Every profession, hobby, or group of people has some lingo all its own. You may have experienced this when listening to a group of co-workers or friends talking on the subway or on a street corner. There may have been abbreviations, acronyms, and slang used that you had no idea what it meant. You wouldn’t know what it means, either, unless you were part of that group. The same is true for genealogy. As a genealogist, you are privy to a secret language available only to members of that community.
If you haven’t been involved with genealogy long enough to become familiar with these code words and abbreviations, then here is the information you need to get started. Once you know the basics of genealogy lingo, you will be emailing, texting, and even speaking these code words with the pros in no time. This knowledge will also help you be a much better genealogist.
One of the cyphers that genealogists use is the Soundex code. The Soundex code is a phonetic index of names that groups names together that sound similar but are spelled differently. The Soundex code was used a lot in the pre-internet world in order to find ancestors in the US census records. Today, it is used as a search tool on some genealogy subscription and non-subscription websites. The website of the National Archives has all the information you will need on how to use the Soundex code in your own genealogical research.
Speaking of the US census, it is another genealogical resource that uses its own lingo. It uses a lot of abbreviations; these were invented to make sure there was enough room on the census forms for the enumerators to record the answers of the respondents. You can find out what these abbreviations mean by looking at the printed instructions for the enumerators.
As an example, “Na” on a US census form means “naturalized.” “Pa” means “papers,” indicating that the person being enumerated has begun the process of filling out and filing their papers to become naturalized. “Al” means the person being enumerated was an alien who had not been naturalized as a US citizen.
You will also find genealogical abbreviations in city directories. Space meant money in these directories, so keeping things as short and sweet was important to making the most money out of the publications. There are tons of address abbreviations, like for North, South, East, and West (N, S, E, and W). “NW” would mean “northwest,” and so on. Occupations are also abbreviated, with things like “sten” standing for “stenographer. Relationships are abbreviated, too, such as “wid” for “widow.” Every now and then, a directory publisher would save even more space by leaving out the abbreviations for the street (St), Avenue (Ave), and others altogether. There is usually a key at the beginning or end of city directories to guide you as to what the abbreviations used in the guide mean, which is most helpful.