Script Tutorial Login Logout HomeAbout

ABBREVIATIONS

 

When ​reading old documents one of the first things you might notice are spelling inconsistencies. In early records words were spelled phonetically and could be spelled and abbreviated differently in the same document. Spelling did not become standardized until the 19th century with the availability and circulation of dictionaries and the expansion of compulsory education. The famous quote from Thomas Jefferson, "You should never trust a man who has only one way to spell a word." should be a good indication of what to expect when reading old records.[1]

 

Further complicating the reading old handwritten records is use of multiple abbreviations. Because of the repeated use of the same words in records of the same type, most scribes would speed up the recording process and save paper, ink and time by abbreviating common names and other words using certain abbreviating conventions.​

 

Some of the information on this page, including direct quotes (unless otherwise noted), was drawn from Palaeography for Family and Local Historians by Hilary Marshall (Phillimore, 2004). All images come from the Land Indenture/Title Deed Collection located at the L. Tom Perry Special Collections at Brigham Young University.

Below are several types of abbreviations found in English documents:

The Thorn 

 

A common popular misconception of archaic forms of English is to use “ye” instead of “the”. In early manuscripts, the y-looking letter form, however is actually a combination letter termed a “thorn”. The original character for the thorn was Þ and it indicated “th”. When the printing press was introduced in England in the late 15th century, however, the type came from the Continent, where the letter was not used. The typesetters used the letter instead, because when handwritten, the loop of the thorn was often not connected and looked similar to the y.

 

ABBREVIATION

MEANING

SAMPLES FROM DOCUMENTS

ye

 the

           

yt

 that

 

 The Ampersand

The ampersand character and the abbreviation are still used today to save time and space in writing.​ In some documents it may appear as a large hook of backwards comma. Et cetera will have an additional stroke to the ampersand and is best recognized in context, usually at the end of a list.

 

ABBREVIATION

MEANING

SAMPLES FROM DOCUMENT

&

and

c

et cetera

 Contractions

An abbreviation by contraction is formed by writing the first and last letters of the word and eliminating the middle letters. For example, the word "deceased" was often abbreviated as "deced", often with a tilde-like symbol or a straight line above the abbreviation. Below are some examples of this type of abbreviations taken from the records. 
 ​

ABBREVIATION

MEANING

SAMPLES FROM DOCUMENTS

d

d

Comodities

Commodities

deced

deceased

Covennt

Covenant

peney

penney

apptnces

appurtenances

The “P” prefixes:  Pre, Par, Per, Pro

According to Marshall, "there are special contraction symbols specifically used with the letter P." The P prefixes are uniquely characterized for each prefix, while the different scribes put their own flare on how they have penned the prefix, the principal stoke style represented is for each specfic pre

fix

.

"When the pen stroke for the stem of the p extends down and crosses back over the stem in a horizontal stroke, this usually represents per, or at time par."

 

ABBREVIATION

MEANING

SAMPLES FROM DOCUMENT

pish

parish

pson

person  could also be parson depend on context

pte

parte

pmitt

permitt

pcell

parcell

pticulers

particulers

 "When the p has a hook-shaped mark above the letter, at times similar to the symbol number 2, this represents re, rather than er."

ABBREVIATION

MEANING

SAMPLES OF DOCUMENT

prsente

presente

 

pmisses

 

premisses

prmisses

premisses




"When the pen stroke from the head of the p comes down to the left and loops back towards or across the stem, this represents pro."


ABBREVIATION

MEANING

SAMPLES OF DOCUMENT

pfitts

profitts

ppositions

propositions

 

Superscript


Superscripted letters were a common practice for scribes, and a type of contraction. When a letter was superscripted it often ment the ommision of one or more letters, with the first letters written on the base line and the last one or two letters are written above the base line in a smaller size.

 

ABBREVIATION

MEANING

SAMPLES OF DOCUMENT

executrs

executors

Admrs

Adminstrators

ffells

ffellows

​​​

Titles and occupations

Titles and occupations are used so often in English documents that they are were most often contracted. Below are several examples:

 

ABBREVIATION

MEANING

SAMPLE FROM DOCUMENTS

Admators​

Administrators

Execrs

Executors

Esqr

Esquire

        

gent

gentleman

        

Maties

Majesties

        

mchant

merchant

        

Sr

Sir

        ​

Some of the information on this page was drawn from Palaeography for Family and Local Historians by Marshall. All images come from the Land Indenture Collection located at BYU Special Collections.

 

[1] Thomas Jefferson, The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Federal Edition (New York and London, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904-5). 12 vols. [Online] available from http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1734; accessed 6/25/2015; Internet.

Terms of Use | Feedback ©2015 The Center for Family History & Genealogy and Department of History