Latin in Swedish Genealogical Records

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Until the time of the Protestant Reformation, church, government and many other documents in Sweden were written in Latin. Even in later times, the use of Latin terms and abbreviations are common. The genealogist is well-served by understanding the role that Latin played in the evolution of Swedish records and its interpretation today.


Prior to the year 1,000, the people of Sweden had little contact with the cultures to the south where the Latin language was at one time spoken as well as written. Viking expeditions to these areas did result in some coins and other artifacts with Latin inscriptions making their way north, but it was with the introduction of Christianity at the beginning of the second millennium that Latin was formerly introduced in Sweden. The use of Latin increased in Scandinavia during the 1100’s as this new Christian faith became more well-established.

By this time, Latin had become the language of learning in continental Europe. While the spoken languages of these countries had evolved into unique dialects, the most common written language was still Latin. A considerable church-sponsored educational system involving cathedral and monastic schools had been developed both on the continent and in England. The curriculum in these educational institutions centered on grammar, rhetoric and dialectic…all three subjects involving the use of Latin. These schools were taught in Latin and often had libraries made up of Latin texts. Formal education was conducted by the church and the language of the church was Latin.

Latin was the language for lectures and debates and by the 1100’s was also the language of the aristocracy. Written communication, especially formal documentation, was done in Latin by clerks educated in church schools. Even merchants and other businessmen made use of Latin in their dealings.

By contrast, there was limited use of Latin in Sweden during this time with the exception of the Catholic mass. One reason for the relatively slow rise in the use of Latin in Swedish society is the fact that the earliest monasteries in Sweden were not scholastic, but centered on agriculture and were located in more remote areas. It was not until the mid 1200’s that Latin learning and usage became more widespread in Scandinavia, especially among church leaders and administrators. As the church became more involved in organizing and directing formal education in Sweden, the use of Latin became more prevalent.

From 1250 until 1527, Latin was the primary language used in most documents. Government adopted Latin as the language of administration and diplomacy. During this period, Latin was even the most common language used in private documents. A driving force in this expansion was the emergence of Latin literature during the 1300’s and 1400’s. As Swedes began traveling more to foreign destinations such as Germany, France and Italy, they found that Latin was the vehicle for international communication, especially with regards to written documents. Many Swedish students and clerics found themselves studying abroad. Latin was used as both the spoken and written language of universities. This travel and study abroad greatly improved the Latin language skills of clerks, students, diplomats and businessmen who brought that knowledge with them back to Sweden. By the end of the 1400’s, sons of Swedish aristocrats and even some commoners were studying at universities abroad, especially in France, Poland, Germany and Italy. This resulted not only in their increased ability with Latin, but brought a flood of Latin literature back with them to Sweden. Bishops, priests and other church officials also traveled abroad and brought back books of Latin literature and poetry. By the mid 13th century, orders of Dominican and Franciscan monks had established themselves in Sweden and unlike their predecessors placed major emphasis on literacy and education, establishing vast libraries of Latin texts. From this time forward, Sweden had become a part of the broader European Latin culture.

Many documents in Latin have been preserved from the early Middle Ages. All church records from that period were written in Latin as was much of the governmental and diplomatic correspondence. Legal documents including bills of sale, receipts, wills, probate and land transactions were often recorded in Latin up until the late 1300’s. By 1380 the use of Latin had begun to decline. Still the official language of the church, fewer documents both official and private were being written in Latin. The reasons for this decline outside of the ecclesiastical realm are not totally clear. However, up until this time, most men of means had clerks trained in Latin who conducted their correspondence. The question now became whether a true nobleman should read and write his own correspondence and if so, would he need to learn Latin to do it? The cultural influence of Germany was on the rise in Scandinavia and while most nobles were fluent in German, Latin was deemed less important unless one had dealings with those who did not understand German or Swedish.

A major factor in the decline of Latin in Sweden came with the protestant reformation. In 1527 the riksdag (parliament) at Västerås ushered in the evangelical faith in Sweden and the Catholic Church with its Latin culture was dismantled. In spite this dramatic event and the apparent disdain that leader Gustaf Vasa had for both Latin and formal education, it soon became clear that the use of Latin in Swedish culture could not be totally abandoned. By the 1540’s, Sweden was being swept up into broader cultural influences, especially those of Germany. With greater involvement and interaction with the international community taking place, a new roll would emerge for Latin in Swedish culture.

