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Making sense of old handwriting

Latin Influence

The Use of Latin in French Records 

Latin has been used in official documents for centuries, either in notarial or church records. Because Latin has been the official language of the Catholic Church since its beginning, and because priests were used to reading and writing in Latin, it is common to see the influence of Latin in their writings in different languages.

There are many aspects of the text of old French handwritten parish records that show the influence of Latin. Sometimes, scribes would include certain ecclesiastical phrases relative to sacraments directly in Latin, such as:

  • sub conditione (conditionally)
  • inter missarum solemnia (during the solemn mass)
  • in faciae ecclesiae (in front of the church)

Other phrases are included to explain the authority by which the priest is acting in performing the sacrament, such as:

  • ex licentia parochi (by license of the parish priest)
  • cum venia parochi (with permission of the parish priest)
  • coram testibus (In the presence of witnesses)
  • cum licentia in scriptis (with license in writing)

One of the most commonly included phrases used in parish records is ut supra (as above) which is usually used to refer to the date already mentioned above in the record.

Regarding notarial records, most will start with the Latin phrase In Dei Nomine, Amen, or In Nomini Domini, Amen (In the name of the Lord, Amen).

The Influence of Latin on Spelling

Some names that in French are currently written with one vowel could appear spelled with two vowels because of Latin influence (for example, Nouel for Noel).

Sometimes, it is common to find French words including additional consonants at the end of syllables that occur in the Latin spelling of the word, such as c, p, and b. For example: faicte for ​faite, recepvoir for recevoir, and debvoir for devoir.

The absence of the now commonly used circonflex, or circumflex, is particularly evident in older French documents. At this time, these vowel sounds were written with multiple letters. Examples: honneste for honnête, maistre for maître, and estre for être. It is not uncommon to see both spoken and silent letters replaced with phonetically similar letters. For instance, the letter z will replace s in words like vizitteur (visiteur) where the s is spoken and in words like ilz (ils) where the s is silent.

A very common case of Latin influence is the addition of the letter h in consonant groups such as th, ch, jh, ph. In all of these cases, with the exception of ph, adding the h does not change the pronunciation of the letters since, in French, the letter h is silent. Thus, Catalina and Catherine, Chatalina and Chathalina would be possible and pronounced the same.

The case of the use of ph; however, is a little different in the sense that it is used as a unit with a phonetic value equal to that of the letter f; thus, the names Phelipe and Felipe would be pronounced the same.

The effect of Latin can also be found in the use of old Latin abbreviation practices in Spanish handwriting. Among the most common Latin abbreviations are those used to replace syllables like com-, con-, pro-, per-, ver-, vir-, ser-, and many others by means of certain symbols. In Spanish records, words such as compadre, convenio, provisor, personas, verdadero, virtudes, servicio could appeared spelled with those symbols.


|   Meaning


com-, con-, cum-, cun-


ver-, vir-








Paleography Introduction