Latin Language and Script — Resources for the Genealogist

Latin Language and Script:

Resources for the Genealogist.

We changed to a "web font" using a subset of Junicode. Does it work for you? Please let us know if you spot any problems!

Our motto: NO MORE JOHEMS!

What are JOHEMS? Countless would-be historians have mistaken the text Johem for a distinct name, rather than a common abbreviation for Johannem, the accusative case of the name Johannes. Just search on Google for Johem latin, and you will see what I mean! If we do nothing else on this site, let's help our colleagues recognize abbreviated Latin names when they see them! Johem is NOT a Latin name!

Johannes abbreviated in nominative, genitive, accusative, dative, and ablative cases.


Most genealogists will eventually encounter records written in Latin, or that use Latin phrases. In particular, many Roman Catholic church records were written in Latin until fairly recent times, and Latin was sometimes used by other denominations as well. Court and other legal records were kept in Latin in the United Kingdom. Prior to the Reformation, and sometimes even later than that, legal documents and correspondence were usually in Latin.

Commonly Encountered Difficulties in Latin Documents.

Documents written in Latin frequently present problems for genealogists and historians. Among these difficulties, the following are probably the most common:

How to Conquer Your Latin Documents.

The first step in understanding a document written in Latin is to make an exact transcription of the original. This is sometimes a difficult task in itself, if there are abbrevations, ambiguous letters, etc. The art of reading old writing is called paleography. There are some well-known principles of paleography that will help the beginner.

With an accurate transcript in hand, the process of translation can begin. Because so many words (nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and verbs) will have endings that depend on the grammatical context, most of the words in any document will not be found in a Latin dictionary, which generally lists only the root words (nominative case, or first person singular present indicative tense of verbs). Today, however, we get around this problem by using Google and the Wiktionary site. For most Latin words, you can find all the forms in the Wiktionary, clearly labeled as to their grammatical properties. Also, Google Translate handles Latin texts fairly well.

Place names and personal names often require further study. For church records or local legal documents, comparison with later documents from the same region or community that are not written in Latin will often solve the problem.

Words that have extra strokes over one or more letters, or over the whole word, or that include odd symbols or superscripts, are very likely abbreviations. Names are frequently abbreviated in a way that reveals the first few letters of the name, plus the grammatical ending, with all or most of the intervening letters omitted. Thus, the scribe may have written Johem, with a stroke over the entire word, to indicate Johannem (the name Johannes, in the accusative case); Johem is not a name in Latin, it is simply an abbreviation. Or, the scribe may have written An̅a for Anna, the stroke over the n indicating that the letter should be doubled. While real documents contain many variations, there are excellent resources for deciphering the most commonly encountered forms of Latin abbreviations.

Getting Help: Use the Free Message Boards!

When you have trouble reading a document in Latin, probably the fastest way to get help is to use the Latin message board at (your query will also be seen on the same message board on The Rootweb message boards are free, you only have to register so you will have an ID and password. The message boards are easy to use, and you will get an e-mail whenever there is a reply to your queries. You can ATTACH a picture or document to your query, and you can add internet links in the text of your query. So, for the purposes of getting someone to take a look at the Latin documents that are giving you trouble, the Latin message board gives you a place to post a picture of the document and ask for help reading the script, understanding the text, etc. This is by far the simplest and most productive message board for this purpose.

Resources for Latin Word Endings, Grammar, and the Declension of Names

Resources for Latin Script and Paleography

Resources for Understanding Latin Abbreviations

Dates in Latin Documents

Sample Documents From Many Centuries

Our To-Do List

What would you like to see on this web site? How can we help with your Latin genealogy problems? Here is the list of features under development.
Coordinator for this site is John W. McCoy
This page last updated Thursday, 23-Apr-2015 10:01:49 MDT.