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

Along with hundreds of other genealogists from around the country, and even the world, The Legal Genealogist is heading off to Pittsburgh today for the 2017 Federation of Genealogical Societies conference.

It’s a great conference where I’ll be presenting on topics ranging from the ethics of DNA testing to the records that resulted from the black laws of the north.

It’s going to be a terrific conference!

But it does mean that time to write blog posts is in short supply. Since nobody wants the blog to go totally silent while I’m off having fun at the conference, however, let’s continue having fun as time allows with legal alphabet soup.

So, for today, H is for “HAMESECKEN”.

Go ahead.

I dare you.

I double dog dare you to use that in a sentence without having to look it up.

And, I confess, it’s a sure bet I wouldn’t have been able to do it — at least not with a straight face — until I looked it up, and found that it’s a term from Scottish law that means “the violent entering into a man’s house without license or against the peace, and the seeking and assaulting him there. … The crime of housebreaking or burglary.”1

Which of course immediately raises the question of the difference, if any, between housebreaking and burglary.

And, it turns out, there used to be one — and that distinction still exists in some places.

Housebreaking is defined as “breaking and entering a dwelling-house with intent to commit any felony therein.”2

Burglary, however, is something more: In criminal law. The breaking and entering the house of another in the night-time, with intent to commit a felony therein, whether the felony be actually committed or not.3

So every burglary is a housebreaking, but not every housebreaking is a burglary.

On the other hand, every burglary or housebreaking is a hamesecken.

Got that?

Now you know what that crime was that got your ancestor transported to America or Australia, right?



  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 560, “hamesecken.”
  2. Ibid., 582, “housebreaking.”
  3. Ibid., 158-159, “burglary.”
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