What Did You Do For a Living, Ancestor?: Common Occupations in German Genealogy

“What do you do?” is one of the first questions we ask someone upon meeting. Our occupation defines us, showcasing our interests and illustrating how we spend our time. And just as this is true in the twenty-first century, so too was it for our ancestors (although they perhaps had less choice in the matter than we do – there likely weren’t many Uber drivers back then). 

My ancestor was a “Pfarrer” (priest/pastor)

But where do you find your ancestor’s occupation? Luckily for you, it’s not too difficult. The occupation of your ancestor is almost always right before his name in a document (marriage certificate, death certificate, church book, etc.). For example, a certificate might read “The baker Johann Schmidt, born February 5, 1880…”, with baker (Bäcker) preceding the name of the person mentioned.  In the marriage certificate below, we can see the name Friedrich Gottlieb Christian Eckhardt (beginning on the second line). If we look at the word before the name Friedrich (last word, top line), we see the occupation Schuhmachermeister, meaning that Friedrich was a master shoemaker.

This leads us to the levels of occupations, which were also important for our ancestors. 

Occupation levels included:

“Lehrling” – apprentice

“Geselle” – journeyman (apprenticeship complete)

“Meister” – master

These levels, if listed, always follow the name of the occupation. For example, “Schuhmachermeister” is a person who is a master shoemaker. In his earlier life, Friedrich Gottlieb Christian Eckhardt was likely a Schuhmachergeselle, or journeyman shoemaker.

So what occupations were common in the past? Below, find a list of the most common occupations (in my translating experience) for men and women in German genealogy. For an extensive list, Edna Bentz’ book If I Can, You Can Decipher German Records offers several pages of German occupations of the past, as well as a sample of how the occupation would have looked in the old handwriting (along with its English translation). 

Common Occupations for Men:

Arbeiter worker, laborer
Bauer farmer
Gastwirt (Gastwirth)/Wirt innkeeper
________händler __________ dealer/trader/merchant
Maurer bricklayer
Metzger butcher
Müller miller
Schmied blacksmith
Schneider tailor
Schreiner cabinet maker, joiner, carpenter
Schuhmacher shoemaker, cobbler
Tagelöhner day laborer
Tischler cabinet maker, furniture maker, carpenter
Tuchmacher cloth maker
Weber weaver

Common Occupations for Women:

Dienstmädchen maid, servant girl
Dienerin servant (female)
gewerblos/ohne Gewerb no occupation
Hebamme midwife
Krankenschwester nurse
Näherin seamstress

3 Reasons Why a Family Tree is Important for Your Children: Guest Post by Suzie Kolber

 

Suzie Kolber created Family Tree Templates to be the complete online resource for “do it yourself” genealogy projects.  The site offers the largest offering of free printable blank family tree charts online. The site is a not for profit website dedicated to offering free resources for those that are trying to trace their family history.

 

Tracing your family’s roots, even just a few generations back, can be a challenging experience. That being said, it’s definitely worth the effort – a family tree can profoundly impact your child’s life for years to come. Here are three reasons to create a family tree for your kids:

  1. It Gives Kids an Interest in World History

For a lot of kids, history is just a boring subject at school. It’s a list of facts about things that happened a long time ago, and kids are all about now and the future. However, when you study your own family history, it helps put things in perspective for your children.

Perhaps you have a great-great-great-grandfather who fought in the Civil War or a great-great-uncle who was a soldier in World War I. Suddenly, these aren’t just stories about people who are long dead. They are stories about your own flesh and blood. The soldiers who marched through intense heat and freezing cold aren’t strangers; they’re family. Learning about American or world history is a lot more fun if you’re involved in some way – and knowing your family tree can help bring history to life. 

  1. It Gives Kids an Interest in Their Own Background

When kids learn about their own family tree, it helps them understand more about who they are. They can see that their red hair and freckles go all the way back to great-great-grandmother Bonnie. Or perhaps your child is the only short person in the family – but so was great-great-great-grandmother Alice. Now they’re no longer alone.

Learning about their family history can help children develop a better sense of who they are and why they look and act the way they do. It also enhances their feeling of stability and security as they see they are part of something bigger than themselves.

