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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Puzzling Out Genealogical Abbreviations

There are two main types of abbreviations encountered by genealogical researchers. The most recent set of abbreviations come from the use of paper forms due to the space limitations of the fields allocated to places and names. Here is an example of what you will see:

Phoenix, Maricopa, Arizona, United States becomes Phx, Mrcp, Az, USA

There were (and are) huge lists of "standard" abbreviations. Guess what? Almost all of the space limitations imposed by the paper forms are long gone. But we still have some die-hards who use the abbreviations because they were told 50 years ago that they were supposed to do it that way. Simply put, all place abbreviations should be expanded. At the same time, the current standard is to record the place of the event as it was at the time the event occurred.

The second set of abbreviations are not going to disappear because of technology. Those are the abbreviations you encounter while researching old, handwritten documents. The most common ones are shortening of names such as "Wm" for William and "Jos" for Joseph. There are endless lists of these abbreviations because many of the record keepers made up their own conventions. But all is not lost, you will get used to seeing some of the more common ones and you find many websites with lists of those that apply in English, Spanish, German, and other European languages.

Since the solution to deciphering abbreviations is to consult a list, here are a number of websites that
will help you with your task:

Here is a book on the subject:

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

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