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A Universal Language for The Universal Church

“Of its very nature, Latin is most suitable for promoting every form of culture among peoples. It gives rise to no jealousies. It does not favour any one nation, but presents itself with equal impartiality to all and is equally acceptable to all. Nor must we overlook the characteristic nobility of Latin’s formal structure. Its concise, varied and harmonious style, full of majesty and dignity makes for singular clarity and impressiveness of expression.”

Pope John XXIII (encyclical Veterum Sapientia, 1962)

“We strongly encourage you all that, by diligent study and effective teaching, you may pass on like a torch the understanding, love and use of this immortal language in your own countries.”

Pope John Paul II to an international group of pilgrims in Rome on July 28, 1999

Latin for Genealogists

A few years ago, I came across the first ancient church records relevant to my research. Many of these records are in Latin. I never studied Latin formally; however, I became an altar boy at a very young age in the days when the Mass was in Latin. I also studied Spanish as a youngster. I’ve always been interested in linguistics and fortunately have been blessed with somewhat of an aptitude for languages.  Then, I am a lawyer; a profession that ranks second to the Church in its penchant for using Latin!

In any event, before the advent of Google Translator, I had to apply these skills to translating ad hoc some of the records from St Joseph’s Church in Prairie du Rocher, Illinois, that mention the Micheau family. A typical entry is this one:

Die 12a Julii 1900 obit Maria Emma Micheau uxor Georgii Micheau, annos circa 46 nata, ejusque corpus sequenti tumulatum est.

Actually, I think many genealogists could intuit this one. I translated it thusly:

Maria Emma Micheau, wife of George Micheau, died on July 12, 1900. She was about 46 years old. She was buried in the general burial ground.

Here’s a handy reference of Latin terms likely to be found in Catholic records:

  • adnotationes: notations or comments
  • aetas: age or lifetime
  • Anno Domino: Year of Our Lord
  • annos: years
  • Baptismorum: Baptism
  • Confirmatorum: the sacrament of Confirmation
  • corpus: body
  • dies: day, date
  • defunctorum: death, deaths
  • Diocesis: diocese
  • Ecclesia: church
  • Eucharistae sacramentum: The Eucharist (Communion)
  • ex: literally, “out of;” used to denote parental relationship or sometimes hometown; for example, “Joseph Micheau ex G. Micheau,” would mean that Joseph is the son of G. Micheau. “Emilie Micheau ex Prairie du Rocher,” of course would indicate that Emilie is a native of Prairie du Rocher.
  • fil, fili: son, child
  • liber, libro: book
  • Matrimonium: The sacrament of Holy Matrimony; marriage
  • mensis: month
  • natum, nate, nata: birth, born
  • nigrini coloris: “of the color black;” sometimes abbreviated “n. col.,” designates African-Americans
  • nomen, nomina: name, names
  • obit, obitus: to die
  • patrini: literally, “patrons;” used to designate godparents in Baptism or sponsor in Confirmation
  • nativitatis locus: birth place
  • sacerdos: priest
  • sepultum: to inter or bury
  • sponsi: literally, “the promised one,” designates groom on marriage records
  • sponsae: designates bride on marriage records
  • testes: witnesses
  • tumulatum: to bury in a mound
  • uxor: wife
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