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Genealogy Lingo

Genealogy is a hobby with it's share of acronyms and it's own vocabulary. The following are some terms that newbies will want to be familiar with and places to search for genealogical definitions.


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Resource: GenWeekly
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Like any pursuit or hobby, genealogy has it's own language that may be confusing or unfamiliar to newcomers. Knowing some of the lingo helps to be able to discuss family history projects with other genealogists or to understand genealogical publications that you are reading.

Some common terms are as follows:

GEDCOM: A GEDCOM allows researchers to share data from their genealogical software programs without retyping. GEDCOM stands for Genealogy Data Communications. If your cousin has Family Tree Maker and you have RootsMagic, downloading a GEDCOM will allow you to share data easily. That said, all the fields in your program may not transfer over completely, but overall the GEDCOM does make it easier than retyping all the information into your program. For example, once I GEDCOM'ed a file over from a now defunct genealogical database program and found that my sources did not transfer as I had hoped. For a tutorial on saving, opening and reading a GEDCOM file, see

Collateral Relatives: As the Encyclopedia of Genealogy explains, a collateral relative is someone who is descended from an ancestor of a subject. Your aunt, your mom's sister, would be a collateral relative. When researching it is important to research not only your direct line relatives (parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc) but also your collateral relatives like aunts and uncles. It is not uncommon to hit a brick wall researching a direct line relative who may have left few documents, but you may find information from the trail left by your ancestor's sibling or uncle. The wider the net you cast, the more likely you are to find something.

Personal Ancestral File (PAF): PAF is a genealogical database program available for free from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. For a free download go to FamilySearch International and click on "Free PAF Family History Software". This software allows you to keep track of your genealogy research through pedigree charts and family group sheets. It also allows you to print out various forms. To learn more about PAF and how to use it consult the PAF tutorial at

Cousin twice removed (or more): A lot of confusion exists around the subject of cousins. Everyone knows that a cousin (or also known as a first cousin) is the daughter or son of their parent's siblings. But after that, the confusion begins for most people. When thinking of cousins just remember that you are looking at a person who share a grandparent, or great-grandparent, etc. So a second cousin would be someone related to you with whom you share a great-grandparent.

Second cousins are often mistaken as the children of your first cousin but in actuality, that person would be your first cousin once removed. Removed indicates that you and that person are not of the same generation. You and your first cousin are of the same generation; you are both two generations from your grandparents. But your cousin's daughter is a 3rd generation away from your grandparents (her great-grandparents.). In this instance the word generation has nothing to do with how old you are but instead it indicates how far generationally you are from a couple, like your grandparents or great-grandparents.

I know this is confusing and for some it may be easier to "see" it then to understand it by just reading it. A clear concise chart can be found on at This can assist you as you pick up new cousins and want to know exactly how you are related.

Pedigree Chart: Most people have heard that well bred dogs have pedigrees, but so too do we. A pedigree chart shows a person's ancestors, usually to about four, five, or six generations, although larger charts do exist. A pedigree chart allows you to see who you are descended from through your mother's and father's lines.

Family Group Sheet: A Family Group Sheet provides information on one nuclear family unit. So the information would include the parent's biographical data and biographical data on their children.

Family History Center (FHC): A Family History Center is a branch of the larger Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. Located in Mormon meeting houses, a Family History Center is a place where you can order and view microfilmed records from the Library in Salt Lake, conduct internet research and use other genealogical resources. For those who are not Mormon, the Family History Center is open to all and is free to use (microform rentals are extra). To find the Family History Center nearest you, check out

There are various places on the Internet to look up words or terminology that you are unfamiliar with. Using Google, you can find a definition to a word by simply typing "define: word" in the search engine for Google. Substitute "word" with the word you are interested in defining. (Also, do not include the quotation marks.) I used Google to search for define: cousin. This brought up a list of related phrases as well as six definitions found on the Internet. It also lists links to several languages and definitions.

Genealogical specific word lists include The Encyclopedia of Genealogy, edited by Dick Eastman at Encyclopedia of Genealogy. This site provides you with an index to words or a search feature. You can look up genealogical specific words and phrases. These are written by the genealogical community, like a Wiki.

If you are interested in the acronyms and initials that are associated with genealogist's credentials, societies and organizations, you may want to check out Kathleen Hinckley's online article entitled, Alphabet Soup: Understanding the Genealogical Community at Her list includes acronyms for credentials, libraries, education, national organizations, lineage societies, and periodicals. Many of the acronyms include a link to the corresponding website. Online genealogical dictionaries include and Genealogy Today has the Genealogy Knowledgebase at that supplies a search engine where you can type on a genealogical phrase or word and find the meaning. You can search by keyword or browse by category.

For a list of different kinds of genealogical dictionaries, check our Cyndi's List's section on Dictionaries and Glossaries at Dictionaries & Glossaries.

A book that may be of help to you and a good addition to your library is Ancestry's Concise Genealogical Dictionary by Maurine Harris and Glen Harris (ISBN 091648906X).

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2009.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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