Select Page

The judicial kind

No, The Legal Genealogist isn’t taking a break.

I do that on occasion, but this isn’t one of them.

Instead, this is to share an answer to a question from a Facebook friend, who was puzzled when she first came across a phrase in a court document she hadn’t encountered before.

Melissa LeMaster Barker posted as follows:

Okay Judy G. Russell came across a new legal phrase in a last will and testament. The phrase is “Probate of Will in Vacation”. I have tried Googling it and can’t seem to find a definition. It is printed in the middle of the document in all caps, the will document is 2 pages long and it is listed once on each page that way.1

The term “vacation” or “in vacation” is one of those legal terms of art, and you will find it defined — but only in the legal dictionaries.

Hammock On A Tropical Beach Resort Vacation ConceptAccording to Black’s Legal Dictionary, from a legal perspective, vacation is “(t)hat period of time between the end of one term of court and the beginning of another.”2

And a very similar but slightly more complete definition appears in Bouvier’s Law Dictionary: “That period of time between the end of one term and beginning of another. During vacation, rules and orders are made in such cases as are urgent, by a judge at his chambers.”3

So… think about it for a minute. Early courts tended to meet during regular terms4 — often not more than once every quarter.5

Now think about someone who dies, say, the day after the end of one court term. There can be a lot of reasons why you wouldn’t wait all the way until the beginning of the next court term to begin the process of handling his estate. If he was a merchant, his estate might own perishable goods. If he was a farmer, a crop might need tending to, right now.

So on these occasions when something needed to be done, and the court wasn’t sitting in a regular term, the party needing court action would get to some part of the court — sometimes a specific judge designated to act while the court wasn’t in session — and the record would reflect that the action was taken in vacation.

And, with that, I’m going back to mine — happy long Thanksgiving weekend, eveyone!


  1. Status Update, Melissa LeMaster Barker, posted 25 Nov 2015, ( : accessed 27 Nov 2015).
  2. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 1209, “vacation.”
  3. John Bouvier, A Law Dictionary Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States of America and of the Several States of the American Union, rev. 6th ed. (1856); HTML reprint, The Constitution Society ( : accessed 27 Nov 2015), “vacation.”
  4. Some American courts still do this. The U.S. Supremre Court, for example, has one annual term that begins on the first Monday in October and ends around May or June each year.
  5. Which explains, by the way, why some courts were called courts of quarter sessions. See ibid., “quarter sessions.”
Print Friendly, PDF & Email