Oregon Historical County Records Guide Appendix

​Glossary of Terms

Key concepts and terms related to researching historical county records.
Abstract: Summary or abbreviation of essential information from an original document (e.g., birth, death, or title abstract).

Administrator/Administratrix: Person appointed by the court to manage the assets and liabilities of a deceased person in probate cases. See also Executor/ Executrix.

Affidavit: A statement made under oath, usually in writing.

Alien: A foreign-born person who resides in but has not qualified as a citizen of the country.

Appraisal: An estimate of the value of property by a disinterested person with appropriate qualifications. It is used in a probate case to establish estate value.

Assignment: A legal grant of a right, privilege, benefit, or property, usually conveyed by written document. An assignment often transfers property from a debtor to be sold to benefit creditors.

Attachment: The process of taking or seizing real or personal property by virtue of a writ in order to satisfy a judgment or ensure court appearance.

Bond: Typically, an agreement which binds a person to a particular action or responsibility. A bond provides protection against loss or damages resulting from failure to meet duties or obligations. Examples include bonds for county officials and probate administrators.

Civil case: A court proceeding (other than criminal) to determine and enforce rights between parties, provide appropriate redress or compensation, and prevent future violations of rights.

Commitment (insane): A court proceeding directing confinement of a mentally ill or incompetent person for treatment. The commitment proceeding may be either civil or criminal as well as voluntary or involuntary.

Conveyance: Generally, the transfer of title to land from one person or class of persons to another by deed, mortgage, lease, assignment, or other means.

Corner (land survey): An angle made between two boundary lines for the purpose of establishing land survey reference points. Specifically, Oregon statutes define the term to include a section, one-quarter section, Donation Land Claim, meander, witness, or any other corner established by the General Land Office or its successor.

Criminal case: A court proceeding in which a person who is charged with having committed or omitted an act against the community or state is brought to trial and either found not guilty or guilty and sentenced.
​Debtee: One who is owed money or other performance of obligation by a debtor.

Debtor: One who owes money or other performance of obligation to a creditor.

Declaration of intention: A preliminary naturalization statement made to an appropriate court by an alien announcing an intention of becoming a United States citizen and renouncing allegiance to any foreign power.

Decree: A declaration by a court announcing the legal consequences of the fact found. It is similar to a judgment.

Defendant: A person against whom recovery or relief is sought in a civil case or the accused in a criminal case.

Docket: Generally, a book containing brief entries describing all important acts of a court in the conduct of each case from inception to conclusion. The term also describes a book with a more specialized purpose such as a bar, civil, criminal, execution, judgment, or juvenile docket.

Donation Land Claim: In Oregon, land granted to persons who fulfilled the requirements of the Donation Land Claim Act of 1850. This act specified that citizens of the United States, or those who filed a declaration of intention prior to Dec. 1, 1850, and had resided upon or cultivated the land for four consecutive years, were granted a specified amount of acreage in the Oregon Territory.

Dower: Legal provisions made for a widow from her husband's property to support her and her children. The widow usually received an interest for the remainder of her life in one-third of the land and certain other property which her husband had acquired during the marriage.

Easement: The acquired or reserved right of use over the property of another. Examples include road and utility easements.

Equalization: The comparison and adjustment of the assessed value of property to better conform with real value for taxation purposes. The process is supervised by the county board of equalization.

Equity suit: A suit brought for the enforcement or protection of a private right or the prevention of or redress for an injury where there is no plain, adequate, and complete remedy at law. Essentially, judges were empowered to use equity or fairness to decide cases in which the law did not appear to address the issue at hand. Equity suits were abolished in Oregon in 1978.

Estate: The total property owned by a person at the time of death. It is distributed according to the terms of a will, if one exists, or by inheritance laws as applied in probate proceedings.

Execution: An action to carry into effect the directions of a decree or judgment. Typically, a writ of execution authorizes the sheriff or other officer to enforce the decision of the court.

Executor/Executrix: A person appointed by the testator (one who has made a will) to carry out the directions and requests of the will and distribute the property accordingly. See also Administrator/Administratrix.

Ex officio: Powers resulting from holding an office but not specifically conferred to an individual. For example, by virtue of office the county clerk serves as ex officio clerk to the county board of equalization.

