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

If this is Friday it must be…


What day is it again?

letter LThe Legal Genealogist is home from the 2018 Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research, hosted by the Georgia Genealogical Society in Athens, where a couple of dozen first-rate students kept her on her toes for five days focusing on advanced methodology and evidence analysis.

But since classes started Sunday this year, instead of the usual Monday, to accommodate the venue, all of us spent the week trying to figure out what day it was. The Tuesday field trip that took place on Monday. The homework due Friday which had to be in by Thursday.

And that discombobulation carries over this morning as we all scramble to catch up on a week away so… you know what that means, right?

More alphabet soup… and we’re up to the letter L, so…

Today, L is for levy.

Which, in the law, can be either a verb (an action word) or a noun (a person, place or thing or person or group of persons, places or things).

The verb, to levy, in the words of Black’s Law Dictionary, is “to raise; execute; exact; collect; gather; take up; seize. Thus, to levy (raise or collect) a tax; to levy (raise or set up) a nuisance; to levy (acknowledge) a fine, to levy (inaugurate) war; to levy an execution, i.e., to levy or collect a sum of money on an execution.”1

And the noun, according to the law dictionaries, in practice, is “a seizure; the raising of the money for which an execution has been issued.”2

Yep, these are pretty important for us as genealogists because in so many cases the records follow the money. The taxes that were levied — set and collected — and the levy executed on property can be among the most interesting and valuable records we can find.

But… I think Mr. Black missed one.

Let’s move over to the ordinary dictionaries for a minute, because even the online versions of the day-to-day dictionaries add one more that’s important for us as genealogists: as a verb, “the enlistment or conscription of men for military service” and as a noun, “troops raised by levy.”3

Many of our early militia records are going to be called a levy as well, whether the record is referring to the act of rounding up the troops needed for a particular purpose or the troops themselves as a collective noun.

The one thing we shouldn’t go looking for as genealogists is the levy to which the Chevy was driven when it turned out to be dry. Because that was levee,4 not levy, and, well… now I’ve given you an ear worm for the rest of the day…


  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 707, “levy.”
  2. Ibid.
  3. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary ( : accessed 8 June 2018), “levy.”
  4. Oxford Dictionaries Online ( : accessed 8 June 2018), “levee” (a wall made of land or other materials that is built to stop a river from overflowing).
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