RootsTech 2015

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, October 12, 2013

What to do about archaic abbreviations

One of the most baffling things about trying to read old handwritten documents is the liberal use of abbreviations. A few of these have survived to the present day, but many have dropped out of use and are difficult to decipher. In some cases, the person who wrote the original document used their own personal set of abbreviations. In this case, without a large sample of that individual's writing, it may be nearly impossible to figure out the meaning of the personally designed abbreviation. In most cases, the abbreviations, although archaic, are still known.

Fortunately, there are extensive lists of different abbreviations available on the Web. The first source is's Abbreviations Found in Genealogy. This is an alphabetical list of hundreds of abbreviations. However, these are all English language abbreviations. Another English-based list is found on Geni at Abbreviations & Acronyms for Genealogy - The Accepted. Here is a list of other places you might want to visit for abbreviations: has a list of Swedish abbreviations. See Dictionary & Abbreviations

There is also a book by Kip Sperry. See:

Sperry, Kip. Abbreviations & Acronyms: A Guide for Family Historians. Orem, UT: Ancestry, 2000.

Another rather extensive list of abbreviations and a dictionary of obscure terms is found in the following book:

Evans, Barbara Jean. A to Zax: A Comprehensive Dictionary for Genealogists & Historians. Alexandria, VA: Hearthside Press, 1995.

I might have made you go look at the book to find out what a zax is but I took pity and will tell you it is a tool used by a slater. But you will have to look up slater for yourself. I suggest that if you run into abbreviations in a language other than English, you try searching for the word for abbreviations in that language with the word for genealogy.


  1. Here is a more complete list of first name abbreviations

  2. Thanks! Those will be helpful links.