In spite of its abandonment of Roman Catholicism, the Swedish church could not abandon totally the language in which many Bible commentaries and other religious literature was written. Nor could the government abandon the language of international correspondence. Those with Latin language skills remained important and valuable, including those involved in education. Prior to the end of the 16th century, most Swedes pursuing higher education had to travel abroad. Universities in Germany, France and Italy continued the use and teaching of Latin. With the establishment of a university in Uppsala and the establishment of other local educational venues, Latin continued to be the basis for most of the literature and learning. By the end of the reign of Gustaf Vasa and his sons, Latin had regained much of its former influence in Swedish society and culture. The following statistics reflect the effects of this period on the use of Latin in Sweden:
Percentage of books printed in Sweden in Latin
• Prior to 1520 70%
• 1520—1560 15%
• 1560—1599 30%

During the century that marked the period of Sweden’s greatest international influence (“Stormaktstiden”) 1611—1718, Latin not only regained much of the influence it lost during the 1500’s, but became even more prevalent. As Sweden gained greater power and influence abroad, Latin’s role in diplomacy, international commerce and education was strengthened. In addition, the cathedral schools and monasteries that had once been the training ground for priests had now relinquished that role to the universities. With Latin firmly entrenched as the language of higher learning, these priests were well-schooled in its use. Where the students at Uppsala congregated for meals, for example, one was obliged to speak only in Latin. After graduating, these divinity students found practical use for their Latin as many of them began their service as teachers (obliged to teach Latin) and at the same time, Latin continued to be used in the church as many of the records and much of the ecclesiastical correspondence was still conducted in that language. During this time, Latin continued to be the language of much literature and was even used by the educated in their private correspondence.

The following century marked the beginning of decline again for the use of Latin not only in Sweden but in the rest of Western Europe as well. Beginning with the universities who first suggested that formal dissertations be made available in Swedish, the movement towards a more populist approach, making education and literature more accessible, gained momentum. By the middle of the 18th century, many lectures and courses taught in Swedish schools were being done in Swedish. People began to question why one should write in a language one did not speak. The debate continues today between those who proclaim Latin as the language of learning and true literature and those for whom it has no practical application.

The church was one of the last organizations to abandon the formal use of Latin in Sweden. Many early Swedish church records, including those most valuable to genealogical researchers, were written in Latin. By the end of the 18th century, most parish records were being written in Swedish, but certain Latin words and/or abbreviations were still used and can be important in understanding the record.


      Latin                                          Swedish                                            English
a.m., ante meridiem                    på förmiddagen                                   morning/before noon
a tergo                                       från bakpärmen (i en bok)                     from the back cover (of a book)
abiit                                           avlägsnade sig, flyttade                        relocated/moved
absens                                       frånvarande                                         away/absent
absolutio                                    avlösning                                             absolution/forgiveness of sin
adm(itterad)                                tillåten                                                permitted
                                                 (t.ex. at gå till nattvard)                        (for example, to take communion)
aetas                                         ålder                                                   age
agnatisk                                     ättling via enbart manliga led                 descendant via male lineage
ante                                           före                                                     before
antecessor                                 företrädare                                           predecessor
baptizatus/a                               döpt                                                    baptized
caecus/a                                   blind                                                    blind
Charta Sigillata                          stämpelavgift stamp                              duty (as on a passport)
communion                               nattvardsgång                                       communion
confession                                skriftermål                                            confession
coniunx                                    make                                                   spouse
copulate                                   vigde                                                    married
curator                                     förmyndare                                           guardian
curia                                        prästgård                                              parsonage

