A Latin Rule You May Not Have Known

My 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks posts this year center around families in Luxembourg and Germany. Unlike my U.S. research, there are very few Facebook groups I feel I can share my posts with. Rob Deltgen, president of my genealogy society Luxracines, has a Facebook group for his genealogy website Deltgen.com and this is where I’ve been sharing my weekly posts.

I’m seeing more visits to my blog from people in Luxembourg. A couple of these have even commented in the group on my posts. Linda wrote this comment yesterday on my link to 52 Ancestors: #11 The Wollscheid-Barthelmes Family of Kirsch, Germany:

Hi, Cathy. I follow your research now every week and enjoy them a lot. I noticed you sometimes use the first names as they are used in the parish books such as Joannis, Caspari, Jacobi but these are the genitive forms of the names. In Latin, first names decline according to their role in the sentence. So the names in the example would be Joannes, Casparus, and Jacobus.

I had to read this twice before I replied. I may have been one of the best in my class while in school but sometimes I feel really dumb.

Well, Linda, as you can tell I’ve never learned Latin and this is new to me. I wondered why it was not always the same but didn’t think it had something to do with the grammar. Thank you so much for pointing this out to me. Now I may have a lot of correcting to do.

After sleeping on it, I checked online to see what Linda meant by genitive and decline in relation to the Latin language. As genealogists, we are always learning new things. I’m fluent in four languages but write only in English. For the generation I am presently working on, the records are mostly from church registers in Latin or indexed from the same. I thought I could get by without studying Latin. But, as I learned from Linda, it’s important to know at least some of the elementary rules of this dead language.

Latin for Beginners, 1911; Archive.org (https://archive.org/stream/latinforbeginner00doogrich#page/148/mode/2up : accessed 18 March 2017)

This is not a lesson in Latin

Linda’s well-intended comment showed me an error I’ve been making and, perhaps, you have too.

In grammar, genitive (abbreviated gen; also called the possessive case or second case) is the grammatical case that marks a noun as modifying another noun. ~ Wikipedia

Genitive refers to possession and decline or declension are the set of endings of words depending on their use in a sentence.

When I wrote the above sentence in my post yesterday, I included “Jacobus” and “Jacobi” in quotes as these were variations of his name I was seeing in indexed records. If I’d have paid a bit more attention I might have seen a pattern and realized my mistake.

Jacobus was the name seen on his death/burial record:

“Deutschland Tote und Beerdigungen, 1582-1958,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:J4MS-N59 : 28 November 2014), Jacobus Wolschet, 07 Jan 1826; citing 376 6, reference 376 6; FHL microfilm 469,141.

While Jacobi was found in records in which Jacob was seen as the father.

“Deutschland Heiraten, 1558-1929,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:J4FC-TYK : 26 December 2014), Nicolaus Schmidt and Maria Anna Wolschett, 17 Jan 1827; citing Longuich, Rheinland, Preußen, Germany; FHL microfilm 469,141.

In the above example, Maria Anna was the daughter of Jacob Wolschett and Catharina Barthelmes. Maria Anna filia Jacobi et Catharinae. Or in the example of Jacob’s death, Jacob’s wife Catharina is seen as Catharinae (possessive). Wikibooks has a Latin lesson I plan to use for further reference.

Of course, I asked Linda’s permission to use her comment and after thanking her she sent this very enlightening comment:

It is sometimes quite useful when you read the parish books to be aware of the genitive, because in Latin all the words are just one after the other. In some cases you will have for example … baptisatus est Joannes Adamus Jacobi MULLER … Now you know that the child’s name is Joannes Adamus, and the father’s name Jacobus (and not child Joannes and father Adamus Jacobus).

If you are seeing several spellings of a name in Latin records or indexed information from Latin records, the difference is likely due to the rules which show who is being named: the child, parent, or spouse.

If you plan on checking out my last post, I’ve already fixed the error. From now on I will know the difference. I’ll also be making corrections in older posts, all thanks to Linda’s informative comments.

© 2017, copyright Cathy Meder-Dempsey. All rights reserved.

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