Terminology

Agnate

A relation descending in the male line from the same common male ancestor.

Allegation

A sworn statement usually made by the groom, confirming that both parties were legally able to marry. If either person was under 21, the parent or guardian’s consent also had to be given.

Banns of marriage

The public announcement in a Christian church of an intended marriage. They would usually be read out loud from the pulpit for three successive Sundays before the marriage. Notice would also placed on display in the church and published in any church bulletins.

Bishop’s Transcripts

These are copies of parish registers which, from 1598 until the mid 1800’s, had to be sent to the bishop of each diocese every year. As they were copied by hand, they may contain errors or additions compared to the original record.

Canon law

This is law adopted by a Christian Church. The Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England both have their own different interpretations of canon law. Ecclesiastical law is essentially the same as canon law.

Chanceling

An illegitimate child.

Churchwarden

The churchwarden helps the vicar with the running of the church, often performing various civil duties. It would almost always be an unpaid role, and hence very unpopular, with nominees often preferring to pay a fine instead of accepting the position. A new warden would be chosen or elected each year. The role of churchwarden goes back to at least the 12th century, where they would sometimes be known as the church reeve.

Civil marriage

A marriage performed by a government official, not anyone from a religious organization.

Cognate

A relation through the mother’s side.

Consanguinity

A blood relationship, ie. a descent from a common ancestor.

Diocese

Think of a diocese as the religious equivalent of a county. In the same way a country is divided geographically into counties and cities, a particular religion may also divide a country in the same manner, not necessarily with the same borders. There are currently 44 diocese within The Church of England, and you can view a map of these diocese on The Church of England website.

Established church

This means the official state church, for example the established church in England is The Church of England.

Family

Strictly speaking, people of the same name and blood descending from the same male ancestor. Up to the seventeenth century this term could indicate the whole household, including unrelated servants.

Illegitimate

Births outside wedlock are often written in registers with a capital B for bastard, or sometimes the words base or spurious.

In-law

Until the middle of the 19th century, this term meant more than it does today. It could for example refer to a step-daughter.

Interred

Used to denote burial without Christian rites, e.g. for Quakers.

Interregnum

This was the period when there was no King or Queen of England, and the kingdom was under parliamentary and military rule. It began when Oliver Cromwell had Charles I executed in January 1649 and ended with the restoration of Charles II on May 29, 1660.

Marriage by licence

For a fee you could marry by getting a licence, enabling the wedding to take place quicker than by reading the banns and without publicity.

Middle English

A dialect used in much of Britain between the late 11th and the late 15th centuries.

Naturalisation

This is the process through which a non-citizen in a country may acquire citizenship or nationality of that country. Before 1844 this could only be obtained by a private Act of Parliament. Later, this was done by applying to the home secretary, whose records are kept at The National Archives.

Nephew

Prior to the mid 19th century this could refer to any descendant or younger male family member.

Niece

Prior to the mid 19th century this could refer to any descendant or younger female (bizarrely even sometimes male) family member.

Nonconformist

In simple terms, this is someone who doesn’t follow (or conform to) the laws of the Church of England. This includes Methodists, Wesleyans, Baptists, Independents, Protestant Dissenters, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Unitarians, Quakers (Society of Friends), Dissenters and Russian Orthodox. Although technically Catholic and Jews are nonconformists, in practise it usually just refers to non-Anglican protestant denominations.

Nothus

An illegitimate child, usually the child of a gentleman and a working-class woman.

Parish

Most religions divide their territory into smaller areas, in the same way a country is divided into counties, cities, towns and so on. Roughly speaking, a parish is the equivalent of a town or city, and a diocese is the equivalent of a county. In the Roman Catholic Church and The Church of England, a parish is the smallest ecclesiastical geographical subdivision, and is usually under the charge of one vicar. The parish as we know it today is thought to have developed somewhere between 1000 and 1200 in England.

Son-in-law

Before its single modern meaning, it could also denote a stepson. This may happen in the mid 19th century and earlier.

Uncle

Prior to the 19th century this could just loosely denote an unrelated older man.

Uterine

Born of the same mother but different fathers.

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