7 Common Historical Newspaper Abbreviations and Terms

Tips, Hints and Helps

It feels great to find an ancestor in the newspaper—whether it’s in an obituary, marriage announcement, or other type of notice. But sometimes historical newspapers used abbreviations and terms that are no longer common, leaving some of us scratching our heads.

To help you get the most out of historical newspapers, we’ve come up with a list of some of the most common abbreviations and terms:

  1. Death notices describing many of the women as relictsRelict – This term is used to describe a surviving spouse, often a widow. It comes from the Latin term “relictus,” meaning “relinquished” or “left behind.”
  2. Née – This term is French and means “born.” It is used to indicate a woman’s maiden name.
  3. Instant (Inst.) – This is used to refer to the current month. For example, a newspaper article published in December that says “12th inst.” means December 12th.
  4. Proximo (Prox.) – Essentially meaning “next,” this is used in newspapers to indicate the upcoming month. So “12th prox.” in a December newspaper would mean January 12th.
  5. Ultimo (Ult.) – This refers to the previous month. A December newspaper that says “12th ult.” is referring to November 12th.
  6. Old style/New style (O.S./N.S.) – These terms refer to dates that are either prior to approximately 1752 (“old style”) or after about 1752 (“new style”). This is because in 1752, Britain (including its American colonies) adopted the Gregorian calendar, which resulted in skipping 11 days that year. To make matters even more complicated, the first of the year was moved from March to January. So to remove confusion, newspapers around the time of the change included “O.S” or “N.S” to indicate which system was being used for the dates they provided.
  7. Example of name abbreviations being usedName abbreviations – Name abbreviations are common in old newspapers. Some abbreviations are merely the first few letters of the name followed by a period, while others are contractions (the first part of the name plus the final letter). Some abbreviations are derived from the name’s Latin equivalent, which makes them a bit trickier to decipher. Below are the most common name abbreviations:
    • Chas – Charles
    • Wm – William
    • Geo. – George
    • Jno – John
    • Jas – James
    • Thos – Thomas

We hope you found the explanation of these terms and abbreviations useful! Get started searching or browsing historical (and modern!) papers on Newspapers.com.

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62 thoughts on “7 Common Historical Newspaper Abbreviations and Terms

  1. Thanks for creating a “one stop shopping” guide to those common terms that I frequently forget. It is nice to see these reminders that I can copy and paste into a word document to keep handy when I’m doing research. Many thanks.


  2. Others – N.B. usually seen in legal docs, essentially to mean “Note”. “viz.” essentially to mean, such as….

    1. With regard to “viz.” I’d suggest “namely” is a better substitute than “such as,” since “such as” leaves room for additional examples. Since it’s often used in wills to list heirs, I think it’s not meant to be open-ended.

    1. Sadly, females got short shrift. Any that were married were usually called by their husband’s name (Mrs. John Smith)–even in their obituary! Those that weren’t married got even fewer mentions.

        1. It did end a few decades ago. But we can’t change historical papers. 🙂

    2. Off the top of my head, all I can think of are Eliz. for Elizabeth and rarely, My. for Mary.

        1. During searches in my spouses family, I run into Eliza alot in the Census. At first it threw me, then it hit me that it was Elizabeth.

        1. Yes, those are common nicknames, but I was referring to abbreviations used in old newspapers. There weren’t a lot of abbreviations used for women’s first names.

        1. Again, these are good nicknames for Elizabeth. But the focus of this thread is on abbreviations, not nicknames. Since women were seldom referred to in print by their full names, but rather as Miss or Mrs. followed by their maiden or married surname, there aren’t a lot of abbreviations for women’s given names.

          1. I get it….I had replied to Cathy Pensyl regarding abbrev in early census’

    3. Peggy -Margaret
      Dot -Dorothy, Dorothea
      Lottie – Charlotte
      Bridie – Briget (and variations)

      1. May or Polly – Mary
        Fannie – Frances
        Hattie – Harriet
        Kate, Kitty – Catherine

        It’s also helpful to search for initials for men (e.g. A. B. Smith).

  3. What does this phrase mean–“Gentlemen’s List E under ‘List of Letters Remaining in the New York Post Office, Persons calling for advertised letters will please mention the date of the list on which their letters are
    advertised.'” Does it mean just what it sounds like–letters that have not yet been picked up from the Post Office?

