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:
- Relict – This term is used to describe a surviving spouse, often a widow. It comes from the Latin term “relictus,” meaning “relinquished” or “left behind.”
- Née – This term is French and means “born.” It is used to indicate a woman’s maiden name.
- 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.
- 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.
- Ultimo (Ult.) – This refers to the previous month. A December newspaper that says “12th ult.” is referring to November 12th.
- 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.
- Name 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.