Latin in Parish Records


by Alison U. Ring, Ladysmith, B.C., Canada

I've recently been reading some parish records written in Latin. My own knowledge of the language is slight and I've received much help after putting out a plea for aid to the list. My thanks are due to everyone who has assisted me, including an ex-Latin teacher and a Roman Catholic priest to name but two, and there were others. It was suggested that I shared my 'findings' with the list, and whilst in one way I hestitate to do so, they may be of use as we all possibly have to tackle the problem one day. To all the Latin EXPERTS, my apologies, but if you do read this and want to make corrections, suggestions, etc. please do so. To keep messages shorter, I've split them up as follows:


  1. Baptismal entries.
  2. Numbers and dates encountered.
  3. Marriage entries and connected terms and phrases.
  4. Burial entries.

My disclaimer is that the records I was reading were in faded ink on poor paper, waterdamanged, etc. The handwriting of the various clerks was 'difficult' to say the least and each one had his idiosyncracy on the type of Latin he wrote and abbreviations he used. Many of the problems encountered were due to my not reading the words correctly!

(1) Baptismal Entries

The normal format in Latin seemed to be:

Thomas filius Henrici BLOGGS et Anna uxor ejus baptizatus fuit (date in Latin) Anno Pro. 1712.

For a female:

Sarah filia Henrici BLOGGS et Anna uxor ejus baptizata fuit (date in Latin) Anno Pdo. 1714.

filius and filia are 'son' and 'daughter' respectively, but occasionally are written with the ff at the beginning. [If the writer likes a long s at the end, a son can look like fflll but a daughter will be ffllx where x is any letter you can think of except s !]

et = and; uxor ejus = (wife his) = his wife

baptizatus and baptizata = baptised, which being declined (i.e. us or a at the end) does help when the name is almost unreadable and the sex of the child is in doubt.

fuit suggests a past tense = has been erat = was est = is

(Dates in Latin--see next section.)

Sometimes Anno Domini was used. Abbreviations: Ano Dom. Anno Dni. A. D. but more often Anno P (and a variety of letters that followed.) This term appears to mean 'in the current year.' Anno pdo. Anno pto. Anno predit? Anno pdto. Ano was often written with a stroke over the n to suggest the letter should be doubled. This also occurs in names such as Hanah with a stroke over the n for Hannah.

If the writer became tired with the full format, then he abbreviated it:

Thos. fil. Henrici BLOGGS et Anna ux. ej. bapt. (date) 1714 . [Readable if one knows the original format. See above.]

If the writer were in a flamboyant mood, or the parents of the child were BIG in the village, then he wrote everything he could:

Thomas filius Henrici Negus et Christiana uxor ejus natus fuit (date) Ano. D. 1712. Nominatus (date) A. D. 1712. Thomas est in Ecclesiam receptus (date.) Anno Dni 1712.

The first phrase states that the child natus fuit = (born has been) = has been born He was nominatus = named or christened est in Ecclesiam receptus = is received into the church or erat in Ecclesiam receptus = was received into the church. It can also be abbrieviated: in Eccl. recept.

Occasionally the words puer and puella (boy and girl) were used in baptismal entries in place of filius and filia. I found no reason for the choice, although I read that they indicated a stillborn, unnamed, or even baseborn child. In these particular records, that did not seem to be the case. In one instance Sarah, puella, (was buried) and she was an infant, but she obviously had a name. An illegitimate girl was denoted as naturalia filia.

(2) Numbers and Dates

Numbers were written in Arabic numerals, in small case Roman numerals, or spelled out using Ordinals in preference to Cardinals.

Latin Ordinals: (first, second, etc.) primus, secundus, tertius, quartus, quintus, sextus, septimus, octavus, nonus, decimus etc.

They however are also 'declined' - i.e. have endings depending on what they are doing in the sentence. [Hint: most of the time they end in o septimo, decimo, etc.]

After 10, things get a bit more complicated, but not much.

Ordinals: (Eleventh, Twelfth, up to Seventeenth) undecimus, duodecimus, tertius decimus, quartus decimus, quintus decimus, sextus decimus, septimus decimus . These usually appear with the o ending i.e. septimo decimo Die (17th. day)

Twentieth (20th.) = vicesimus

In 'good' Latin 18th. 'ought' to be 'two less than the 20th.' which would be duodevicesimus but this is rather rare. It's usually octavo decimo , which makes it a great deal easier to remember.

19th. varies enormously. 'Good' writers wrote '1 from 20th.' i.e. undevicesimo Die. But it was also written nono decimo when they felt like it.

20th. was usually written vicesimo Die ... as long as the writer could spell, but he often tried viccesimo , vicessimo , or viccessimo depending on how his pen worked that day. If he were keen, he also aimed for a long s occasionally, so vicefimo had to be watched out for.

After 20th. things go along nicely in the lower numbers. vicesimo primo is followed by vicesimo secundo. At 28th. things get ragged again. Usually vicesimo octavo appears but be prepared for duodetricesimo , 2 less than 30th. and of course, vicesimo nono , but undetricesimo if one is precise. Tricesimo is 30th. and tricesimo primo 31st. but when they are the last day in the month, why not write ultimo (last) which is less hard on the quill point?

