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Making sense of old handwriting

Latin Influences

The Use of Latin in the 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 beginnings, 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 Italian 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)
  • Propter periculam mortis (because of the danger of death

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 wills start with the Latin phrase In Dei Nomine, Amen or In Nomine Domini, Amen (In the name of the Lord, Amen).

See the Latin Tutorial for more information on the Latin Langauge and Latin Records. Also, see the Latin Genealogical Word List on the FamilySearch Research Wiki for a comprehensive Latin word list including numbers and dates.

The Influence of Latin on Spelling

Some names in Italian are written with one vowel and can appear spelled with two vowels because of Latin influence, for example: Augustino for Agostino, or Laurenzo for Lorenzo.

Sometimes, it is common to find Italian words including additional consonants at the end of syllables that occur in the Latin spelling of the word, such as c, and p. For example: baptezato for battezato, and sancto for santo.

The interchangeable use of j and i, and u and v, are very common in earlier records. For example, ajuto for aiuto, and Giouannj for Giovanni.

A very common case of Latin influence is the addition of the letter h in consonant groups such as th, ch, ph. In all of these cases with the exception of ph, adding the h does not change the pronunciation of the letters, since in Italian the letter h is silent. Thus, Catterina and Chatterina, Domenicho and Domenico 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 Philippo and Filippo would be pronounced the same.

The effect of Latin can also be found in the use of old Latin abbreviation practices in Italian 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 Italian records, words such as compare, concilio, procedura, persona, verità, virtù, servitore could appear spelled with those symbols.



com-, con-, cum-, cun-
  ver-, vir-


Paleography Introduction