Latin Parish Registers

Just lately I’ve taken my family tree back into the early 17th century in a few places. I’ve noticed, as well as a dearth of information, the further I go back, the harder things are to read. Not because the records are old and faded, though most are, but because many are in Latin, and some in some kind of half baked Latin that puts ‘us’ or ‘ii’ at the end of random words or with bits of Latin scattered amongst English.

I’m not going to give any lessons on how to translate parish registers (I’m still learning myself), there are a few already out there that will show you all you need to know anyway, so I’ll point to those instead:

Firstly is the very good word list at Family Search. This gives enough detail without giving you a headache and teaches how to translate times and dates too. This is probably the best place to start.

Family Search

Some notes on Genuki go into a bit more detail, but double check the date translations with the above as I think there are some mistakes there.


And this one is great if you can’t tell your William from your Gulielmus. It’s a lengthy list of common names in Latin and English

British Genealogy

I’m starting to get the hang of it now at last and don’t need to look at my notes quite as much or ask for help in archives, but I still stop and shake my head sometimes.

It feels such a great privilege to handle documents that old but I do wonder just why some curates and priests chose to write their registers in Latin at all, as not all did. It smacks of pretentiousness at times as I often find the odd line of Latin thrown in amongst a page full of English. There really was no need for it. If, as some believe, it was to stop the masses from reading them, they needn’t have bothered. Most people wouldn’t have been able to read them in English either back then.

At the same time though, I do feel a small stab of pride in myself that I can actually read them when I do find them. And I’ve learned something new, or old, depending how you look at it.


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