  1. It Helps Them Remember People Who are Important to the Family

As children grow up, family members pass away. They may forget what great-aunt Anna looks like or how grandfather Bill laughed. While you can tell stories about family members who died when the kids were young or even before they were born, these stories become more meaningful if they can be placed in correct association.

For example, say your grandfather was one of eight children. Your child may only know or remember two or three of them. Without a family tree to help them keep track of who was who, other people’s names  lose their meaning and place over time. With a family tree, when Grandpa talks about Uncle Phil, your kids will understand exactly who he means and pay more attention to those stories. Instead of just words, they will be able to imagine their granddad as a boy, sitting on Uncle Phil’s lap and listening to his funny jokes.

You don’t have to create an extravagant or complicated family tree for it to be of value to the kids. A simple diagram will work wonders to help them make the right connections. However, the more information you can add (including photos!) will help them remember who this person was and why they are part of the family. 

 

 

Top 25 Milestone Words for Finding Your German Ancestor

Birthdays. Weddings. Funerals. While our German ancestors may have lived hundreds of years ago, the life milestones we deem important today held similar significance to our relatives in the past. For us family historians, using these milestones can be extremely helpful in piecing together our ancestors’ life stories. But what if you don’t speak German?

Below, I’ve gathered together a list of 25 of the most important milestone words in German genealogy. The German word is on the left, followed by the English translation on the right. An example of the word in the old German handwriting (Kurrentschrift) is also provided.* Knowing these German words, along with a bit of the old German handwriting, can be a great help in deciphering German records and discovering the mysteries of the past (and if you would like a professional genealogy translation, you can always contact me here).

* Keep in mind that handwriting varied by person, place and time, so the handwriting sample is only provided to give you an idea of how the word might look. See Twenty Tips for Deciphering Old German Handwriting for more information. 

25 Milestone Words in German Genealogy 

1. Geburt:                                              birth

2. geboren:                                           born; also means née when before a last name

3. Kinder:                                                children

 

4. ehelich:                                             legitimate

5. unehelich:                                       illegitimate

6. getauft:                                                 baptized

7. Taufe:                                                    baptism

8. konfirmiert:                                     confirmed

9. ledig (led.):                                        single, unmarried

10. verlobt:                                               engaged

11. Ehe:                                                      marriage

12. Hochzeit/Trauung:                       wedding

13. geheiratet/verehelicht/getraut:    married (as in the action “The man married the woman.”)


14. verheiratet:                                       married (as in the state of being married, “He is married”)

15. Frau/Ehefrau/Gattin/Weib*:      wife

*This word is related etymologically to our English word “wife.”

16. Mann/Ehemann/Gatte:              husband


17. Zeugen:                                              witnesses

18. Eltern:                                                 parents

19. Wohnort:                                            place of residence

20. geschieden:                                      divorced

21. Witwe:                                                 widow

 

22. Witwer:                                               widower

 

23. gestorben:                                       died



24. Tod:                                                      death

25. Begräbnis/Beerdigung:              funeral or burial

 

 

 

 

20 Tips for Deciphering Old German Handwriting

Researching your German ancestors? If so, I bet you have come across that spidery German handwriting, so beautiful yet elusive to our 21st-century eyes. But it doesn’t have to be so difficult. Below are 20 tips (combined, for your convenience, from my popular posts Ten Tips for Deciphering Old German Handwriting and Ten More Tips for Deciphering Old German Handwriting) to help you put together the puzzle pieces of your past. And as always, if you would like the help of a professional German genealogy translator, contact me here. I would love to hear from you.

Twenty Tips for Deciphering Old German Handwriting

1. Identify letters by the clues they offer. While deciphering old handwriting can feel like solving an incredibly difficult puzzle, the letters themselves often provide nice little clues for us. For example:

*   “h” has a loop both above and below the line. It is easily identifiable in the word “Tochter” (daughter) below.

h tochter

*   “u” has a little “swoop” (my non-technical term) above it and “i” has a dot above it. Word of warning: sometimes the swoop or the dot can be slightly to the right of the actual letter itself. Notice also how everyone’s “swoops” can be slightly different, as seen in the real-life example of the word “gut” (good) below.

u i Kurrentschrift, old German handwriting

*   A straight line above a letter can mean that it is an “n” or an “m” and that there should be two of them. For example, “kommen” (to come) would likely be written with one “m” with a straight line above the letter. Word of warning: Sometimes the “u-swoops” are written as straight lines. Umlauts can be written as straight lines as well.

denn es

This example reads “den es” with a straight line above the “n”, which results in “denn es” (because it).

