A Glossary of Selected Terms,

Phrases and Abbreviations

Found in Court Records



Compiled by Gary R. Toms and William R. Gann


  • a/c, acct. (abbrev.): account, accounts, or “in account with”
  • ad litem (See guardian ad litem)
  • administrator (“admr.”): The person (male) who is managing the settlement of an estate
  • administratrix (“admix”): The woman who is managing the settlement of an estate
  • adrm, admnr, Admstr, Admx, etc. (abbrev.): Many varying abbreviations were used by clerks for administrator / administratrix
  • affiant: one who swears an affidavit
  • affinity: relationship through marriage
  • agt (abbrev.): agent, one who represents a party
  • alias processo: a second writ or summons used when the first process has failed to accomplish its purpose
  • answer: response to a legal challenge, suit, or request for information
  • appurtenances: right or asset of value contained upon, or associated in conjunction with, real property
  • atto., atty. (abbrev.): attorney
  • blocked (in survey terminology): a marked tree
  • bona fide: in good faith
  • boundary calls: (see calls)
  • C C (abbrev.): chain carrier (see chain bearer); also used for County Clerk or County Court
  • calls: The compass directions and distances which define the bounds or perimeter of a piece of property (see also “metes and bounds”)
  • carrier: (see chain bearer)
  • Certiorari (Latin): To be informed of. A writ of common law origin issued by a superior to an inferior court requiring the latter to produce a certified record of a particular case tried therein. The writ is issued in order that the court issuing the writ may inspect the proceedings and determine whether there have been any irregularities
  • chain bearer / chain carrier / “C. C.”: The person who carried and placed the land surveyor’s chain, a measuring device. An adjacent property owner was often selected for this task
  • Chancellor: a judge in a court of chancery or equity
  • C&M / Clerk & Master: officer of Chancery Court who files pleadings, motions, judgments, and keeps records of court proceedings
  • Clk., ck (abbreviation): clerk
  • co ct. (abbreviation) county court
  • Cold. (abbreviation) colored, though usually abbreviated as col’d, and most often found in marriage records
  • commissioner: person charged by the court to appraise, allot or set off property
  • complainant (also found abbreviated as “complt”): one who files a legal complaint or suit
  • consanguinity: related as a blood relative
  • const. (abbrev.) constable; a public officer of a town or county section, whose duties include matters of the peace, service of writs, etc.
  • creditors: individuals or businesses to whom a person (or his or her estate) is indebted
  • curtesy: the life estate in the real property of a deceased wife to which a husband was entitled if the couple had lawful children born alive
  • debtor: one who owes money to another, or who is adjudged indebted
  • D. C. (abbrev.): Deputy Clerk
  • D. S. (abbrev.): Deputy Surveyor, or Deputy Sheriff
  • d.s.p.: (decessit sine parole) died without issue
  • decedent: the deceased individual
  • decree: the formal, written decision of a judge or other court official
  • distributive share: the portion of an estate allotted to an heir
  • do (abbrev.) ditto, meaning to repeat the above or previous item
  • Esqr., Esqrs. (abbrev.) See Esquire
  • Esquire: a title of high regard usually accorded to attorneys in the early 19th century; sometimes applied to other court officials
  • et al (Latin) meaning “and others”
  • et ux (abbrev.) for et uxor: “and wife,” where a grantor’s wife joins him in a conveyance
  • execution: an action to enforce a court order granted for the benefit of one party only
  • exemption: items not included in the process; in the dower process, refers to certain property which is excluded
  • ex parte: on one side only; a judicial order granted for the benefit of one party only
  • feme covert: a married woman
  • feme sole: a single woman; usually had to undertake legal action through the help of a man, who was referred to as next friend; or if spouse with marital property right, in right of
  • fi fa / fiere facias (Latin): means that “you cause it to be done.” A judicial writ directing the sheriff to satisfy a judgment from debtor’s property; the debtor usually being the party who lost a lawsuit.
  • freeholder: one having title to realty
  • guardian Ad litem (Latin): a special person appointed by the court to represent a minor’s interest
  • Householder: one who owns or maintains a house of residence in right of: indicates a man is representing the interests and rights of a woman in a legal matter (usually a husband claming his wife’s inheritance) (See also feme covert)
  • in room of: to replace another person; a replacement
  • interlocutory decree: an order or decree that is temporary during the case of a trial
  • issd (abbrev.): issued; a court action ordered to be processed
  • lay off: to inspect and describe boundaries of a tract of land
  • legatee: the recipient of a legacy or bequest
  • metes and bounds: The system used to measure and describe perimeter of property in land states as opposed to federal land states
  • necessaries: staple goods, such as sugar, salt, coffee
  • next friend: a man representing the interest of a woman (feme cover or feme sole) in a legal action; may or may not be a relative
  • orator: a man making a statement, petition or affidavit
  • oratrix: a man making a statement, petition, or affidavit
  • order: a directive or determination by the court
  • original bill: in equity pleading, a statement which relates to some matter not before litigated to the court
  • partition to divide: referring to splitting a piece of real property into smaller units or shares, often to distribute among heirs
  • partition suit: a legal action seeking division of real property, usually among heirs of a deceased person
  • perches: a measurement of land, amounting to 16 ½ feet in length or 30 ¼ square yards in area
  • per stirpes (Latin): “by roots or stocks,” used in the law of descent or distribution of property or assets, meaning to distribute property by relationship
  • petition: a plea or request, made in writing to a court or legal official
  • plaintiff (“Plff” “pltf” etc.): person filing a complaint or legal suit
  • pointer: a growth or clump of small saplings used as a reference point
  • pole, rod or perch: in surveying, a measure of length commonly found in early deeds and equaling 16 ½ feet
  • pro confesso (Latin) “confessed,” a term applied to a bill in equity where no answer is made to it by the defendant
  • rect, rects (abbrev.): receipt, receipts
  • relict: the surviving spouse, usually refers to the widow
  • residue: the remainder of an estate; usually property or money
  • respondent (“respt”): person replying to a legal action or complaint, or to a request for a statement
  • rod: a measurement of distance, 16 ½ feet
  • Rood: one-fourth acre of land
  • sci fa (abbrev.) scire facias; court order directing that litigant show cause why some matter of record should not be enforced to used
  • S D S (abbrev.) Special Deputy Sheriff
  • scintilla: a trace, a tiny bit
  • sd. (abbrev.) said
  • seized and possessed: an expression meaning that one is legally in possession of a tract of land
  • set off: to inspect and describe boundaries of a tract of land, or to determine and designate items of personal property to be awarded
  • sol. (abbrev.): attorney or solicitor
  • subpoena: a written command to appear at a specific time to testify
  • summons: an order to appear in court or before a legal official
  • Supersedeas (Latin): the name of a writ containing a command to stay the proceedings at law. A suspension of the power of a trial court to issue an execution on judgment apearled from, or, if writ of execution has issued, it is a prohibition emanating from court of appeal against execution of writ.
  • test. (abbrev. For teste): witnessed or confirmed by another
  • viz: videlicet: (Latin): “to-wit” and “that is” are videlicet, that symbol or term indicating that the words following are comments or an itemization
  • worships: judge of a court
  • writ: a written order issued by the court
  • Writ of Error: a writ (a written judicial order) issued from a court of appellate jurisdiction, directed to the judge or judges of a court of record, requiring to remit to the appellate court the record of an action before them, in which a final judgment has been entered, in order that examination may be made of certain errors alleged to have been committed, and that the judgment may be reversed, corrected, or affirmed, as the case may require. Writ of error is brought for supposed error in law apparent on record and takes case to higher tribunal, which affirms


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