[scroll down for help with contractions, superpositions, suspensions, acronyms and conventialisms]
Everyone agrees that one of the most complicating factors of reading old handwritten records is the common use of 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 given names, last names, and other words using certain abbreviating conventions.
You may refer to the following list of common abbreviations for help in deciphering some of the abbreviations you come across.
Use this list to learn the many abbreviations of given names.
Look up abbreviated surnames.
Spanish script is full of abbreviations. Use this list to learn many of them.
Because there are several types of abbreviations, there are also several symbols used to mark abbreviations. In the case of abbreviations by superposition, some scribes would write a line under the superscripted letters, others would include a double line, and others a colon. Some would add a dot or period in the place of the letters that have been omitted in an abbreviation by contraction, others would use a colon instead, and others would write all the letters together adding a tilde-like symbol, or a straight or a curved line above the abbreviated word. Some abbreviations may have no symbol indicating that they have been abbreviated. View examples included below.
Below are brief explanations of the most common processes used to abbreviate words.
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 escribano could be abbreviated esc.bo with or without a period to indicate the abbreviation. The name Francisco could be abbreviated Franco, 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. For more examples, refer to the List of Abbreviations included in this site.
This may be considered a variation of the process of contraction. The first letters are written on the base line and the last one or two letters are written above the base line in a smaller size. For example, the name Francisco would be abbreviated Franco with the superscripted letters having a line, a double line, a colon or no symbol underneath. Below are some examples of this type of abbreviations taken from the records. For more examples, refer to to the List of Abbreviations included in this site.
An abbreviation by contraction is formed by writing the first part of the word and eliminating the last part. For example, vecino would be abbreviated vec. or vecin., and legitimo would be leg. or legit. Below are some examples of this type of abbreviations taken from actual records. For more examples, refer to to the List of Abbreviations included in this site.
These could be considered a type of suspension where the first letter of a word has come to stand for the entire word. Common examples: S.M.E. stands for the Latin phrase Sancta Mater Ecclesia or S.S.Y. stands for Su Señoría Ilustrísima, and A.D. for Anno Domini. Frequently, such abbreviations are doubled in the case of plurals or superlatives. For example, SS means santísimo. Below are some examples of this type of abbreviations taken from the records. For more examples, refer to to the List of Abbreviations included in this site.
Usually found in older documents, these are symbols that represent entire words or syllables. The most common is the use of X or Xpo or Xpto to represent Cristo (Christ). This particular conventionalism is used in the abbreviation of the name Cristóbal as Xptobal.
There are many syllables that may appear abbreviated using conventionalisms, such as: per, par, por, pro, mer, ser, ver, vir, etc. Usually these symbols consist of the initial letter of the syllable with a curl or a line crossing the letter.
A particular kind of abbreviations using conventions is exemplified by the use of numbers to abbreviate the first part of some of the months of the year, such as: 7bre for septiembre, 8bre for octubre, 9bre for noviembre, and 10bre or Xbre for diciembre.