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Not just in Virginia…

It’s a Virginia day!

It’s actually an entire Virginia weekend!!

The Legal Genealogist is off to the Old Dominion today for the Fairfax Genealogical Society 2017 Spring Conference in Falls Church, which gets underway at the Westin Tysons Corner this afternoon.

If you’ll be there today, you have eight tracks to choose from, with presenters like Dr. Thomas Jones and Kathryn Lake Hogan.

Tomorrow, another eight tracks ranging from something called Courting Virginia: Understanding the Old Dominion’s State and Federal Courts (bet you can’t guess who the presenter is for that one…) to African-American Research – Slave Records, presented by Char McCargo Bah.

Great stuff!

And always great to head off into the statutes in preparation for a talk.

So yesterday I mentioned a statute that changed the rules of intestate inheritance in Virginia, because that 1785 statute had a term — parcenary — that not all genealogists will be familiar with.1

And that same statute we looked at yesterday2 had some other words we don’t use a whole lot now or that don’t mean quite what we mean when we use them now.

Words like “tenements” and “hereditaments.”


The Legal Genealogist‘s work is never done.

So… all of us modern folks look at a word like tenement and our mental image is some rundown ramshackle multi-story apartment building in the inner city, right?3

Um… no. Not in the law.

In law, the word means essentially anything connected with land: “in its original, proper, and legal sense it signifies everything that may be holden, provided it be of a permanent nature, whether it be of a substantial and sensible, or of an unsubstantial, ideal, kind. … ‘Tenement’ is a word of greater extent than ‘land,’ including not only land, but rents, commons, and several other rights and interests issuing out of or concerning land.”4

In other words, just as one example, the right to collect rent is a tenement.

And that other word … “hereditaments”?

That’s even broader:

Things capable of being inherited, be it corporeal or incorporeal, real, personal, or mixed, and including not only lands and everything thereon, but also heirlooms, and certain furniture which, by custom, may descend to the heir together with the land.


The two kinds of hereditaments are corporeal, which are tangible, (in fact, they mean the same thing as land,) and incorporeal, which are not tangible, and are the rights and profits annexed to or issuing out of land.


The term includes a few rights unconnected with land, but it is generally used as the widest expression for real property of all kinds, and is therefore employed in conveyances after the words “lands” and “tenements,” to include everything of the nature of realty which they do not cover.5

One of the specific things considered in the term “hereditaments” are honors: things like advowsons, or the right to take up a specific vacant living in the church6; or a dignity, the right your English ancestors may have had to “an honor, a title, station or distinction of honor.”7

Gotta love the language of the law… in Virginia as well as everywhere else.


  1. See Judy G. Russell, “Virginia is for sharing,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 30 Mar 2017 ( : accessed 31 Mar 2017).
  2. Chapter LX, Laws of 1785, in William Waller Hening, The Statutes at Large … of Virginia… (Richmond: p.p., 1823), 12:138.
  3. See Oxford Dictionaries Online ( : accessed 30 Mar 2017), “tenement” (“a room or a set of rooms forming a separate residence within a house or block of flats”).
  4. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 1160, “tenement.”
  5. Ibid., 568-569, “hereditaments.”
  6. Ibid., 46, “advowson.”
  7. Ibid., 367, dignity. See also ibid., 612, “incorporeal hereditament.” You’ll notice I said your English ancestors. Mine would have been the peasants on the estate of the person with the dignity.
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