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Not necessarily what you think

Legal Latin can be confusing.

To put it mildly.

And reader Linda Newville found herself perplexed when a set of court minutes out of South Carolina kept putting words together that she thought she should understand… but didn’t.

johnny_automatic_laurel_crown.mod“I have been reading through the South Carolina Minute Book 1800-1825 (on FamilySearch) and find references to ‘Alias Bond’ and ‘Alias Letters of Administration,’” she wrote. “I know an alias is another name used by a person, and I know what a bond is and what letters of administration are, but I’m not sure what an alias bond is or why the Court would grant one. Can you help?”

Yup. Sure can. And the problem is… legal Latin.

You see, there are two meanings to the Latin word alias, and the one Linda is thinking of isn’t the one being used here.

Here’s the context:

On 7 February 1820, the Court of Ordinary — the probate court1 of Marion District in South Carolina2 recorded that it had “this Day Rec’d by Consent the Letters of Administration Given to (Priscilla?) Owens Admr of William Owens Decd & Granted Alias Letters of Admn & took Bond & of Collins Woodbury as an Admr of said Estate.”3

Now the usual meaning of the word alias, and the one Linda is thinking of, is “otherwise called”4 — or “otherwise known as,” “an additional name that a person (such as a criminal) sometimes uses.”5

But in the context here, the word has a different meaning altogether. Here, it means “formerly; hitherto; at another time. An alias writ is a second writ issued in the same cause, where a former writ of the same kind had been issued without effect.”6

What happened here is that the first person appointed as administrator of the Owens estate stepped down. It looks like the widow (if I’m reading the first name correctly) was originally named as administrator but “by consent” gave back the letters of administration — a resignation.

The court then needed to appoint a new administrator — a second appointment of the same kind. And that’s why there were alias letters of administration granted to Collins Woodbury. His bond as administrator would have been an alias bond.

And yes, by the way, there’s also a Latin term if something happens to the second appointment and a third one has to be made. In that case, it’d be pluries letters of administration and a pluries bond.7 And a fourth would be — ready for this? — alias pluries letters and an alias pluries bond, and…


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  1. See Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 855, “ordinary (“A judicial officer, in several of the states, clothed by statute with powers in regard to wills, probate, administration, guardianship, etc.”).
  2. Later Marion County. See FamilySearch Research Wiki (, “Marion District, South Carolina,” rev. 11 May 2011.
  3. Marion District, South Carolina, Court of Ordinary, Minute book and journal, 1800-1825, unpaginated, entry for 7 Feb 1820; digital images, “South Carolina Probate Records, Bound Volumes, 1671-1977,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 21 Jan 2014).
  4. Black, A Dictionary of Law, 58, “alias dictus.”
  5. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary ( : accessed 21 Jan 2014), “alias.”
  6. Black, A Dictionary of Law, 58, “alias.”
  7. Ibid., 905, “pluries.”
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