It’s inevitable! If you’ve got Catholics in your family tree, sooner or later you’re going to hit church records written in Latin. And, you never thought those Latin word origins you learned in high school would come in handy!
It’s important to know the key words and phrases so that you can find the important details about your ancestor in these records. The more familiar you are with translating records, the easier your job will be. You may want to purchase a Latin to English dictionary to help with translations.
To get you started, let’s take a look at a typical Catholic church marriage record from the 1880s. This example comes from St. Sylvester’s Church, Kilauea, Kauai, Hawaii. I’ve numbered each section to make it easier to follow.
The Latin Version of a Marriage Record
- Anno Domini N.J. Chr. mill. octing. nonag. quinto, die vicerimo secundo Sti. Sylvestri in Kilauea, ego infrascriptus:
- Theodorum Pacheco unum de viginti annos ex. Jacintho Pacheco et Anna Pacheco natum in insula San Miguel, paroch. Feteira, et in Kilauea, morantem; et
- Mariam d’Espirito Santo Dobrada unum de viginti annos ex Josuima Dobrada et Maria da Conceicao, natum in insula San Miguel, paroch. Maia Agua d’Esp. S.; et in. Kilauea commorantum interrogari; et corum mutuo consensu per verba da praesenti in Matrimonium conjunsci, praesentibus testibus:
- Anton Pacheco et Joao Cosma
Hanamaulu, 23 Dec. 1895
Fr. Emeran Schulte
The English Translation of the Record
- In the year of our Lord Jesus Christ, 1895, 22nd day in the church of St. Sylvester in Kilauea, I record the following:
- that Theodorum Pacheco, being 20 years old, son of Jacintho Pacheco and Anna Pacheco, born on the island of Sao Miguel, in the parish of Feteira, and living in Kilauea; and
- Maria d’Espirito Santo Dobrada, being 20 years old, daughter of Josuima Dobrada and Maria da Conceicao, born on the island of Sao Miguel, in the parish of Maia, Agua d’Espirito Santo; were joined in the bonds of Matrimony by their mutual consent made in my presence and testified by the following:
- Anton Pacheco and Joao Cosma Hanamaulu, 23 Dec. 1895 Fr. Emeran Schulte
Some Notes About Names and Places
Notice that the names are in their Latin form, i.e. Theodoro is shown as Theodorum; Jozimas is shown as Josuima; and Maria is shown as Mariam. You will probably find the name recorded exactly the same in the Hawaii State records.
What I think happened is that the couple received this certificate from the church, then took it to the state recorder’s office. Or, the copy of the record was sent to the state office by the church. Either way, the information was copied as seen on the church marriage record.
At the turn of the century, many of the Portuguese in Hawaii could not read or write. When the official copied the Latin names, there was no one to tell them to do otherwise.
It’s important to realize that church officials made errors, too. People are often listed as being born in Ponta Delgada despite never having lived there. Names also get confused. The surname Dobrada shown above was really de Braga. Always confirm the information found in church records with other sources.
This word list put together by the LDS church will help you understand the basics of Latin church records.
FamilySearch.org Latin Genealogical Word List
Thanks to J. Medeiros for his help with the translation of this record!
Genealogist and writer. Creator of the Portuguese Hawaiian Genealogy and Heritage website, yourislandroutes.com