Skip to main content
Making sense of old handwriting


As you go through old records, there will always be a date present. Therefore, it is crucial to understand how numbers and dates work in Spanish.



In Spanish records, there are two main types of numbers used to express figures and dates. The first group of numbers used in Spanish records is the set of roman numerals. Even though they may show some variations from the ones still used today, they are also usually easy to read. The researcher must be aware of the common use of some lower-case letters to represent roman numerals, for example, iii instead of III.

We recommend that the researcher check other records written by the same scribe to ensure the correct reading of a particular number. The chart of roman numerals to the right is also helpful while gaining a familiarity with the different styles in which they can appear.


Some of the older documents you look at may use the following symbol:

This "U" like character signifies the space between the thousands place and the hundreds place.


For example:
or "1 U DXCI" would be 1591.

Before the "U," the scribe may place a "1" instead of an "M" (such as with our 1591 example.)

The second and most relevant types of numbers are Arabic numerals, which are the most widely used today. These are usually easy to read, but some are sometimes confusing because their shape could be similar to other numbers, such as 1 and 7 or 5 and 9. Here are some examples:


When dating documents, most records will use Cardinal Numerals or Ordinal Numerals; however, it is not uncommon for documents that use a mixture of all four kinds of number systems. Below is a basic guide to numbers you may encounter in Spanish records:

Below is a basic guide to numbers you may encounter in Spanish records:






1 I unm/unaf primero
2 II dos segundo
3 III tres tercero
4 IV cuatro cuarto
5 V cinco quinto
6 VI seis sexto
7 VII siete séptimo
8 VIII ocho octavo
9 IX nueve noveno
10 X diez décimo
11 XI once undécimo
12 XII doce duodécimo
13 XIII trece decimotrecero
14 XIV catorce decimocuarto
15 XV quince decimoquinto
16 XVI decicéis decimosexto
17 XVII decicisiete decimoséptimo
18 XVIII deciocho decimoctavo
19 XIX diecinueve decimonoveno
20 XX veinte vigésimo
21 XXI veintiuno vigésimo primero
22 XXII veintidós vigésimo segundo
23 XXIII veintitrés vigésimo tercero
30 XXX trienta trigésimo
31 XXX1 trienta y uno trigésimo primero
32 XXXII trienta y dos trigésimo segundo
33 XXXIII trienta y tres trigésimo terceiro
40 XXXX cuarenta cuadragésimo
50 L cincuenta quincuagésimo
60 LX sesenta sexagésimo
70 LXX setenta septuagésimo
80 LXXX ochenta octogésimo
90 XC noventa nonagésimo
100 C cien centésimo


Paleography Introduction