2. Use your insider information to differentiate between the letters that are agonizingly similar. Although I’m sure the inventors of Kurrentschrift weren’t trying to cause problems for 21st-century readers, they made some of those letters very, very similar to one another. However, if you are familiar with their subtle differences, you can beat the system.

*   “e” and “n”: The “n” (left image below) is written as one unit in a single stroke, while the “e” (right image) is written with two strokes. The “n” is more jagged-looking than the “e”, while the “e” is usually written as a more narrow letter. Notice how the “e” is more narrow than the “n” in the real-life image of “denn” above.

n e

*   “n” and “m”: My trick for distinguishing between “n” and “m” in a word is to count the points at the bottom of the letter. The “n” has three total points at the bottom, while the “m” has four. This sounds obvious, but when you have a word with “en” or “em”, all these letters start to look the same. It helps me to identify the “e”, separate it off from the rest of the word with a line, and then count the points at the bottom of the next letter to see how many there are. In the example below, the word is “mein” (my). You can identify the “m” at the beginning of the word by counting the four points at the bottom and the “n” at the end by noticing the two points after the “i.”

n m mein

3 . Love your letter “S”. Although “s” can be quite tricky, as there are at least three different ways to write it, it is usually pretty easy to identify as each version is somewhat unique from the other letters in the alphabet (none of this e-n-m difficulty).

s

These three letters above are all “s”. The first letter shown is used at the beginning of a lowercase word or a syllable (i.e. in “schreiben” – to write). The second “s” is used at the end of a syllable/word (i.e. in “es”- it). The final is the capital “S”, used for nouns (always capital in German) and names. See the word “es” in the example of “denn es” in Tip 1.

4. Know your abbreviations. If you come across a letter or two all by themselves, it could easily be an abbreviation. This website allows you to type the German abbreviation into its search machine to see what the German word could be. A very common example in genealogical documents is “u.” for “und” (and).

5. Keep your mind in the past. By this I mean – don’t let your brain automatically read the letters as it would a modern-day document. Many of the letters in Kurrentschrift look similar to our cursive today, but are not actually the same letter. It is easy for your mind to simply read them as the letter you learned in school, but don’t give in! The most difficult for me at the beginning was constantly thinking an “e” was an “n”.

6. Play hangman. Once you have identified as many letters in a word as you can, write them out, leaving a blank for the letter(s) you don’t know. With your knowledge of the context or of the German language, see if you can figure out what the missing letters are. I also find this website, WordMine.info, very helpful. It allows you to type in either the beginning or end of the word and then provides you a list of all the possible German words with those exact beginnings or endings.

FullSizeRender

In this example, I filled in the letters I recognized one by one, until only the tricky letter at the beginning was left. It was then obvious that this word must be “Geburtsschein” or “birth certificate.

7. Forget all you know about writing rules. Punctuation? Who needs it? Writing one word on one line? Not for our ancestors! Many historical writers simply did not use periods or commas. While this usually doesn’t make handwriting transcription too difficult, the lack of line rules does. What do I mean by that? In a letter or document, a word may start on one line, and then, without a dash or any type of punctuation, simply continue onto the next line. So if the letters at the end of the line do not seem to be forming any type of word, remember to look to the next line to see if the word continues there.

8. Google, google, google. I can’t imagine translating without it. With the possibility of old fashioned words in historical documents, you may not recognize every word you come across. If you aren’t exactly sure of your transcription, try typing variations of the word into Google search to see which version most frequently appears in other texts and see if they make sense within your document and for your current transcription. The same can be true for last names. Deciphering names can be difficult because there is no context to tell you if you are right or wrong. Try typing the name you think it could be into Google and see if other examples come up. If not, you probably have a letter wrong. This website is also a great tool, showing you the frequency of a last name in the different regions of Germany.

