Paleography for Genealogists: Working with 17th Century Documents in Latin
Sometimes I just can’t help myself. I see the hole and I just want to see what is inside. If you haven’t already noticed my current preoccupation is with Warwickshire, England and I recently posted about a document I had purchased—a reasonable early 18th Century document in English.
But my latest purchase has not even arrived yet and I am already working on it. Here was the description on Ebay.
Well any reasonable person would run for the hinterlands faced with the statement “difficult to read.” I tried to walk away many times but it kept beckoning me. There are no names or places identified nothing more than what you see above ” A Final Court Document ” from Warwickshire believed to be King Charles II. Some things you need to know about me to realize how silly I am:
- I do not read, speak or write Latin [although I do know some Latin Names of plants & animals] In fact I am poor at languages in general
- I have never taken a course in Paleography [the study of historic writing & deciphering & dating of historical manuscripts, including the analysis of historic handwriting]
- Other than visits to a couple of English archives my exposure to such documents is limited.
- I have however, deciphered German, Swedish & Norwegian documents although I know only a very limited vocabulary for each
- I like puzzles
So how did I end up here? Did I want to practice my Latin ? Not really. But I did want to be able to better evaluate documents. What better way than finding a pair of documents to transcribe. Lest you think that was a bad idea it turns out it real is quite smart since it is the exact verbiage on each side. So if one is hard to read you have a second try. To be fair I probably should have picked something easier—but many of them the sellers have already transcribed the pertinent details so not such fun in that, is there?
Please note that these documents were created in 3’s There would be the original maintained by the Registrar or Court [on the left where the line is wavy] and the two parts you see [wavy lines between them] that would go to the Plaintiff and the Deforciant. This way if there was ever a question of authenticity the documents could be pieced together. Originally, the word ‘chirograph’ was written along where the lines were to be cut, so that when the pieces were put back together again it could be proved that they matched each other. Sometimes you will see the word ‘chirograph’ in old archive catalogues – this means a final concord. The Plaintiff is the purchaser or recipient of the land. The Deforciant is the seller of the land. Google “Final Concord” for more information. [Final Concords were abolished in 1833.] So that’s what I did was look for other Final Concords especially those in Latin with transcriptions—because the format has remained pretty consistent over time—just like Indentures. I can tell you that most are much easier to read than this pair! Yes, I do like a challenge!
Here are some resources I recommend for working with old documents in Latin:
- A Latin & English Dictionary
- Google Translator
- Latin for Local History History: An Introduction by Eileen A. Gooder
- Latin for Local & Family Historians by Denis Stuart My FAVORITE!
- Devon Deciphered: Interpreting Manuscript Sources c1300-1750 by John Booker Excellent!
- Cambridge Online Course
- Manuscripts University of Nottingham
- UK Archives Paleography Course
- Additional Resources from BYU Paleography
- Palaeography for Beginners by Carol Bannister Roots Tech 2021
I find it helpful to have multiple printouts of alphabets from various sources for making comparisons. A list of abbreviations and numerals are very helpful. A list of the rulers for the time period and the dates of their reigns. [Since this is the way dates are registered in early documents]. And finally a list of the major Feast Days.
I have managed the first line so far:
In Latin: hec est finalis concordia fat [facta] in Curia Dui’ [domini] Regio apud Westmin'[ster] et die octe Annunciation un quindecim dies Anno regnign Charles se[cundus]s Anglie ffrance et hibernia Regine fidei
In English: This is the final agreement made in the Court of the Lady Queen at Westminster on the eighth day of Annunciation 15th year of the reign of Charles II [approx. 2 Apr 1675] England France and Ireland King faith [referring to next line]
I am open to corrections but I think I have this fairly close.
Wish me luck—and if I get anywhere close I’ll let you know…
Kelly Wheaton Copyright 2021. All Rights Reserved.