Ancestor Searching Newsletter, Volume 2, # 2
Genealogical Abbreviations: As we know, there are many abbreviations that are used widely in genealogical records. It is not unusual to find, within the pages of one record, different variations used, and care should be taken to ensure that in these instances, it is a variation and not meant to indicate something else. Many researchers, especially novices, are easily confused by the early practice of abbreviating in the various legal documents that were being recorded throughout years past.
Abbreviation of terms stems from the early English use of Latin as the official formal record language. Even though an act was passed by the English Parliament in 1733 which forbid the Latin usage, some Latin and abbreviations continued to be practiced in documents and recordkeeping. Since the quill pen wasn't considered a writing instrument of great pleasure, it's easy to see why many writers and clerks chose to abbreviate which in turn wound up shortening the overall amount of both time and writing involved.
Still, most of the abbreviations encountered in researching are recognizable when keeping in mind the type of record being perused. Very few words had a "standard" abbreviation as most words will be found to have been abbreviated several different ways.
Not only do we find abbreviations in records, but they're being used in the genealogical publications and online mailing lists. Here is a sample listing of some of the more common abbreviations for genealogical queries which follow formats used by the National Genealogical Society.
- aka=also known as
- ca=circa (around)
- d/o=daughter of
- s/o=son of
Most of the early writers and clerks merely shortened the word and placed the last two or three letters of the word above the written line. This particular form is what would be called ‘superior letter’ abbreviation. ‘Termination’ form of abbreviation involved shortening the spelling of a word followed by a simple period, colon or by drawing a line through the shortened word. In some cases, only the first letter of a word would be used. Yet still, a third form used was the contraction. This form utilized the apostrophe, tilde (~) or a line drawn over a single consonant to denote a letter that should be doubled. For example, the word ‘common’ would be written ‘comon’ with a straight line drawn over the letter ‘m’ to denote the actual word had two ‘m’s in the middle.
Many words were abbreviated in several different ways depending on the writer. In some instances, two different words might have had the same abbreviation but can still be recognized within the context of the writing.
One final word of encouragement. As more experience is gained in viewing old documents, the easier it becomes to decipher most of the abbreviations encountered in the early records.
Fact: To quote George C. Morgan of Aha! Seminars, Inc., “Many documents contain their own special code, a combination of jargon, abbreviations, acronyms, and symbolic notations. As researchers, part of our investigative process involves learning about the time period, the law, the specific profession or circumstances which caused the written material we are examining to be created, and the language or idiom used at the time. That means studying history and delving into archives to expand our understanding. By doing so, we gain an even deeper understanding of our ancestors' lives and times.”
Also, an excellent source of suggested reading can be found in Kip Sperry’s Abbreviations & Acronyms: A Guide for Family Historians. Provo, Utah: Ancestry, 2003, for those who want to pursue the topic in even more detail.
EDITOR NOTE: No personal or professional endorsement or connection with any of these websites or publications exists. They are offered here simply as other available resources to the readers of this newsletter.
Many readers are unaware of the FREE computer genealogy classes being offered in our Computer Training Center located on Third floor of the Main Library. Here’s our listing of upcoming genealogy classes for Summer 2007.
- Genealogy Research Online ~ These classes are from 2 to 4 PM in the afternoon. May 23rd, June 20th, July 18th, Aug. 22nd
- Ancestry.com -July 24th, 5:30 to 6:30 PM.
- HeritageQuest Online - May 29th, Aug. 28th, 5:30 to 6:30 PM.
- New England Historic Genealogical Society - June 26th, 5:30 to 6:30 PM.
Basic Genealogy and Computer Skills Required.
All classes are in the Computer Lab located on Third Floor of the Main Library.
If you or someone you know is interested in attending one of our classes, you can sign up in person or by calling the Training Center at 532-2356.
Coming this Fall! Our Cherokee/Native American research seminar. Watch for more details appearing soon in this section.