Months of the Year: Ianuarius, Februarius, Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Iunius, Iulius, Augustus, September, October, November, December. The year, of course, begins in March and one has to remember that Ianuarii 23, 1692 is January 23, 1693 in our estimation. It is also necessary to remember that fact when faced with bapt. decimo 7ber 1711. The 7th. month, since we are reading Latin, and the year is 1711, must be September. Presumably 8ber , 9ber and 10ber are also acceptable renderings of months.

The months will have endings (i.e. are declined) but the beginning is usually clear enough for one to read them easily. Problems arise with abbreviations. Ma(blotch) can be Mar. or Mai. Ianii can be Iunii . In the latter case reading the before and after entries can sometimes sort them out, remembering that Ianii 1643 is one month later than Dec 1643 . Aprilis and Augustus may look alike as Agx and Axg , but can usually be sorted out by before and after readings and the position of the downstroke.

When small case Roman numerals are used they, too, come in variations. i, ii, iii, iiii (or iv ) and v are more normally hand-written as i, ij, iij, iiij (or iv ) and v .

The use of j for the end of the numeral is very helpful, and even the worst of writers usually managed to dot all his i and j forms, so one could count dots even if the squiggles didn't offer much aid. 9 = viiij or ix , depending on the writer's preference and similarly, xviiij or xix, xxviiij or xxix appeared. [The writer often dragged the pen from one x to another underneath the 'line of writing' producing a series of swirls. It gave a very ornate look to the writing, but did not add to clarity.]

Years were usually written in Arabic numerals with Anno Domini at the end in full or abbreviated, or the Anno pdto . format with all its variations.

(3) Marriages and related phrases

There appear to be a number of different ways of expressing marriage in Latin. in matrimonium ducere means to marry. ducere is an irregular verb and appears as duxit when it means 'he has married.'

A marriage entry would therefore read:

Thomas Masham de Hoppingham in matrimonium duxit Annam Gunner de Skippington uxor ejus decimo quarto Die de Octoberis, Ano Di. 1712.

Or simply: Thomas Masham de Hoppingham duxit Annam Gunner de Skippington uxor ejus xiiij Die Octoberis 1712. Ano Pdto.

= Thomas Masham of Hoppingham has married Anna Gunner of Skippington the 14th. day of October, 1712 A. D.

Because the male does the marrying, the female name is 'declined' (i.e. takes an ending) so that female names look like Annam, Martham, Saram, Elizabetham, Marjoriam, Margaretham, Lydiam , etc. and Estram , which I guess is 'Esther.' (That's open for amendment!)

An eager recorder will also tell one whether the groom and bride were single or widowed. Viduus = widower; vidua =widow; solus/sola = single; there are also coelebis and coeleba , where the oe are run together to form a diphthong and are usually quite illegible! They also mean 'single' (cp. celibate.) All these can be abbreviated.

Samuelif SMITH vid. de eadum Vicarium dux. Elifabetham BROWN vid. de Nettifby duodevicefimo Die de 7ber 1729.

[Samuel SMITH, widower, of this parish married Elisabeth BROWN, widow, of Nettisby the 18th. day of September 1729.]

Besides condition of marriage, the status of the individual was occasionally noted. Gent . signifies 'gentleman' of course, and armiger is one who is entitled to bear arms, or a 'squire' hence 'Esquire' in later records.

The next statement will upset Latin scholars but it's a good rule of thumb! Fundamentally anything that looks like matri or with a conjunct... or conjung.. is likely to be a marriage. Also anything that looks like connubial or to do with nuptials.


Matrimonine solemnizat fuit int = marriage has been solemnized between ..? A very blurred entry: matrimonie statu conjungi ... = joined in the state of matrimony? Willm. Young maritannit? Francifsam Emms 19. Dec. 1674.

Matrimonio conjuncti sunt: Edwardus Annyson et Mary Loo(?) 29 Sept. 1685. connubia junct. = connubially joined? ...solutam complisi est nupta. 1681 Nuptials Jacob ffox. Annam Chattock uxor s(?) duxit 27 Junij.

In place of vicarium (parish) the recorder sometimes used parochia (which I am told is a Greek bastardisation of the ancient Latin paroecia. )

As an adjunct one might meet:

Notificationes matrimonii in utra paroecia antea notae erant . = The banns were published in both parishes.

(4) Burials

These were mainly brief and once dates are understood are relatively simple to translate.

A normal format would be:

Sarah Overton vid. sepulta fuit decimo quarto Iulii 1674.
Sarah Overton, widow, was buried 14th July 1674.

Johnes. Wright sepultus fuit 23. August? 1675. A. ptdo.
John Wright was buried 23rd. August 1675.

Alicia Lusher coelebs? sepulta fuit tricesimo Die Novemr. 1675 A. pdo.
Alicia Lusher, singlewoman, was buried 30th. November 1675.

Rather than write out each one singly, one recorder wrote:

Sepulti sunt: (the burials are:) then listed names and dates.

Debora uxoris Henrici Negus ... (Deborah wife of Henry Negus....)
Alina ux. Johnes Tilles .... (Alina wife of John Tills ...)
Henrici Negus, Ar. ..... (Henry Negus, Esquire ....)
Sarah Davis puella (Sarah Davis, girl ....)
John Wollmanns jnr. (John Wollmanns, Junior ....)

Innupta means that the female was unmarried when she died. Viduus and vidua are also used for widower and widow.

aet means 'aged' but unfortunately in the records I was reading no ages were given.


These notes were originally published as a series of postings to the NORFOLK Mailing List and they appear here with the permission of the author, Alison U. Ring, of Vancouver Island, B. C.