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The language of the law

To keep readers from feeling bereft while The Legal Genealogist is at summer camp for genealogists this week — otherwise known as the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research in Alabama — the blog this week will focus on terms — words and phrases — we may come across in legal documents that don’t always mean what we think they mean.

Words like today’s word of the day: recommendatory.

recommendThis is a very useful word for us as genealogists because it describes exactly what we come across in an awful lot of documents we use every day.

Because here’s what it means: “Precatory, advisory, or directory.”1

Got that?


I’m shocked.

Shocked, I tell you.

Okay, how ’bout if I go on and give the rest of the definition: Recommendatory words in a will are such as do not express the testator’s command in a peremptory form, but advise, counsel, or suggest that a certain course be pursued or disposition made.2

Yep. We’ve all seen this: “To my son James, in the hopes that he will care for his sister Sarah.” Or “the home farm to my beloved nephew David, and I would leave the lower 40 acres in wheat…”

It’s not a “you must do this” type of comment. It’s a “I hope or recommend that you will do this” type of comment.


  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 1003, “recommendatory.”
  2. Ibid.
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