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Making sense of old handwriting

Latin Influence

The Use of Latin in Records 

Latin has been used for official documents for centuries in all kinds of records from notarial, church, and even in civil records. Latin was used since the beginning of the Catholic Church and was used as the language of education, science, and theology well into the twentieth century. Since all the priests who kept records were versed in Latin, it is common to see its influences in Catalan records.

There are many aspects of parish records kept in Portuguese that show the influence of Latin. Sometimes, scribes would include specific 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 a 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 or other information that was already mentioned above in the record.

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

Online translators, like, are helpful for understanding Latin phrases:
Latin to English or Latin to Portuguese

See the Latin Tutorial for more information on the Latin Langauge and Latin Records. Also, see's page Latin Genealogical Word List for a comprehensive Latin word list (including numbers and dates), and see the UK's National Archives website for additional help with Latin practice and additional help with Latin Paleography.

The Influence of Latin on Spelling

Some names that in Portuguese are written with one vowel and could appear spelled with two vowels because of Latin influence, for example, Augustin for Agustin.

Sometimes, it is common to find Portuguese 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, baptismo for batismo and sancto for santo.

Document Spelling
Current Spelling
Samples from Document

sancto Domingo

santo Domingo
Sancto Domingo

The interchangeable use of y, j, and i, or u and v, are very common in earlier records - for example, estreyto for estreito and uinho for vinho.

Document Spelling
Current Spelling
Samples from Document

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 Portuguese, the letter h is silent. Thus, CatarinaCatharinaChatarina, and Chatharina would be 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 Portuguese 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 utilizing certain symbols. In Portuguese records, words such as compadre, provedor, pessoas, verdade, virtudes, serviço could appeared spelled with those symbols. Here is a list of abbreviations.

Abbreviation Symbols


com-, con-, cum-, cun-
ver-, vir-


Paleography Introduction