Foreclosure: Legal process which deprives a mortgagor of interest in property, usually as a result of failure to make mortgage, judgment or tax payments.
​Grantee: Person who buys or receives property.

Grantor: Person who sells or conveys property.

Guardian: Person who holds the lawful power and duty to care for the person, property, and rights of another individual considered incapable by reason of age, understanding or self-control.

Habeas Corpus: Typically, a writ designed to challenge whether ​due process of law (the exercise of established law) was followed in detaining a prisoner. In Latin the term means: You have the body.

Home rule: A provision whereby the state grants authority to counties to adopt charters providing more local discretion with respect to county government organization and practice within certain limits set by the state.

Homestead: Settlement resulting from the Homestead Act of 1862 and subsequent land laws. The act provided 160 acres of public domain land to settlers who built a home on the land, resided there for 5 years, and cultivated the land. In Oregon, the act was especially significant east of the Cascade Mountains. See also Patent (land).

Inquest: An inquiry by a jury called by the district attorney to find the cause of death in certain cases requiring investigation. The coroner participated in the inquest.

Inventory: An itemized list often containing the estimated or real values of property belonging to an estate. An inventory is usually made by an executor or administrator of an estate as part of the probate process. Journal: A book in which narrative entries of judicial, legislative, or administrative proceedings are recorded in chronological order.

Judgment: A final decision of a court in a civil case resolving a dispute and determining the rights and obligations of the parties. Typically, a judgment results in a lien on property to recover costs and awards. It may also refer to a decision in a criminal case.

Levy: In connection to taxation, the exercise of legislative authority to fix and impose the amount and purpose of a tax.

Lien: A charge, security, or encumbrance placed on property resulting from a debt, obligation, or duty.
​Meander lines: In surveying and mapping, the border lines of a stream according to its windings and turnings.

Metes and Bounds: Boundary marks or lines of land as described in a survey.

Mortgagee: A person who lends money to a mortgagor to purchase property. The mortgagee usually holds legal title to the property to secure the loan until it is satisfied.

Mortgagor: A person who borrows money from a mortgagee to purchase property. The mortgagor receives legal title to the property from the mortgagee when the loan is satisfied.

Muster roll: A list of all troops present on parade or otherwise accounted for on the day of muster or review of troops under arms.

Naturalization: The process by which a person gains nationality after birth and becomes entitled to citizenship.

Notary public: A person who is authorized by the state to administer oaths and attest to the authenticity of signatures.

Order: A directive issued by the county governing body, often to implement an existing ordinance or law.

Ordinance: The county equivalent of a law. An ordinance is enacted by the county governing body to legislatively address matters not already covered by existing laws, regulations or ordinances. Subjects include zoning, building and animal control.

Partition: According to Oregon law, the division of a unit of land into 2 or 3 parcels within a calendar year. See also Subdivision.

Patent (land): An instrument issued by the government conveying the title of land from the public domain to private ownership. See also Homestead.

Personal property: Property, other than real property, consisting generally of movable or temporary things, including intangible property. See also Real property.

Plaintiff: A person who brings an action such as a complaint or suit in a civil case. Also, the plaintiff is the prosecution (typically identified as the " State of Oregon") in a criminal case.

Plat: Map of a town, section, subdivision or partition showing the location and boundaries of individual parcels of land subdivided into lots. A plat often shows streets, alleys, easements and other details drawn to scale.

Premium list: A booklet describing the rules and prizes associated with various categories of county fair competition.

Probate case: Generally, a court proceeding related to the estate of a decedent, whether or not a will is present.

Profile map: A survey strip map displaying the elevation of a road or planned road over the course of its route.

Quitclaim deed: A deed relinquishing all rights of the grantor to a specific property but not providing a warranty against claims that others may have in the property.
Real property: All property of a fixed, permanent, or immovable nature such as land and buildings. See also Personal Property.

Receivership: The state of an insolvent individual or business in bankruptcy proceedings when the court appoints a person to take charge of all legally relevant assets in order to preserve them for sale and distribution to creditors.

Redemption: The act of reclaiming property which had been taken for nonpayment of taxes. Redemption is allowed if delinquent taxes and all related interest, costs and penalties are paid within the prescribed period of time.

Register: A book of public facts. Typical examples include death, birth, land title, probate and prisoner registers.

Resolution: A formal expression of the opinion or will of a board of county commissioners or county court.

