Making Sense of Latin Documents For Family & Local Historians
The farther back your research takes you, the more likely you are to come across documents partially or wholly in Latin. Index entries and catalogue descriptions vary in completeness, and it can be dispiriting sometimes to find that a document contains no more information than its catalogue entry. But if you don't go through it word for word you will always wonder whether something vital was hidden in there somewhere.
The aim of this book is to act as a crib; to set out and translate the basic form of the most useful and most common Latin documents, enabling the genealogist to get the most out of them. It is not a guide to reading old handwriting or teaching yourself Latin, although, unfortunately, you need to be reasonably competent in both of these to understand Latin documents.
Examples of documents covered in this book include Parish Registers, Wills, Probates, Inventories, Intestacy, Citations, Interrogatories, Definitive Sentences or Final Decrees, Excommunication, Writs, Inquisitions Post Mortem, Land Deeds, Final Concords, Recovery of Seisin, and Copyholds and Surrenders.
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This handy little book - it's just 82 pages long - sets out to assist anyone whose research, brings them face-to-face with documents written in Latin. That's not at all difficult - the records of most courts and much legal process remained in Latin until 1733, apart from a brief and blissful interlude between 1651 and 1660 (which the author doesn't mention) when English and an 'ordinary, usual and legible hand' was legislated as part of the Commonwealth reform.
The author makes clear that the book is not a guide to reading old writing nor to translating Latin, but aims to act as a crib - setting out the formulas in which most legal documents, be they civil or ecclesiastical, were written. Such was the strength of precedent that lawyers' clerks from Sandwich to Sunderland all adhered to the same unchanging and indeed unchangeable phrases when writing particular types of document; it is upon such consistency of expression that this book relies.
There are 15 sections, nine dealing with products of civil and canon law - parish registers, wills and probate records and church court procedure, and six with common law documents - writs, escheators' inquisitions and conveyancing records, relating to both freehold and copyhold land. Some of the hardest Latin is to be encountered in the records of ecclesiastical courts, be they notes of probate or sentences at the ends of wills (themselves usually in English), or the citations, interrogatories process and decrees to be found in both office and instance causes. Within those sections, the book sets out the formulaic phrases - Ad ultimam dicit predeposita per eum fuisse et esse vera etc - and their clear and accurate translations - to the last he says the things before-deposed by him were and are true etc.
There is no index - it would have to be a very long one, word by word, to be useful - and as far as I can see the text is not available to be searched online. With few illustrations - there are only six - it is difficult to know where the real beginner, who may not be able to tell the difference between a writ and a citation - is meant to start.
Nevertheless, this book will be a boon to the slightly more experienced user, and indeed to anyone who has the time and patience to hunt through its pages to find the phrase confronting them.
Friends of The National Archives.
Friends of the National Archives