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  • Writer's pictureTheFormidableGenealogist

The Women

There are many terms used in genealogy that refer to women. Some of them might be confusing, either because they are not modern terms, or their modern usage is the result of changing over time. Here are a few examples:

Widow - this term was used to indicate a woman whose spouse was deceased.

Relict - this is a term is not well defined. I would explain it as the surviving spouse of a married couple.

A woman could both a widow and a relict. For example, if Uriah Blue was married to Keziah Blue at the time of his death, Keziah would be a widow. She would also be the relict of Uriah.

Here are some other examples that might illustrate the usage:

  • Hannah Miller, widow and relict of James Miller.... Hannah's husband had died, and that husband was James. She was unmarried at this time.

  • Mary Martin, former widow of William Groves.... - Mary had been married to William Groves, who predeceased her, and she was at this time married to a man with the surname Martin. Mary is a former widow because her current spouse is alive at this time.

  • William Long and Sarah Johnson (relict of John) were married January 6, 1697-8.... Sarah had been married to John Johnson, who predeceased her.

Consort - a wife who predeceased her husband. If you see 'consort' on a gravestone, the husband was alive when it was engraved.

Executrix - a female who executes a will. Commonly, a man would name his wife (or another trusted female), in his will as the executrix.

Administratrix - a female who administers an estate. If a person died intestate, or without a will, the court would need to name someone to administer the estate.

Testatrix - a female who has written a will.

Et ux - this term in a legal document means "and wife." In deeds in particular, you will encounter something like "Hiram Honeywell et ux". An even more abbreviated form of Mrs. Honeywell. Fortunately, the wife generally had to sign a deed of sale, to certify that her husband wasn't selling her dower--her legally allowed 1/3 of his estate were she to be widowed--without her consent. So the wife's name is often included at the recording of the deed.

Mother-in-law - "In-law" indicates a relationship by marriage. In some places and times, marriage could result in two types of in-laws. A mother-in-law, for example, could be one's spouse's mother--the relationship we recognize in today's usage. Or she could be one's step-mother--the result of the marriage of one's father. The same nomenclature can be used for other relationships, like father-in-law for stepfather, and so on.

Grass widow - this term has a few different usages, but few of them are complimentary. It might refer to a woman whose husband was away from the home for long periods of time. It might also mean a mistress who was abandoned by her lover, or a woman who had been cohabitating with a man who later returned to his lawfully wedded wife.

Spinster - an unmarried woman. It didn't always mean an "old" unmarried woman. On many marriage bonds or licenses, it might simply mean that this was the bride's first marriage.

Most of these terms describe a woman in relation to a man. It's useful knowledge for genealogy, but I'm glad so many of them are antiquated.

group of women in a park in the 1930s
Group of female friends, 1930s.


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