    1. If you look at some of the old newspapers, they have lists of addresses of unclaimed mail.

  4. Finally, a good explanation of Instant, Proximo, and Ultimo. It’s Instant which has always caused me confusion–being not always easy to figure out from context.

  5. This would be a good ad for newspapers.com on Facebook. especially in the genealogy groups.

  6. Enjoyed these news tips and hints Can I post them on our Baltimore County Genealogy Society (Maryland) newsletter if I give the source for them and permission granted.

  7. This is quite nice – newspapers.com has helped me tremendously; There are a lot of nuts in my tree that are hard to crack and with newspapers.com, I was able to crack…only to learn it’s all relative

      1. That’s probably “Almon” though I’ve seen that name spelled by census enumerators many times as “Almond.”

  8. I am a member of the newspaper.com but Every time I try to get on I have trouble getting on. This is so frustrating and I am paying money for this. I need to know how to get on the site easier.

  9. There are some key missing weeks and months for some newspapers. To name two, they are the Poughkeepsie newspapers the “Eagle” and the “Journal”. I hope these missing listings will be a priority in some upcoming updates.

    1. Also, the Kingston Daily Freeman. Many dates I researched had only every other page. It’s very frustrating.

      1. Thanks very much, Karen! I’d appreciate it very much. I’ll email you. ~ Elizabeth

  10. Ah ha! I now know that Jno IS actually my ancestor John!
    (I am new to the genealogy searching.) Thanks for the tips!

  11. I have encountered some difficulty in using newspaper.com When I have multiple hits with a word search I am not returned to the same place in the sequence after bringing up the precise word on a full newspaper page and returning to the small picture of the word as it appears in the list of multiple hits.

  12. Thanks for the explanations. They are very helpful. I love newspapers.com and have gotten so much out of it. I only wish they had more 19th and early 20th c. newspapers from northern N.J.

  13. Another abreviation is “Hon” for honorable in reference to a current or former legislator and other state government office holders. In my case, I had a relative named Asa who had served as a legislator whose grave marker has
    “Hon Asa F…….”. Many transcribers got that wrong and claimed his name was ”Honasa”.

  14. I
    Am glad to have this refresher course. It helps so much to know what abbreviations mean to have complete meaning where they occur. I would like a description for the word “inmate”. Does it refer to criminal, incompetent, or mentally handicapped person?

    1. If you’re finding the word “inmate” on a Census, scroll to the top of the image of that census to see which institution it is. One of my ancestors was listed as an inmate, and I found at the top of the page that she was living at the Lincoln State School and Colony. She was there with two of her sisters. I don’t know if they did censuses of the prisons. Unless you can pin down the nature of the institution, it’s going to be difficult to define “inmate” in much detail. Most of the institutions back in the “old days” served incompetent, incorrigible, “insane,” and mentally handicapped populations.

  15. Am glad to have this refresher course. It helps so much to know what abbreviations mean to have complete meaning where they occur. I would like a description for the word “inmate”. Does it refer to criminal, incompetent, or mentally handicapped person?

  16. Regarding name abbreviations, “Jno” is usually the abbreviation for Jonathan, not John which is a completely different name.

  17. How did my email address change from gmail.com to newspaper.com? I don’t remember giving permission or asking for this change. Help please!!

  18. Christopher and Christian have very similar abbreviations that are easy to misread in hand written lists. Christ followed by a superscript “r” for Christopher and Christ with a superscript “n” for Christian.

  19. A couple that I have come across
    Br. – British
    Br. Am. – British American
    Ch. can also be used for Charles
    and for those of you who may not know this:
    Mrs. actually is an abbreviation for mistress, not misses (notice, no “r”) 🙂

  20. For those that are tracing relatives that were maritime workers, or traveled here from overseas:
    S.S. – steamship
    R.M.S. – Royal Mail Ship
    spt. – seaport
    mar. – maritime
    oc. – ocean
    Anyone who has a knowledge of official abbrevs, no nicknames (there is a difference) please post. They can be helpful when searching old papers.

  21. I understand using abbreviations when writing with a quill pen or an ink pen that must be loaded by dipping into an ink well constantly. However, in this day and age with the convenience of writing instruments available I see no need to use abbreviations. Perhaps in a few instances where the same word is used constantly but in general I prefer to spell it out.

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