Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language - Tuesday's Tip

I included Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language as part of another post but it got lost at the bottom. I think it's such a good resource for genealogists searching 1800s and early 1900s documents that I decided to give it its own post.

As we work on our family history we sometimes see unfamiliar words such as occupations, language in wills and other legal documents, household words, etc. Other times, the definition of the word as we know it doesn't quite fit the context in which it's used in an older document. Definitions of words evolve over time so words mean different things in different time periods

If you find unknown words from earlier times while working on your family history, I highly recommend using one of the online versions of Webster's 1828 dictionary. If you don't find your word in one of them, try another. Because they are all transcriptions, I suspect that not every single word in the dictionary is included in the online transcriptions.

The two online versions I've found are Noah Webster's 1828 American Dictionary, which includes separate 1828 and 1913 definitions, and Christian Soups' transcription. Another early Webster's, available at The ARTFL Project, combines the 1913 and 1828 versions.

Of course, if you can't find your word in one of the online versions, you can purchase a reproduction copy of Webster's 1828 (use a search engine to find available copies for sale) or you can try a modern dictionary and hope it includes, identifies, and defines archaic words.

What unusual words have you come across in your genealogy research or what words have changed meanings over time?


  1. Fascinating post! I just tried out the words car and couch in the 1828 dictionary, not expecting to find them...but they were in there!

  2. Dorene, I looked up your words, too, thinking that car was very unusual to find in 1828. It was in the 1913 version! Does that mean it wasn't a word in 1828? And I was surprised to find couch used as a verb in both versions.


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