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

Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines.

There are always so many deadlines.

And February 1 is no exception, so The Legal Genealogist is still hip- (or neck-)deep in swamp water.

But this space has been way too bare for way too long so…

Let’s go with a word of the day, raised in an email by reader Janet Anderson, who noted that she was scanning land grants given to North Carolina Revolutionary War Soldiers:

A lot of these grants start off with “Know ye that we have given and granted unto ‘name of a person’ assignee of ‘name of another person’ a private in the Continental Army…”. My question is what do they mean by “assignee”? Why is there an assignee? Is the assignor giving the grant to the assignee?

So let’s start by making sure that we know what the underlying transaction is, and it’s called an assignment.

AssigneeThat’s the “act by which one person transfers to another,… the whole of the right, interest, or property which he has in any realty or personalty…”1 So to assign, in the law is to “make or set over to another; to transfer; as to assign property, or some interest therein.”2

There are always two key players in an assignment: the person who currently holds the rights, interest or property, called the assignor (“One who makes an assignment of any kind; one who assigns or transfers property”3; and the person who’s getting or going to end up with the rights, interest or property, called the assignee (“A person to whom an assignment is made”).4

And just to complicate things a little more, you’ll sometimes see a plural shortened form where some folks are called assigns. That’s just a group of assignees: “those to whom property shall have been transferred. Now seldom used except in the phrase, in deeds, ‘heirs, administrators, and assigns.’”5

What’s rarely clear on the face of a document assigning rights is why the assignment is being made. But the usual reason is simple: person A owns a right to property (real or personal) and wants to sell it to person B. So the rights are assigned — transferred over — for a cash payment.

That was particularly common back when land was being handed out as bounty land, either by the states, as Janet’s records may reflect, or by the federal government in later bounty land cases. The land given as a reward for military service was often located a long way from where the men and their families lived, and they weren’t all that keen to uproot and go where the land was located.

So… what to do? Assign… transfer… sell the rights to somebody who was keen to uproot, or, in many cases, to land speculators who then made the land available to others.


  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 97-98, “assignment.”
  2. Ibid., 97, “assign.”
  3. Ibid., 98, assignor.
  4. Ibid., 97, “assignee.”
  5. Ibid., 98, “assigns.”
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