Glossary of terms commonly found in family papers

Following is a list of types of documents frequently found in collections of family papers.  For a listing of commonly used legal terms, click here.

Autograph book
Book containing autographs of famous or not-so-famous people, typically collected by an individual.

Commonplace book
A manuscript or typed volume kept by an individual containing literary passages, quotations, recipes, poems, or passages from other sources that the individual thought worthy of recording.  These tend to be highly eclectic, may or may not include commentary by the individual, and may or may not be on a common theme.

Diary
A manuscript or typescript kept on a more or less regular basis by an individual recording daily events, thoughts and opinions, the weather, or almost anything else.

There is no clear distinction between the terms diary and journal, though in general, diaries are considered to be more personal, while journals are considered to be more “objective” or impersonal.  In practice, this has often intereacted with a strong gender bias, with women’s writings recorded as “diaries” and men’s as “journals.”

Exercise book
An exercise book is a distinctive form of material consisting of working out relatively standard sets of problems. May be qualified as Mathematical exercise book; Surveying exercise book, etc.

Journal
See diary.

Letterbook
A bound volume containing retained copies of outgoing correspondence, copied by hand, by carbon copy, or by other means. More rarely, a bound volume containing incoming letters received by an individual.

A Letterpress book is a volume in which the copies are made onto tissue paper by direct transfer of ink from the original by moisture.

Receipt book
A book containing recipes for food, medicines, paint, beauty products, or any number of other materials. May be qualified as Medical receipt book, Paint receipt book, etc.

 


 

Legal terms:

Articles of incorporation
An agreement specifying the aims and conditions of individuals joining together in a joint enterprise.

Charter
A document, usually under seal, granting specific rights and setting forth the goals and principles of an incorporated body.

Contract
A legally-binding agreement by two or more parties to do (or not do) something.

Deed
Any of a variety of documents by which an individual or group of individuals conveys property, particularly real estate, to another.  Deeds may be signed by both (or all) parties, but are fundamentally an agreement by one individual to convey property, as opposed to a contract, which requires action on both (or all) parts.

Deposition
Recorded testimony given in a legal suit or trial.

Executor
An individual named in a will, then appointed by a court to settle the estate of the deceased.

Estate inventory
Inventory of the effects of an individual taken after death for tax purposes or bequest.

Indenture 
 1. any deed, contract, or sealed agreement between two or more parties.
 2. (formerly) a deed drawn up in duplicate, each part having correspondingly indented edges for identification and security.

Power of attorney
A legal document authorizing an individual to act on another’s behalf in a legal matter.

Will
A declaration of an individual’s wishes as to the disposition of his/her property, to take effect after death.

This guide was developed and written by the Documentary Families Project staff (Joanne Danifo, Katherine Gallup, Sarah Heim, and Leslie Hunt).