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Abbreviations often found in the law

The Legal Genealogist is at sea — literally, not just figuratively — with the Federation of Genealogical Societies Alaska cruise. So the focus of posts while internet connections may be — shall we call them fluid? — will be on the arcane language of the law…

It’s hard enough trying to understand a legal Latin phrase like cum testamento annexo — a phrase that denotes an estate where there is a will, but there isn’t any valid executor (because no executor was named, or the executor isn’t qualified, or the executor declines to serve), so the court has to appoint an administrator.1

abbrevBut when all you come across in the document is some sort of abbreviation — like C.T.A. — instead, it’s even harder to figure things out.

So here are some of the more common abbreviations we run across as genealogists trying to parse through the legal language of land and court records:

B.F. = bonum factum, a good or proper act, deed, or decree.2

Ca. resp. = capias ad respondendum, a judicial writ used to begin an action and which directed the sheriff to take the defendant and keep him, so that he would be in court to answer the plaintiff’s claim.3

Ca. sa. = capias ad satisfaciendum, a judicial writ which directed the sheriff to take the defendant and keep him, so that he would be in court to satisfy damages or a debt against him.4

C.A.V. = curia advisari vult, the court will be advised, will consider, will deliberate.5

cert. = certiorari, a common law writ from a higher court to a lower court to produce the record of a case.6

C.T.A. = cum testamento annexo, with the will annexed.7

D.B.E. = de bene esse, in anticipation of (used for proceedings such as a deposition or statement taken in case of future need).8

D.B.N. = de bonis non administratis, of the goods not administered, used in connection with an estate not fully settled.9

Et al. = et alii, and others.10

Et seq. = et sequentia, and the following.11

Et ux. = et uxor, and wife.12

Fi. fa. = fieri facias, a writ directing the sheriff to levy on goods and chattels of a judgmnent debtor.13

H.A. = hoc anno, this year.14

H.T. = hoc titulo, this title.15

Hab. Corp. = habeas corpus, a variety of writs intended to ensure the presence of a party before a court or judge.16

Hab. fa. or hab. fa. pos. = habere facias possessionem, the court process used to place a party in actual possession of land.17

Hab. fa. seis. = habere facias seisinam, the court process used to cause a successful party to have seisin of lands recovered.18

Imp. = imparlance (legal French, not Latin!), time to answer a pleading by the other side in a court case, so effectively a continuance to another day.19

L.S. = locus sigilli, the place of the seal.20

N.A. = sed non allocatur, the disagreement of the court with the arguments of counsel.21

N.B. = nulla bona, no goods were found, marked on a fieri facias when nothing was found by the sheriff to satisfy a debt.22

N.P. or Ni.Pri. = nisi prius, jury trial or a court in which a jury trial court be held.23

P.P. = propria persona, in his own person.24

Q.t. = qui tam, action brought by an informer under a statute setting a penalty for violation, and allowing a reward to the informer for bringing the action.25

Q. warr. = quo warranto, writ used to inquire into the right of a person to hold an office, franchise or other entitlement.26

Re. fa. lo. = recordari facias loquelam, a writ to remove a case from equity courts to the law courts.27

Sci. fa. = scire facias, writ based on the record, today an order to show cause.28

sc. or ss. = scilicet, to wit, that is to say, words used in introduction.29

vac. = vacatur, a rule or order vacating a proceeding.30


  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 308, “cum testamento annexo.”
  2. Ibid., 112, “B.F.”
  3. Ibid., 188, “capias ad respondendum.”
  4. Ibid., 188-189, “capias ad satisfaciendum.”
  5. Ibid., 162, “C.A.V.”
  6. Ibid., 187-188, “certiorari.”
  7. Ibid., 162, “C.T.A.,” and 308, “cum testamento annexo.”
  8. Ibid., 315, “D.B.E.,” and 321, “de bene esse.”
  9. Ibid., 315, “D.B.N.,” and 321, “de bonis non administratis.”
  10. Ibid., 438, “et al.”
  11. Ibid., 439, “et seq.”
  12. Ibid., 439, “et ux.”
  13. Ibid., 489, “Fi. Fa.”, and 491, “fieri facias.”
  14. Ibid., 554, “H.A.”
  15. Ibid., 554, “hoc titulo.”
  16. Ibid., 554, “habeas corpus.”
  17. Ibid., 555, “habere facias possessionem.”
  18. Ibid., 555, “habere facias seisinam.”
  19. Ibid., 593, “imparlance.”
  20. Ibid., 682, L.S.
  21. Ibid., 1074, “sed non allocatur.”
  22. Ibid., 793, “N.B.”
  23. Ibid., 798, “N.P.,” and 816, “nisi prius.”
  24. Ibid., 863, “P.P.”
  25. Ibid., 970, “q.t.”, and 983, “qui tam.”
  26. Ibid., 986, “quo warranto.”
  27. Ibid., 996, “re. fa. lo.”, and 1004-1005, “recordari facias loquelam.”
  28. Ibid., 1065, “sci. fa.”, and 1065-1066, “scire facias.”
  29. Ibid., 1063, “SC.”, and 1117, “ss.”
  30. Ibid., 1209, “vacatur.”
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