Reference Centre, Dictionnaires

Dictionary of terms found in Court Records

Act Books or Court Books

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A book of summaries of people and causes on the docket. All courts had these but most notably, in England, the Court of Arches which was the highest court of appeal from a lower Church court.


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Affidavit

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A sworn written statement made by an individual with knowledge of a particular fact or facts relevant to a legal action. The affidavit will generally include the witness's full name, age, occupation and place of residence and, possibly, a statement of any relationship that exists between the witness and the plaintiff and/or defendant to the action.


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Citizenship

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Generally, citizenship of a country can be acquired by birth, marriage or through legal process. The legal process enables foreigners to become entitled to the duties, rights and privileges of the average natural-born citizen of a country. Some limitations to the extent of the citizenship grant do apply in some countries. For instance, some countries may require that a citizen be a natural-born citizen in order to be qualified to serve in the highest public office in the country e.g. President of a country.


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Denization

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A legal process by which foreigners in Britain were able to become inhabitants of the country and obtain some degree of the rights of a natural-born citizen. The grant was made by Letters Patent and conferred the status of a British subject at a lesser cost than formal naturalization. However, a denizen was not able to hold public office and although they were permitted to hold or purchase land, they were not permitted to inherit land by Will.


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Divorce

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In England only a separation was recognized and a grant of "a mensa et thoro" was given by the Church courts. The decree required the parties to give a bond not to re-marry during the other's lifetime therefore the Church courts were seldom resorted to for a divorce. A full divorce, as is commonly understood today, had to proceed by private Act of Parliament after parties to a marriage obtained a decree of "a mensa et thoro" in the Church court.


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Fealty

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An oath of loyalty sworn by a vassal to his lord usually while placing one or both hands upon a relic of Saints or upon the Bible. See also 'homage'.


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Franchise

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A grant of liberty to a serf by his lord. The term also applies to the freedom granted to the inhabitants of a town or borough. Additionally, a franchise can be given to a town or borough by the Crown freeing the town or borough from its' servitude to feudal lords.


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Frankpledge

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Each male member of a tithing over the age of 12 years was responsible for the good conduct of all other members of that tithing.


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Heriot

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A payment which a lord of a manor may claim, in goods or money, from amongst the possessions of a dead serf or manorial tenant. There were various forms of heriots but essentially it amounted to a death tax payable to the lord of the manor.


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Homage

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The ceremony by which a vassal or tenant pledges his fealty to the lord of the manor or to the Crown and acknowledges all other feudal obligations in return for a grant of land. See also 'fealty'.


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Liberate Rolls

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Housed in the Public Record Office, this group of documents comprises lists of specific writs which had been issued relating to various court actions brought between 1201 and 1436. Included are:

  1. writs of allocate which authorized the making of certain allowances or discounts to accountants to the Exchequer;
  2. writs of computate; and,
  3. writs of liberate which were issued for one of four diverse purposes, as follows:
    • a.  for the payment of a yearly pension or other sum of money, granted under the Great Seal and addressed to the treasurer and chamberlain of the Exchequer;
    • b.  a writ to a sheriff for the delivery of possession of lands and goods extended or taken upon the forfeiture of a recognisance;
    • c.  a writ issued by Chancery to a gaoler for the delivery of a specific prisoner who had put in bail for his appearance; or
    • d.  a writ addressed to a sheriff and taken out by a creditor for lands, tenements and chattels of a debtor which had been delivered to that sheriff, requiring delivery of the same to the creditor.

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Muniment Books

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Mostly filled with appeals to probate cases.


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Naturalization

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A legal process by which a foreigner is admitted to citizenship of a country. In both the U.S.A. and Canada two documents must be filed at a local court, as well as certain tests and standards that must be met, by the foreigner before he or she can be naturalized. The first document is a Declaration of Intention to become a citizen. This is the most useful of the two documents to an ancestor hunter. This document gives full name, age, birthplace and in some instances, the last place of residence in the foreign country as well as names of parents and their place of residence. This declaration may also provide information concerning the foreigner's time and place of entry into the U.S.A. or Canada.

In Britain, the legal formalties of obtaining an Act of Naturalization were extremely expensive and, consequently, only used by those of wealth. Naturalization records for England and Wales are kept at the Public Record Office at Kew, Surrey.


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Next Friend

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A person who is not the legal guardian of an individual but who, nevertheless, acts for or on behalf of a child or other incapacitated adult, in a legal action.


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Patent Rolls

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Rolls of court containing grants of liberties, privileges, lands, offices, et cetera, including the creation of peers.


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Recognizance

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A bond, generally monetary, binding a person to do a particular act. These are most frequently used to ensure that a person (prosecutor, defendant, plaintiff, witness, petitioner, etc.) would appear before a Court at a designated time. If the person failed to perform the act required by the recognizance the money that had been posted was forfeited.


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Statute of Limitations

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A statute that limits the length of time during which a person or entity may exercise and enforce their rights or claims against another by legal action.

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