return for the perpetual payment of feu-duty 


tack = a lease or tenancy 

tailzie or taillie = Scots form of the word entail. 

teind = originally a tenth part of the produce of lands payable to the church

tenant-in-chief = vassal holding land directly from the Crown

terce = a life-rent allowed by law to a widow, being the third of the heritable subjects possessed by her husband on his death

testament = a will

thirds = tax equivalent to a third of the income paid on benefices after 1562

titular = a layman to whom the Crown transferred the title to church lands (and tithes of church benefices)  

tocher = the dowry or the marriage portion of a wife 

twalpennie = a shilling 


umquhile = at times; sometimes



wadsett = mortgage; conveyance of land in pledge of a debt or obligation, with a reserved power to recover

wylecoat = flannel vest





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