A Genealogist’s Guide to Old Latin Terms & Abbreviations

Introduction: In this article, Mary Harrell-Sesniak explains some of the old terms—many of them derived from Latin—that genealogists encounter during their family history research. Mary is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background.

Throughout history, terms come and terms go—and thankfully for most people, archaic expressions disappear. That is, thankfully for everyone except family historians. We encounter a plethora of long forgotten archaic terms while doing our genealogy research, mostly in what some consider a dead language: Latin!

To be honest, I was never fond of Latin.

I remember a particularly tense parent-teacher conference when I was a girl, during which the teacher implied that I wasn’t well-suited for the subject. My mother, who was then at the height of her passion for genealogy, disagreed—and so I continued studying Latin, under extreme duress.

In later years, I discovered that I shared my mom’s passion for genealogy—and when I started seeing old documents with Latin phrases such Caesar’s “Veni, Vidi, Vici” (“We came, We saw, We conquered”), my early education studying the Latin language started paying off.

So now, I’d like to share some tips for understanding old Latin terms you may encounter in your own genealogy research.

Dates: “Instant,” “Ultimo” and “Proximo”

The three most common old Latin terms for dates are: instant, ultimo, and proximo, which refer to the present month, last month and next month respectively.

  • Instant (often abbreviated “inst.”): This term refers to a recent occurrence in the present or current month.
  • Ultimo (often abbreviated “ult.”): Ultimo or Ultimo Mense is a Latin term/phrase that refers to an occurrence from the previous month.
  • Proximo (often abbreviated “prox.”): Proximo refers to something that will occur next month.

Notice in the following obituary, the death date is reported as “the 29th ultimo.” Since the obit was published on 5 October 1838, this is saying Elizabeth Grady died 29 September 1838.

obituary for Elizabeth Grady, Charleston Courier newspaper article 5 October 1838
Charleston Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), 5 October 1838, page 2

Genealogy Tip: References should be interpreted as relative, and not exact. Sometimes notices are copied from newspaper to newspaper, and if a notice was republished more than 30 days from its first publication, the interpretation would be incorrect. As a result, always verify death dates with official documents and even tombstones. (See the related Blog article Understanding Terms Found in Historical Newspapers).

Widows and Widowers: “Consort” and “Relict”

Two similar historical Latin terms often found in old obituaries are consort and relict; as noted in the following examples, they tell a researcher specifically if a woman was a widow prior to her death, or if her husband became a widower after she died.

  • Consort comes from the Latin word “consortium,” meaning partnership. It indicates that the husband survived the wife (i.e., her death ended the marriage partnership).

Notice in this example, Mrs. Ann Parrott is referred to as the “consort” of Mr. James Parrott.

death notice for Ann Parrott, Easton Gazette newspaper article 2 April 1824
Easton Gazette (Easton, Maryland), 2 April 1824, page 3
  • Relict is derived from the Latin “relictus” or “relicta,” which translate as widower or widow.

Notice in this newspaper clipping example, Margaret is referred to as the “relict,” or widow, of the late William McCarron.

death notice for Margaret McCarron, Irish American Weekly newspaper article 10 January 1852
Irish American Weekly (New York, New York), 10 January 1852, page 2

Genealogy Tip: If a Latin term ends in “us,” then it refers to a male; if it ends in an “a,” it generally refers to a female. For example, “avus” refers to grandfather, “avia” to grandmother, and “avi” is used to indicate grandparents. “Proavus” means great grandfather and “proava” means great grandmother. If you search the Latin word list at Genproxy.co.uk, you’ll notice that Latin even has specific words to specify if someone was a 2nd great grandparent.

Single Status: “Caelebs”

As seen in the previous examples, relationship statuses can be specific in Latin. However, I must give a word of caution—meanings and interpretations change over time.

To illustrate, let’s examine the Latin word caelebs, which is related to the word celibate.

Most genealogy researchers define caelebs as a man who was single—so if you didn’t explore further, you might assume that caelebs indicated someone who had never been married.

However, try entering caelebs into the Perseus Latin Dictionary at Tufts University. Did you see that its definition includes “widower”?

And now search early newspapers for the term. This 1807 newspaper article implies that the definition includes a man (or in the case of caelibia, a woman), in search of a wife.

article about caelebs, Gazette newspaper article 13 November 1809
Gazette (Portland, Maine), 13 November 1809, page 1

Another newspaper article, this one from 1977, reports that a 14th century definition for the equivalent of caelebs—bachelor—applied to candidates for knighthood, and those who had earned an academic degree.

article about caelebs, Springfield Union newspaper article 5 May 1977
Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 5 May 1977, page 19

Latin Terms Describing Death Status

Legal documentation may include abbreviations regarding the status of a decedent.

Did a person have heirs? Were the children legitimate or illegitimate, and did some or all children die within the lifetime of a parent?