debilis                                     svag, slagrörd                                        weak
defunctus/a                             avliden                                                  dead
denatus/a                                avliden                                                 dead
dies                                        dag                                                      day
dies natalis                             födelsedag                                            day of birth
domesticus                             tjänare                                                  servant
dominica (Dnca)                      söndag                                                 Sunday
dos                                        hemgift                                                 dowry
ejusdem                                 samma månad                                      same month
eodem die                              samma dag                                           same day
filia                                        dotter                                                    daughter
filius                                      son                                                       son
frater                                     bror                                                       brother
gemelli/ae                              tvillingar (av samma kön)                         twins of the same gender
gener                                    svärson, måg                                          son-in-law
hic                                        här, denne, den här                                 here, this here
honestus/a                            ärbar                                                      decent, modest
hujus                                    dennes, i denna månad                            this, in this month
ibidem (ibm, ibid)                   på samma ställe                                      same, at the same place
infra                                      nedanför                                                 below
introductio                             kyrktagning                                             introduced into the church after childbirth
item                                      likaledes, också                                      also
kognatisk                              ättling, även via kvinliga led                      descendant, even by female lineage         ligitimus/a                             äkta (född)                                              legitimate (born)
loco                                      på platsen                                              place
locus sigilli (LS)                     sigillets plats                                          place of the seal
manu propria                         med egen hand  (underskrivet)                  signed by own hand
mater                                   moder                                                     mother
matrimonium                         äktenskap                                               marriage
mensis                                 månad                                                    month
miles                                    soldat                                                     soldier
mortuus/a                             död                                                         dead
natus/a                                 född                                                        born
nobilis                                  adlig                                                        noble
nocte                                   om natten                                                at night
nomen                                 namn                                                       name
notus/a                                oäkta (född)                                              illegitimate (born)
nuptiae                                bröllop                                                      marriage
obiit                                    dog, död                                                   died, dead
olim                                    fordom                                                      former
orphanus/a                          föräldralös                                                 orphan
P.L. (pastor loci)                  kyrkoherde på platsen                                pastor (minister) at the place
p.m., post meridiem             på eftermiddagen                                       after noon
pagina (p, pag)                    sida (i bok)                                                page (in book)
parochial                            socken                                                      parish
Pascha                              Påsk                                                         Easter
pastor                                kyrkoherde                                                 pastor, minister
pater                                  fader                                                          father
patre ignoto                        (född) av okänd fader                                   (born) of unknown father
Pentecoste                         Pingst                                                       Pentecost
Posthumus/a                      född efter faderns död                                  born after father’s death
praesens                            närvarande                                                  present
predecessor                        företrädare                                                  predecessor
primus/a                             först                                                           first
progenitores                        förfäder                                                      forefathers
proles                                 barn, ättlingar                                            children, descendants
quondam                            fordom, tidigare                                          former, earlier
relicitus/a                           änkling, änka                                             widower, widow
renatus/a                           döpt (återfödd)                                            baptized (reborn)
rusticus                             bonde                                                        farmer
sacellanus                         kaplan, hjälppräst                                       chaplain
scholaris                           skolelev (vanl. I stadsskola)                          student (usually in city school)
sepultus/a                         begravd                                                      buried
servus                               tjänare                                                       servant
soror                                 syster                                                        sister
sponsalia                          hemgift                                                       dowry
sponsor                            löftesman, dopvittne                                     godparent, witness at christening
spurious/a                        oäkta (född)                                                 illegitimate (born)
successor                        efterträdare                                                  successor
supra                               ovanför                                                        above
susceptrix                        barnabärerska (vid dop)                                 child bearer at christening
testes                              (dop)vittnen                                                  godparent, witness at christening
testimonium                     betyg, intyg                                                  certificate, certification, attestation
ultimus/a                         sist                                                              last
ut supra                           som ovan                                                     as above
uxor                                hustru                                                          wife
vide infra                         se nedan                                                       see below
viduus/a                          änkling, änka                                                widower, widow

Latin words take different endings depending on whether they refer to male or female. Words ending in “-us” often refer to male or masculine, while those ending in “-a” often refer to female or feminine.

Emin Tengström, Latinet I Sverige, Lund, Sweden: Berlingska Boktryckeriet, 1973.
Elisabeth Thorsell & Ulf Schenkmanis, Släktforskning, vägen till din egen historia, Helsingborg, Sweden: Schmidts Boktryckeri AB, 1993.