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

The Legal Genealogist went to law school in the 20th century.

Despite what my nieces and nephews suggest (“that was so long ago you spoke Latin, right?”), we really did speak English.

So I’m often as confused as any other genealogist by some of the legal lingo that appears in the documents we use in our research.

And one that really confused me when I looked at one early set of court records was a common reference to something called a fifa.

2019 F is for...

Fifa? Fifa? What the heck was a fifa?

Among other things, it’s not a word; it’s an abbreviation. And, yes, when you figure out what it’s an abbreviation for, it actually is in Latin. Legal Latin, at any rate.

Fifa, or more accurately fi. fa., is an abbreviation for fieri facias,1 Latin for “that you cause to be

Well, now, that’s all cleared up, isn’t it?

Sigh… Not helpful, folks. Not helpful at all.

So we have to know as well that a fieri facias was a “writ of execution commanding the sheriff to levy and make the amount of a judgment from the goods and chattels of the judgment debtor.”3 Or, in simpler terms, “a court document that instructs a sheriff to seize and sell a defendant’s property in order to satisfy a monetary judgment against the defendant.”4

In other words, you get a judgment against me. Maybe I trampled your cabbages or punched you in the nose. In either case, you went to court and sued me and won. The jury or the judge said I owe you, oh, three pounds five shillings. And I won’t pay up. So you get a write of fieri facias, which sends the sheriff out to my place to grab up my heifer and my wagon and my gallons of whiskey to the value of three pounds five shillings, plus of course whatever the sheriff’s fees are for doing that.

The fiery face of the law. Fifa. Or fieri facias.


Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “2019 alphabet soup: F is for …,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 25 Mar 2019).

  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 494, “fi.fa.”
  2. Wex, Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School ( : accessed 25 Mar 2019), “fieri facias.”
  3. Black, A Dictionary of Law, 497, “fieri facias.”
  4. Wex, Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School ( : accessed 25 Mar 2019), “fieri facias.”
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