Here is a list of frequently used abbreviations—to understand them better, acquaint yourself with some of the more common terms, such as “decessit” and “obdormio,” which mean died or fell asleep, “legitima” (legitimate), “sine” (without), “matris” and “patris” (mother and father), and “prole” (issue or offspring).

Common Latin Phrase Abbreviations

  • aas (anno aetatis suae): died in the year of his/her age
  • dsp (decessit sine prole): indicates a person died without issue; i.e., no children
  • dspl (decessit sine prole legitima): died without legitimate issue
  • dspm (decessit sine prole malus): died without sons
  • dspml (decessit sine prole malus legitima): died without legitimate sons
  • dspms (decessit sine prole malus suivre): died without surviving sons
  • dsps (decessit sine prole suivre): died without surviving issue
  • dvm (decessit vita matris): died in the lifetime of the mother
  • dvp (decessit vita patris): died in the lifetime of the father
  • ob caelebs (obdormio caelebs): died single or as a bachelor
  • osp (obiit sine prole): died without issue or children
  • q.s. (quod suivre): which follows
  • q.v. (quod vide): which see
  • sp (sine prole): without issue or children
  • spf (sine prole femina): without daughters
  • spl (sine prole legitima): without legitimate issue
  • spm (since prole mascula): without sons
  • sps (sine prole superstite): without surviving issue
  • vf (vita fratris): in the lifetime of his brother
  • viz (videlicet): namely
  • vm (vita matris): in the lifetime of his mother
  • vp (vita patris): in the lifetime of his father
  • vs (vita sororis): in the lifetime of his sister

Strategies for Translating Latin

With all Latin terms, apply strategies to make sure you interpret a document correctly.

  • Read the entire document or article to see if a phrase was reiterated in English.
  • Examine the syntax within the presented context.
  • See if there is a corresponding or follow-up document to verify information (such as in a probate file).

Also, consult a variety of resources, such as these:

Do you have a question about a Latin phrase you’ve encountered in your family history research? If so, please ask it in the comments section and we’ll try to answer it for you.

More articles about old terms found in historical newspapers:

20 thoughts on “A Genealogist’s Guide to Old Latin Terms & Abbreviations

    1. Hi Bob,

      Thank you for your question.

      I don’t have a firm answer about the abbreviation f.p. in regards to a death. I suspect it may refer to s.p. for sine prole which indicates that someone died without issue.

      Mary

    2. If you look carefully again at the “f.p.” I suspect you’ll see that the “f” hasn’t got its little cross-stroke. That means it’s not an “f” at all but a long lower-case “s”, which means exactly the same as the ordinary short lower-case “s” we’re all used to. So what you were looking at was the abbreviation “s.p.” that’s explained above in this article.

  1. There’s a record for the baptism, on 25 May 1708 in Penistone (Yorkshire, England), of Hannah, daughter of Abra Wood. The entry concludes “trem. nat. Denby”. Denby is a community near Penistone, but what does “trem. nat.” mean? There are other, similar entries nearby. Thanks for any help.

    1. Hi Nick,

      Thank you for this question.

      Without seeing the document, it’s not possible to determine what “trem.” stands for. I recommend reviewing the text to see if there is another possibility for these letters. One possibility is that the “t” is a cross.

      The second part is a typical abbreviaton for natus, indicating that the birth was in Denby.

      Mary

  2. Hi. In the 1860 census for Randolph County, Alabama, my ancestor Joseph Currie is listed as “Framer, JTC” (according to Ancestry.com. To me it looks more like JP C). I know he was a probate judge, but am not sure if the abbreviation means that or not. Would you know?

    1. Amanda,

      I agree that it looks like JP C. I would contact a county historian to verify, but it probably indicates he was a justice of the peace for the county.

      Mary

  3. Hi there, perhaps you can help me: on a South African death certificate dated 1890, the doctor wrote the following for “Condition in Life”: Fide maiter lustrous. I’m pretty sure of the first word. The second may begin with an “n” and the third may be “Lustruis” or something similar.

    Thank you.

  4. Hi, I’m seeing this word in a number of Hungarian documents and I’m sure it’s very simple but I cannot translate it and understand how it is being used in the context of some records. The word is “cond” with the “d” either normally written or with great flourish, i.e., curly toptail on the d.

    Marriage
    Ex: Elisabeth relicta cond Gregorij
    Ex: Catharina virgine filia cond Stephanus

    Nobility record
    ex: Michael, filius cond Georgii ex Tarnok

    Thank you!

    1. Tleto,

      Thank you for this question. I’m not familiar with Hungarian abbreviations, but these are Latin terms which would have been customary to use in a Catholic record.

      The relicta reference indicates that Elisabeth was a widow of a man named Gregorij. The virgine filia reference tells you that Catharine was the daughter of Stephanus and the filius cond notation indicates that Michael was the son of Georgii of Tarnok.

