Latin Words in old documents

First, do not be in awe of old registers written in Latin. There are only a few words to learn to recognise! Something that looks like “baptise” is baptise, something that looks like “matrimony” is a marriage, and something that looks like “mortus” is a burial. “Gemini” is twins.


filius son of (I remember this as: ends in “us” = male)
filia daughter of (I remember this as: ends in “a” = female)
et and
baptizavi I have baptised
natus born (male)
nata born (female)
gemelli gemini twins
trigemini triplets



nupsit married
matrimonium matrimony
licentiam by licence
bannum by banns



Any word that looks like mortuary or obituary!

mortus died
sepultavi I have buried
dormit sleeping
corpus the body



parochia parish
in comitatu in the county of (I remember this as “community”)
in agro in the county of (literally in the field of)
ibidem of the same place
extraneus a stranger

So you see that when transcribing registers into a baptism database, we are just looking for key words such as “filia” (daughter) or “filius” (son), “baptizavi” plus the names. Don’t worry about the Latin grammar of names with “es” and “is” endings. You will recognise the names anyway. For example: “Baptizi Johannes filius Johannis et Joanna Smith”. “I have baptized John son of John and Joan Smith”.

Marriages have two surnames, and the word “matrimonium” or “nupsit” (married).
Watch out for “parochia” (parish) with a different place name (“John Smith of the parish of Littledean”)

Burials have “sepultavi” or “mortus”.

And bear in mind that a great number of clergymen didn’t really understand Latin that well either, so they made mistakes. And when in doubt, wrote it in English and made it look like Latin !

If you want to refer to a really excellent booklet on Latin, look no further than
Simple Latin for Family Historians” by Eve McLaughlin.

Latin is very common in old documents so it is important that you can read basic latin. Share you new found knowledge with the rest of the British Genealogy forum so that you can help fellow genealogists to get over their brickwalls. All you have to do is sign up for free and comment away!