9. Become geographically-inclined (or just use Google Maps). If you know from the context of the document that a certain word is a city or district, but aren’t sure of the exact letters, use Google or Google maps to see if you can find a city that matches your possible transcription in the area where your document is from. The Google auto-correct “Did you mean….” is often very helpful.

10. Always let the document be your guide (Jiminy Cricket’s second piece of advice).

jiminy

Everyone’s handwriting is different, and a certain letter from an 1890 birth certificate may look completely different from the same letter in a World War II military record. If you are able to identify a letter in your current document, remember it, and then look for other occurrences of the same letter throughout the text. I recently translated a letter in which the “s” looked like our modern “r” (I know, I know, I said the “s’s” were easy-they usually are). Once I realized this was an “s” based on my hangman type game, I was able to easily identify other “s’s” in the document and therefore many other words.

11. Get hip with the lingo. Letter writers of the past often used the same phrases over and over in writing, just as we do in English today (“Thank you for your e-mail”, “Attached please find”,  etc.). Being familiar with these common phrases helps in transcribing the old handwriting, as it allows you to better recognize the rest of the sentence. Some phrases that you might find in historical German letters include:

Ich habe deinen Brief erhalten/bekommen. I have received your letter.
Seid herzlich gegrüßt. Literally: Be greeted affectionately.

English: We send you all our warm regards.

Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan. A German Saying: “What God does is well done”
Vielen herzlichen Dank. Many warm/heartfelt thanks.
Wir sind alle gesund. We are all healthy.

As discussed above, abbreviations also appear frequently in old German documents. The most common abbreviations include: “d.”, meaning “den” (the) before a date, as in “d. 2te February (the second of February), “u.” for “und” (and), and “geb.” for “geboren”, meaning “née.” For more help with German abbreviations, check out the post 19 Most Common Abbreviations in German Genealogy.

 12. Master the tiny details of the letters.  In tip number two, we discussed the minute differences between “e”, “n” and “m”. Unfortunately, these aren’t the only letters in Kurrentschrift that look almost the same. Other examples include:

*  “N” and “St” – These two letters are very similar and are often difficult for even a professional to tell apart. If you look closely, however, you can see that the bottoms of the two letters are (or should be) different. The “N” finishes with a swoop to the right, while the “St” finishes with the crossing of the “t” itself. However, in actual documents, this can still be difficult. The 1920s example of “St” in Stunde (hour)  on the bottom also finishes with a swoop to the right and thus even more strongly resembles an N. Here, however,  you can differentiate it from an “N” in the fact that the “t” is (slightly) crossed, as opposed to the “N” in “Nachmittag” (afternoon) above.

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 6.56.21 PM   Nachmittag
Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 3.11.59 PM   Stunden

*   “B”, “C” and “L” – If you look at the three capital letters below, you might be a little alarmed. They are incredibly similar. However, if you know the clues to look for, you will be able to tell them apart. The “C” (middle) is easy to differentiate  from the other two letters as there is no loop at the top. Just a simple stroke with a little downward hook at the top right. As for the “B” (left) and the “L” (right), the “B” is different in that it has a little straight line coming off the bottom swoop, much like our lowercase cursive b today.  Notice this line in the left word “Brief”  (letter) compared to the rather fluid finishing of the “L” on the right in the word “Liebe” (dear). “C” is not a very common letter in German, and is often only found in names, such as “Christian.”

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 6.35.44 PM
*   “v” and “w” –
These lowercase letters look similar, but are actually quite easy to tell apart. While they both have the loop on the right, the “v” only has one stroke before the loop, while the “w” has two.  Below, “v” is on the left, with a real-life example of the word “vielen” (many). “w” is center, followed by an example of the word “wird” (will). Finally, the last column shows both letters in the words “verkauft werden” (will be sold). Notice how the “w” has one more stroke before the loop than the “v” in this sample from an 1868 letter.