      Mary

  5. I have a question unrelated to the above queries and comments. I will truly appreciate your help. In an old Danish parish record book (1750s), the abbreviations “Comm.” and “Comp.” are used consistently in the baptism entries. Could these be Latin abbreviations and, if so, what do they mean in context of the baptism protocol?

    The first line of a baptism entry lists the parents and the name of the child. The second line begins with “Comm.” as the lead word and lists female name (i.e., a man’s wife named ____). The third line has “Comp.” as the lead word and usually lists only male names. For instance, one of the records (translated) reads thus:
    Niels Pedersen and Dorethe Thomasdatter of Albøge _?_ (a child) in the church called Thomas.
    Comm: Giertrud Nielsdatter and Berthe Pedersdatter from Grennæ.
    Comp: Eric Thomsen fromTierstrup, Eric Rasmussen, etc.

    The source for the above entry is:
    Randers amt, Djurs Sønder, Lyngby, 1716-1791 FVD (EM) – opslag (image) 167, Page 327, entry 16 – right hand page.
    View at http://ao.salldata.dk/vis1.php?bsid=159553&side=167

  6. Hello, I frequently see “obt” before death dates on Victorian mourning jewelry. I have read it stands for a Latin phrase but cannot locate the exact phrase. Do you know it? Thanks.

    1. Steph,

      Thank you for this interesting question. OB is an indication of the Latin word obiit (death) and if it is followed by a date, that would be the date of death of a loved one. OBt most likely indicates a shortening of the entire word (obiit). To be certain, please check with an appraiser of antique jewelry as I suspect it may have a more specific meaning, such as the death of an infant.

      Mary

  7. Hi, I studied medieval Irish history at Trinity College, Dublin but this one stumps me. I have come across a 16th c. English baptismal record for one of my ancestors and instead of giving the name followed by “do [name]” as most of the other entries, it says “Mater ad bona” and then there appear to be two short words following, that I cannot make out. I am Catholic myself, but have no idea what this means. The phrase itself seems to suggest that “the mother is well” — is this a subtle way of saying that the child was born out of wedlock? That seems to make NO sense, as the mother is always known and it is the father of a child born out of wedlock who could either run away/deny fathering the baby, or else acknowledge it as his “bastard.” I’ve been searching the Web for 30 mins, but no satisfaction. Any ideas?

  8. Sue,
    Thank you for commenting.
    Without seeing the original, it’s hard to provide a precise answer, but I believe it may indicate in Latin something similar to “mother in good standing” in the church.
    I recommend you look for other records (written by the same recorder on nearby pages to see if there is something similar that might give clarity to the old script.
    Mary

  9. Can you help me understand the reference to a bear (?) in this 1718 Marriage record from Rulzheim, Germany? I am pretty new to trying to read and translate Latin (I did have 4 years of high school Latin, but that was 50 years ago…)
    https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSZ5-3BRX?i=78
    image 79 right side 1st entry.
    I read this as 10 Jan H.A. (honestus adolescens) Nicolaus Jochim D. (defunta) Friderici Adami Jochim praetoris hujatis et Annae Barbarae secunda ejus uxorii defuncta legitimus cum P.V. (pudica virgine) Maria Eva Gade Joes Georgii Gade Scabini et hospitis ad ursum et Barbarae ejus uxorii legitimus.
    Translation: Honest young man Nicolaus Jochim son of deceased Friedrich Adam Jochim mayor of this town and Anna Barbara deceased his second legitimate wife with chaste virgin Maria Eva Gade daughter of George Gade, alderman and innkeeper (adursum??) and Barabara his legitimate wife.

  10. My family was doing research in a cemetery and found a grave stone with a cross. The person was born in 1827 and died in 1914. They were of German origin and believed to be of the Lutheran faith. The stone had a cross that was engraved with the initials: CSMA, which were in the cross and set forth thus (the “A” was in the middle of the cross):

    C
    S
    M
    CSMAMSC
    M
    S
    C

    Can you tell me what the CSMA stands for?

  11. I’m researching Slovak church records in Latin. What is the “P.L.” in the column “Per Quem Copulati”? Many just have “Eum.” elaborately abbreviated.

  12. Looking at a Polish death record in Latin. After the deceased’s name is “post-pdf.” Any idea what this means? Thanks.

  13. Kathy,

    Thank you for your comment.

    Without seeing the original or knowing the time period, I can not give you a definitive answer. Please go to the beginning and end of the record set to see if abbreviations have been defined.

    If not, let’s look at a possibility. Post indicates after an event. If this is a child or mother’s record, the p could possibly stand for partem (birth) and the d.f. for de facto (in reality) or de fide (article of faith.) Try to scan similar entries to see if this speculation makes sense. It would also be useful to contact a Polish church to verify the meaning.

    Please follow up when you learn more.

    Mary

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.