Early Relationships Defined
Terms like father-in-law, mother-in-law, etc. had the same meaning
as they do today, which is a kinship by marriage. However, they may also
had different meanings. Father-in-law could refer to a step-father, son-in-law to a stepchild, etc.
The term "cousin" was once used generally to indicate almost any degree of relationship by blood or marriage outside the immediate family. Very early in American History the term was used to refer to nephew or niece.
When you see the word cousin used in early records, you will need to do more
research to clarify the relationship between the two people.
The terms nephew and niece were not in common use in the colonies
until before the mid-eighteenth century (i.e. 1750's). The term cousin was
used to denote this relationship. In rare instances, the term "nephew" was
used to mean grandson or granddaughter because the word comes from the
Latin term for "grandson" or "nepos." During this early period, "nephew" was used
for males and females.
This term was used very generally and in addition to its obvious
meaning, could denote a brother-in-law, a husband of a sister-in-law, a
half-brother, a stepbrother, or even a colleague within the church.
"My now wife:"
This term is sometimes found in a will and may, as is often
assumed, indicate the testator had a former wife, but this is not
so unless he is referring to children by a first wife and children by his
current or "now" wife. When the term is used WITHOUT reference to children,
it more usually means the testator intends the bequest for his current wife
and not any subsequent he may have.
Senior and Junior:
Terms to denote two men with the same in the same
community, regardless of any relationship. This could be father and son,
Uncle and nephew, or two men not related at all. Upon the death of the
"Senior" the junior could be dropped or if another, younger person had the
same name, Junior became Senior, etc.
Natural Son or Natural Daughter:
Indicates a blood relationship as
distinguished from a relationship by marriage or adoption. Sometimes it
could denote and illegitimate child, though it was more common to refer to such as
"my base son" or "my bastard son". In some instances, "my natural child"
may indicate children by a first wife as opposed to children by a current wife.
- This term could mean one of several things. An orphan may have
used his stepfather's surname in addition to his own.
- A married man may have taken the surname of his wealthy father-in-law.
One son in a family may have taken his mother's maiden name, especially when inheriting property from her family.
- One branch of the family may have used an alias to distinguish it from other
branches in the area where the name was common.
- A person may have used an alias to distinguish himself from several uncles and cousins with the same name. This problem was not unusual in large families before the use of
middle names adopted. In some cases, an alias indicated illegitmacy. Because of
all the possible reasons for the use of an alias, do not assume the reason until
you have done further research.
- Although you cannot count on it, it was common for the two
eldest sons to be named for their grandfathers and two eldest daughters to
be named for their grandmothers.
- Don't be confused by finding two children with
the same given name in the same family. The name of a deceased child may
have been given to a subsequent child.
- In Germany Ancestry it was common for ALL
sons to have the first name Johann and all daughters to have the first name
Anna or Maria. The children were known by their second names.
Source: National Genealogical Society's "American Genealogy: A Basic Course"
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