V

vielen

wwird verkauft werden

 

13. Understand the importance of occupations.  Just as one of our first questions for a new acqaintance is “What do you do?”, our ancestors also placed a great deal of importance on their occupations. Therefore, on any certificate, the occupation of a person was listed  before the person’s name. For example, a certificate may read that “the farmer Johann Schmidt appeared before the undersigned registrar”, with farmer (Bauer) preceding the name of the person involved.

The level of one’s occupation was also important. Occupation levels included:

“Lehrling” – apprentice

“Geselle” – journeyman (apprenticeship complete)

“Meister” – master

These levels, if listed, always follow the name of the occupation. For example, “Schuhmachermeister” is a person who is a master shoemaker. In the examples below, Friedrich Gottlieb Christian Eckhardt was a Schuhmachergeselle (first handwritten word, top image) before he was a Schuhmachermeister (last handwritten word, top line of bottom image).

Schuhmacher

Schuhmachermeister

14. Think horse-drawn carriage driver. Speaking of occupations, many occupations that were around in the past are no longer around today. Or, if the occupation is still around today, there may have been a different word for it in the past. This website provides an A-Z list of old occupations with their modern-day German translation. If you don’t speak German, you can find the old-fashioned occupation of your ancestor in the left column, and then use a dictionary to translate one of the modern day names in the right column. In my experience, one of the most common occupations for women seems to have been “Näherin” (seamstress), while one of the most common occupations for men seems to have been “Bauer” (farmer). Edna M. Bentz’s book “If I Can, You Can Decipher German Records” has a great list of old-fashioned occupations as well.

15. Expect the unexpected. By this, I mean that words may not be exactly as they are in the dictionary today. Just as our English speaking ancestors used words such as “thee” and “thou”, our German speaking ancestors used different words too. If you transcribe a word and have absolutely no idea what it means, it could easily be a word no longer in use. This website offers a great German-German dictionary (started by the Grimm brothers) for old-fashioned German words.

But what if you still can’t find your word? In that case, if you are certain of your transcription, it very likely could be a spelling mistake on the part of the author. As German spelling did not become widely standardized until the end of the 19th century, words in letters and other documents were often spelled “creatively.” While this can make deciphering certain words rather difficult, it is slightly easier if you are aware of some of the more common mistakes. Below, some examples:

*  a “t” might be substituted for a “d”

*   a “g” might be substituted for a “k” or a “ch”

*   an “f” could be substituted for a “v”

bad spelling

In the above example, the author of the letter writes “ich aich noch nigt” instead of the proper German spelling “ich euch noch nicht” (part of a sentence, literally “I haven’t…you yet.”) The “eu” is consistently replaced with “ai” in this letter and the “ch” with a “g”. Once you start to notice the common mistakes an author makes, you can identify these substitutions in other words in your document.

16. Keep on an eye on those Americans. If your German ancestors were in America, they might have included English words and place names in their letters. I’ve come across “Varmer” (farmer), “Kolorata” (Colorado), “daler” (dollar), and so on. So, if you cannot recognize a German word, take a step back and ask yourself if your ancestor could have been using some of their newly learned English.

17. Be street smart. The word for street in German is “Straße”, often abbreviated “Str.” If you know that a word in your document is a street, but can’t figure out which street it is, use this street-finder website to help you out. You type your ancestor’s city in “Suche im Strassenverzeichnis”, which then pulls up a map of the city and an A-Z list of street names. If you know at least some of the letters in your street name, this can help you recognize the correct transcription of the word.

18. Don’t be fooled by “normal” script. Names of people were often written in normal Latin script, just as the cursive script we use today. It is important to be aware of this fact – for example, you don’t want to see a letter “e” in a name and think that that is how an “e” is written in the rest of the document. Much the opposite – names were often signed one way, while the body of the document was written in Kurrent. This is especially true for church book registers.

In the example below, the author signs her name (Louise H) in “normal” script. You can see that there is no swoop above the “u” as in Kurrent, the “e” at the end of Louise is more like our cursive “e” than the Kurrent “e” that resembles our modern “n” and the “H” is nothing like the complicated Kurrent “H” that goes both above and below the line. However, in the rest of this document, the author would have used the Kurrent letters.

