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The language of the law. Part Latin, part Anglo-Saxon, all confusing.

The Legal Genealogist is still trying to catch up from the time constraints of the institute season… and it’s not quite over yet.

From the Midwest African-American Genealogy Institute (MAAGI) through the Genealogical Institute on Federal Records (Gen-Fed), the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) and the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR), the last month has been a bear.

And tomorrow it’s the turn of the Historical Institute of Pennsylvania where I’ll be talking about Pennsylvania’s courts and their records in its week-long Researching Family in Pennsylvania program.1

And, as always, that means time is tight.

So… how’s about we have a little more fun with the legal lingo… and with today’s installment of legal alphabet soup.

So, for today, G is for “GAINOR”.

Doesn’t seem like this would be a hard one, does it? One who makes a gain is a gainor, no?

Um… no.

Not in the law.

This, in the law, is the kind of word you might encounter in a manor document from England. And it’s sure the kind that’d be tossed around to describe most of my early English ancestors, that’s for sure.

Because gainor, in the law, means “one who occupied or cultivated arable land.”2

And not just any old person who occupied or cultivated the land, but a “sokeman”3 — a tenant who held his land in villein socage. That’s “the holding of certain lands in consideration of certain inferior services of husbandry to be performed by the tenant to the lord” and — sigh — is of a type “where the services, though certain, are of baser nature.”4

A villein?

Yeah… “A person attached to a manor, who was substantially in the condition of a slave, who performed the base and servile work upon the manor for the lord, and was, in most respects, a subject of property and belonging to him.”5 But at least, in this context, with only certain duties related to the land, and not any old thing the lord wanted.

The gainage — or the “gain or profit of tilled or planted land, raised by cultivating it; and the draught, plow, and furniture for carrying on the work of tillage by the baser kind of sokemen or villeins”6 — was from the gainery — “the tillage, or the profit arising from it, or from the beasts employed therein.”7

So if there was anything you or I might think of as a gain?

Well, it wasn’t ending up in my family’s pocket, that’s for sure…


  1. For those who worry about my cats, have no fear. First off, the HSP is a day trip. I’m not even gonna tell ’em I won’t be home right away when I drive off this time. Second, when I’m gone for any length of time, they have a nearly-full-time certified vet tech as a kitty sitter. They get taken care of a whole lot better than I do…
  2. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 529, “gainor.”
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid., 1103, “socage.” See also ibid., 1104, “sokemanries.”
  5. Ibid., 1222, “villein.”
  6. Ibid., 529, “gainage.”
  7. Ibid.
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