This week we are reviewing four great books designed to help the family historian overcome a common research stumbling block. Reading vital records, court documents, certificates, court records, and so on are a common part of genealogical research. But, how often does the researcher find words, abbreviations, or acronyms for which they are unsure of the means. These four great books can help with the genealogical research language barrier.
To read parts two and three follow these links:
In this blog, we review What Did They Mean By That? A Dictionary of Historical and Genealogical Terms, Old and New, by Paul Drake, J.D.
What Did They Mean By That has long been the most popular dictionary of the group at Family Roots Publishing. There is probably good reason for this as it stands out in our collection in a couple of ways. First, this book is the biggest dictionary in the group, at 6″ x 9″ and 350 pages. This is also the only book to list all entries paragraph style, instead of using columns. The book feels a bit more like an encyclopedia than it does a standard dictionary. Most entries provide more than just a standard definition. Rather, entries provide an explanations, examples, and observations. Take this example from all three dictionaries for the word maiden:
- A to Zax defines maiden – 1) a ship’s first trip after construction is referenced as the “maiden voyage;” 2) a fortress which has never fallen to an enemy.
- Ancestry’s Concise Genealogical Dictionary defines maiden — 1: a young unmarried woman; 2: a Scottish guillotine used for beheading criminals.
- What Did They Mean defines maiden – a young adult woman, not necessarily a virgin, at least not in the eyes of the criminal law, e.g., “Anna’s indictment in Vermont for adulterous conduct referred to her as a maiden.”
While still a relatively short entry, What Did They Mean clearly had the longest entry and is the only one to provide an example. Note also, each book add different definitions for the same word. One doesn’t even reference a woman. This example not only shows the longer style in What Did They Mean, but also shows how different each dictionary is.
This dictionary has other unique features as well. What Did They Mean By That is the only book in the group to include pictures. While not on every page, the pictures do provide both an element of interest as well as prove educational. Some of the images are pictures and some are document samples. There is also a small chart at the beginning showing a comparison between Saxon and English alphabets.
As I said, this is by far the top seller among our dictionaries. The easy reading style and completeness are clearly contributors. This book is perhaps the best in the group as a desk reference, while the other two perhaps make better field companions, due to size and more concise nature of entries.
Together, the four books discussed in this blog series provides the Genealogist with a fantastic reference set to words and symbols found in genealogical research: in both the field of study as well as in documents and records studied. While there is some overlap found between these books, there is plenty more unique to each.
To order copies of each book, please visit Family Roots Publishing. Or, get all four as a set and get 20% off:
Abbreviations & Acronyms: A Guide For Family Historians (Revised 2nd Edition); Family Roots Publishing Item #: TP269.
A-Zax: A Comprehensive Dictionary For Genealogists And Historians – 3rd Edition; Family Roots Publishing Item #: GE138.
What Did They Mean By That? A Dictionary of Historical and Genealogical Terms, Old and New; Family Roots Publishing Item #: HBD7169.
Ancestry’s Concise Genealogical Dictionary; Family Roots Publishing Item #: TP06X.