Louise H

19. Understand the system. If you know the information that should be on a document, transcribing is much easier. Luckily, certificates from most regions of Germany/Austria have similar formats, providing the same information for the people involved. Some information you can expect on birth, baptismal, marriage and death certificates include:

*  City, date

*  Person’s name, occupation, city of residency, religion

*  How the person was identified if previously unknown to the registrar (passport, baptismal certificate, military pass, birth certificate)

*  Parents’ names, occupations, city of residency, religion, if they are deceased

*  Witness’ names, occupations, city of residency, religion, age

*  Signatures of those involved, witnesses and registrar

FredMarriageCert

The First Page of a Marriage Certificate, Berlin 1888

For more information on marriage certificates in particular, check out 7 Tips for Reading German Marriage Certificates.

20. And finally, and most importantly, know when to take a break. You’ve almost finished your transcription, but there is  still one frustrating word that you cannot figure out for the life of you. You want to persevere and finish, but my advice is: don’t. Take a break, and things will often look much clearer if you stop and come back later. I’ve experienced this a number of times: The transcription is just about finished, but that one last word is baffling me. I take a break, come back  later or even the next day, and all of the sudden, the word is perfectly clear and I wonder how I didn’t see it before.  As a linguist and not a scientist, I can’t explain how that happens, but it amazes me every time!

With these twenty tips, you should be well on your way to finding your German ancestors. And if you would like a professional to translate your documents, I’d be happy to help – contact me at language@sktranslations.com. Until then, best of luck in your genealogy search!

 

Unbenannt

Image Credit: All original samples have been published with the permission of the client.

All Kurrentschrift letter samples are from the Kurrentschrift wikipedia page, except for “N” and “St”, which can be found here.

Six Reasons Why a Human is Better than Google Translate for Genealogy Documents

*This blog post originally appeared as a guest post  I wrote for Geneabloggers in 2016. Thank you to Thomas MacEntee for letting me repost it here.*

 

Katherine Schober, a German translator specializing in genealogy, offers her advice on the pitfalls of using automated translation programs.

In this day and age, we have everything at our fingertips. Want to know the score of a baseball game? Google it. Curious about a new restaurant in town? Look it up online. Want to know a word in a foreign language? Google Translate.

While it’s wonderful that everything is so easy nowadays, sometimes we need to be a little more careful. With the Google Translate tool in particular, you must ask yourself if it can really provide you with the information you need. Although the site is relatively decent at translating individual words, Google Translate is not recommended for anything more than that, especially in the field of genealogy. Why not? Check out these six reasons below:

#1: Many genealogical documents are handwritten.

This first point is rather obvious, but it should nevertheless be discussed. While the technology behind Google Translate is advanced, the site is simply unable to turn handwritten documents into translated text. “Well,” you might say, “why can’t I just type everything from the document into Google Translate?” My answer: In addition to the problematic translation results you may receive (see below), the handwriting in old documents is often very difficult to read. In German, for example, the script used in documents pre-1950 is completely different from the handwriting used in Germany today (so different, in fact, that most German-speakers themselves are unable to read it!).

Katherine Schober, a German translator specializing in genealogy, offers her advice on the pitfalls of using automated translation programs.

#2: Many genealogical documents contain outdated words that Google Translate does not recognize.

Just as English speakers don’t walk around exclaiming, “Thou art lovely!”, words in other languages have evolved as well. Unfortunately, Google Translate is simply unequipped to deal with the old-fashioned foreign words so common in genealogical translations. This is also true for occupations that no longer exist. I recently translated an 1882 marriage record in which the father was listed as a “Wagner” (the German word for ‘wagon-maker’). Type “Wagner” into Google Translate, and it simply remains “Wagner,” leaving you merely guessing at your ancestor’s profession.

#3: Google Translate often translates idioms and phrases literally, leaving you wondering what in the world your ancestor could have meant.

