November 21, 2002
Q: My great-great-grandfather's will orders that his tenements be sold and the proceeds distributed among his heirs. Since he lived in rural New Jersey in the 1850s, am I correct in assuming that this really referred to tenant farms (instead of crowded buildings of recent immigrants)? In an earlier census, which doesn't list individual names, he has something like 73 people in his household. This greatly exceeds the size of his family at the time and I suspect that this suggested something more like tenant farms. I would appreciate any insight anyone else has. -- Carol Ann
Where to Turn
I think that it is a good idea for genealogists to invest in copies of Black's Law Dictionary as well as Tabor's Medical Dictionary. These books offer all the terms we are likely to find when working in any type of medical record or legal document, including probate and land records. Of course, we often need a regular dictionary to understand what we are reading but generally we understand enough, especially of the legal terms, to get the gist of the meaning.
There are also some online dictionaries that you will want to add to your list of Favorites or Bookmarks, for when you are online and find these terms.
There are also many good translators and foreign language dictionaries.
What Does Tenement Mean?
In searching both Dictionary.com and Law.com's Dictionary site, I found the following definitions:
So, What is a Tenement?
It would appear that a tenement is any real property including land and buildings. So it would appear in your ancestor's will that he was authorizing the sale of all of his holdings, which may have been tenant farms as you suspected or it could be just real property that he has acquired in his lifetime.
Regardless of what type, it looks like you will want to spend some time in the land records to find the disbursements of the land, and then see if you can find the probate packet or estate file for your ancestor to see how the monies made on the sales were disbursed.
Genealogy requires us to search in many different types of records from easy-to-read family letters to the more difficult legal documents such as deeds and probate records. Armed with a few good dictionaries, you should be able to find the answer to most questions about words.The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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