How to begin with reading Latin manuscripts? Read our first post in this here
So you know the first step to take when reading a Latin manuscript is to learn the words or at least know where to find them.
If you don’t know what to expect, it will be harder or impossible to decipher the letters, words of a manuscript.
NOTE: You are very lucky if you need to read a printed text. If you don’t need to decipher the letters, you will find the words in a dictionary easier.
Will any dictionary do? What kind of dictionaries are most common? Whether printed or online, classical Latin is overrepresented. These and many more are available online:
Is your text classical Latin (written before the 5th century)? OK, use these. If not, you can not be sure to find your words in it. Or if you find your word, you may be given an outdated meaning of it. Always look at the date of your text and choose a dictionary of that period and possibly that region! This is harder to find online.
Coming back to manuscripts, even the appropriate dictionary may not be enough for the genealogist. You need to have some knowledge of Latin upfront to recognize the words!
Do you need a class or a teacher? No, I wouldn’t say that.
How do you learn Latin words on your own? There are Latin textbooks and courses which teach classical Latin and a lot of grammar. Here is a list:
- Wheelock’s Latin
- B.L. D’Ooge, Latin for Beginners + answer key
- C.G. Gepp, Henry’s First Latin Book + answer key
- A.H. Monteith, Ahn’s Method First Course + answer key, Ahn’s Method Second Course + answer key
- Hans H. Ørberg: Lingua Latina and its college companion
- the Cambridge series of books with online activities
- Foster’s Ossa Latinitatis Sola
- Kennedy’s Latin Primer
- Oulton’s So You Really Want to Learn Latin
- https://www.surfacelanguages.com/language/Latin.html with some ecclesiastical Latin
- and there are several apps
I have not tested these books, apps and methods, I just listed them. And there are many more.
(You won’t need to actively speak or write in Latin for your research, I have skipped those books or courses).
These are not bad for genealogists! Any type of Latin knowledge will help you read your texts from the middle or modern ages.
But they are not targeted enough for a genealogist. You will see a lot of grammar and explanation in them that you won’t need. And again, the classical meaning of the words will not always help you with your newer text. It can even lead to misunderstandings.
What to do then?
We know one Latin course appropriate for medieval Latin documents. This is the Latin course of the National Archives: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/latin
But what do you do if you only want to read Latin church records of later centuries?
Do you have to learn to decline and conjugate every word in every form? Is there a glossary containing only the words necessary for genealogic research in Latin church registers?
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We wish you the best of luck in your research,
Judit and István
P.S. Have you found a Hungarian, Latin or German text and don’t know whether it is worth translating? We can make you an abstract from it! You can learn who wrote it and to whom, when and where it was written, as well as what it’s about, so that you can decide whether or not you want to have it translated. For details, see our webpage: http://historiatranslation.com/abstract/.