Book Review: In Their Words. A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents. Volume III: Latin

The following book review was written by Bobbi King:

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In Their Words.
A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents. Volume III: Latin.
by William F. Hoffman & Jonathan D. Shea. Published by Language and Lineage Press, Houston TX. 2013. 411 pages.

This book is about the Latin words and phrases we encounter when we work in Catholic church records.

The Catholic Church takes sacred care of its sacramental records. The administration of the sacraments defines a church member’s lifelong relationship to the Church. Pre-requisite for a marriage ceremony would require a proof of baptism which would require a query letter back to the home parish and their search into the baptismal register that was recorded decades earlier. The parish sacramental registers of baptism, communion, marriage, and burial are held for generations. In the Old Countries, your church records may well have been microfilmed by the LDS, and survive on film and digitized media today.

Here in the United States, parish priests commonly wrote the sacramental events into ledgers comprised of pre-printed forms written in Latin. The priests filled out the forms, writing the names and dates into the entry spaces also written in Latin, in keeping with the Latin phrasing on the form. Latin “Wilhelmus” was recorded for the English given name of “William,” the Czech “Vilém,” the Dutch “Willem,” the German “Wilhelm,” the Hungarian “Vilmos,” the Irish “Liam,” the Italian “Guglielmo,” the Lithuanian “Vilhelmas,” the Polish “Wilhelm,” the Portugese “Guilherme,” the Roman “Vilhelm,” the Slovak “Viliam,” and the Spanish “Guillermo.” Up to fourteen languages are represented on this catalog of first names in Latin and the language equivalent.

The authors start us out with a very helpful chapter titled, “Locating Records in America That Lead Back to Europe.” This chapter helps us figure out the ancestral region, the village or city origin of our ancestors, so we can move forward and hopefully locate records of Old Country origin. The authors discuss the various American records we can look at to possibly discover the European origins of our ancestors.

The best part of this book is its extensive presentation of images of original certificates and documents with accompanying explanations. Some examples: handwritten marriage entries in a German parish register; marriage entries such as this one from an Irish parish register: “Die 2 Maii 1876 conjunxi in matrimonium Michaelem Murphy ab Headford in Com. Kerry Hib.–” (with translation); baptismal certificates; burial registers; death entries and certificates, and more.

Included are appendices of Latin vocabulary terms and phrases for, among other things, causes of death and death-related words (“coniugicidium, coniugicidii”: murder of one’s spouse); numbers; months of the year (“Januarius”); the “dies” of the week; occupations (“phlebotomarius, phlebotomarii”: bloodletter); and one especially valuable list: family relationships (“”filius naturalis”: son born out of wedlock); and more.

The authors have mounted an impressive collection of information. William F. Hoffman is the editor of Rodziny, the Journal of the Polish Genealogical Society of America and the chief editor of East European Genealogist, the Journal of the East European Genealogical Society. Jonathan D. Shea is a professor of foreign languages in the Connecticut State University system, and serves as Reference Archivist and translator for the Polish Genealogical Society of Connecticut.

If you’re researching Catholic church records and you need a guide, this is definitely the book for you.

In Their Words. A Genealogist’s Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents. Volume III: Latin is available from the publisher at, from Amazon at and from other genealogy bookstores.


Years ago while at a genealogy conference (FEEFHS? EEGS? one or the other, I think), I purchased a copy of what was then hot off the presses: “In Their Words — Volume I: Polish.” It’s worth its weight in gold. More than “very helpful.” I referred to it constantly while extracting records for years.


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