Return: Acknowledgment and brief description of action taken to serve a writ, notice or other paper required by a court. A return is also known as a proof of service.

Roll: A record of the proceedings of a court or public office. Examples include judgment rolls (case files), assessment and tax rolls, and delinquent tax rolls.
Satisfaction: A document stating that the terms or conditions of a judgment, lien, or mortgage have been met and that any property or obligation held is therefore released.

Section: One square mile of land within a township. 36 sections make up one township. See also Township.

Sheriff's sale: A sale conducted by the sheriff or other officer to carry out a judgment or decree of execution or foreclosure issued by a court. Examples include sales to satisfy attachments, tax and other liens and mortgages.

Small estate case: A probate case with less formal procedures than ordinarily practiced. This type of case is permitted with an estate valued at an amount less than a limit set by statute.

Subdivision: According to Oregon law, the division of a unit of land into four or more lots within a calendar year. See also Partition.

Subpoena: A written command to appear at a defined time and place to testify, usually in relation to a court case.
Tax sale: See Sheriff's sale. Torrens registry system: A system of land title registration in which all persons with interest in or holding charges on land had the right to have their names registered and indexed. The system was enacted in 1901 and repealed in 1971.

Township: A square tract 6 miles on each side containing 36 square miles of land. See also Section.

Township and range: The coordinates of a township based on its relative location to latitudinal and longitudinal reference lines. For example, the city of Lebanon in Linn County is situated in Township 12 South and Range 2 West which narrows its location to an area 66 to 72 miles south of the Base Line latitudinal reference line and 6 to 12 miles west of the Willamette Meridian longitudinal reference line. Survey related records are often arranged by township and range.

Trustee: A person who is appointed, or required by law, to administer an estate, interest or power for the benefit of another.

Vacation: The process whereby a county relinquishes control of and usually title to public property such as roads, undeveloped subdivisions, and easements.

Warranty deed: A deed in which the grantor promises clear title to property free from any encumbrances or claims.

Writ: An order issued by a court requiring the performance of a specified act, or providing authority to have it done. Examples include writs of attachment, execution and habeas corpus.

Zoning: The enactment of county ordinances to regulate land use to conform with state land conservation and development laws and the county comprehensive land use plan. Areas are typically zoned for residential, commercial, industrial or other uses.


These individuals worked on the Oregon Historical Coun​ty Records Guide​ since it began in 1993:

Re-​inventory project, 1998-present: Gary Halvorson 
Scenic and courthouse photographs: Gary Halvorson 

Original inventory project, 1993-1994:

Project Director: Layne Sawyer 
Project Archivists: Gary Halvorson, Elizabeth Uhlig, Todd Welch, and Mary Beth Herkert
Reference Staff: Tim Backer, David Wendell, Jim Clark, and Mike McQuade
Volunteer: Daraleen Wade


Black, Henry Campbell. Black's Law Dictionary, 7th ed. St. Paul, Minnesota: West Group, 1999.
Corning, Howard McKinley (editor). Dictionary of Oregon History, Portland, Oregon: Binfords & Mort, 1956.
Description of County Offices in Oregon and Check List of Their Records: Historical Records Survey of Oregon, Division of Women's and Professional Projects, Works Progress Administration of Oregon, 1937.
Inventory of the County Archives of Oregon: Oregon Historical Records Survey. Federal Works Agency, Works Projects Administration, 1942. (Published editions available for 13 Oregon counties.)
Loy, Willam G. (editor), et al. Atlas of Oregon, 2nd ed. Eugene, Oregon: University of Oregon Press, 2001.
McArthur, Lewis A. Oregon Geographic Names, 6th ed. Portland, Oregon: Oregon Historical Society Press, 1992.
Oregon: End of the Trail. Oregon Writers' Project of the WPA, Portland, Oregon: Binfords & Mort, 1940.
Skupsky, Donald S. Recordkeeping Requirements. Denver, Colorado: Information Requirements Clearinghouse, 1994.


Wheeler county courthouse is a 3 story brick building.
Wheeler County Courthouse in Fossil.​ Many county officials in Oregon are fortunate to work in beautiful, historic courthouses, which are often architectural centerpieces of the community. (Oregon State Archives Scenic Image 20070908-1011​)

Additional Resources