Some Google-Translate Examples of Idioms:

German Idiom English Meaning Google Translate
Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof. I don’t understand anything. I understand only station.
Wo sich Fuchs und Hase gute Nacht sagen In the middle of nowhere Where fox and hare say goodnight
Mit der Kirche ums Dorf fahren To make something more complicated Take the church around the village

And, if you put these three idioms together, you get this:

genealogy translations 02

Actual Meaning: Why make things more complicated? I am in the middle of nowhere and can’t understand anything.[1]

You can imagine your bewilderment if you are trying to translate a letter and believe your ancestor was somehow trying to accompany a church around an entire village while cavorting with polite woodland creatures. Makes no sense!

#4: Many genealogical documents contain obscure abbreviations that Google Translate ignores.

I recently translated a 1940 list of documents a bride needed for her wedding. As this was a list that she simply wrote for herself, she used many abbreviations throughout the text. When I type one such example into Google Translate, it looks like this:

German Document English Meaning Google Translate
Abstammungsnachweis b. Großelt. Certificate of Heritage from both grandparents (beider Großeltern) Pedigree certificate b. Großelt. (does not translate the two abbreviations)

Again, if you did not speak German, Google Translate would leave you guessing at what your ancestor had written down.

#5: A word in your document can have multiple meanings and Google can only pick one of them.

Take the English word “run.” “Run” can mean jog quickly (She runs in the park), manage (She runs a business), a tear (a run in your stockings) and so on (English With a Twist). How is Google supposed to pick the exact right meaning of the word for your document? Just as English words have multiple definitions, other languages do as well. One such word is the multi-meaning German pronoun “sie”, which, if Google chooses the wrong translation, can either change the meaning of your document or simply cause you a great deal of confusion. Such confusion is (correctly) illustrated by Mark Twain in his essay, “The Awful German Language“:

“the same sound, sie, means you, and it means she, and it means her, and it means it, and it means they, and it means them…think of the exasperation of never knowing which of these meanings the speaker is trying to convey. This explains why, whenever a person says sie to me, I generally try to kill him, if a stranger.”

#6: Google Translate can make absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Here are real examples of what Google Translate did with actual sentences I’ve translated from old letters:

German English Meaning Google Translate
Wenn ich Zeit zum schreiben hatte, so musste ich nach Frankfurt zu meiner Schwester, die mir Vorwurfe macht dass ich sie so wenig besuche. When I did have time to write, I had to go to Frankfurt to see my sister, who accuses me of not visiting her enough. If I had time to write, so I had to Frankfurt to my sister to give me reproach visit from me following so little.
Noch musste ich bemerken das in Ostpreussen eine Hungersnot ist, wofür in allen Städten und Dörfen Geld und Nährungsmittel gesammelt werden. I still need to mention that there is a famine in East Prussia, for which money and food are being collected in all cities and villages. Yet I had to remember this is a famine in East Prussia, are what is collected in all cities and villages of money and Nährungsmittel

If you only look at the Google Translate column, these translated sentences often make no sense or provide the completely wrong idea. For example, “this is a famine in East Prussia” sounds like the writer is part of the famine, when in fact she is just explaining that there is one in another part of the country. Not to mention the “villages of money.”

In conclusion, I do believe that Google Translate can help you with the meanings of individual words here and there. However, if you are serious about your genealogical research, value accuracy and want to learn as much as you can about your ancestors from the documents in your possession, hiring a translator is the way to go.

[1]  This is a very unlikely sentence, but was used to show how Google Translate deals with idioms.

The Magic of German Church Books

German church books can be a gold mine of information for family historians. Before the 1870s, the churches, not civil authorities, meticulously kept track of their members’ births/baptisms, marriages, deaths and more (In 1876, five years after German unification, a law was passed legally requiring civil registry offices to keep records – the church then kept records only for their own interests and no longer for civil reasons). 

Before locating a church record, it is important to know the town where your ancestor came from, and ensure that you are looking for this town in the correct German state. Many towns in Germany have the same name, so knowing its exact location is important. You don’t want to waste time looking in the wrong church’s records!

Once you have verified the town, it is important to know where exactly you can find these church books. Their records, which can go back as early as the sixteenth century, can be found on familysearch.org, on microfilm at libraries with genealogy/history departments and on Archion.de (Protestant archives with over 200,000 church books being digitalized), to name just a few sources. And once you locate them, they offer a plethora of information. Below, see what you can hope to find in each of the various books:

  • Baptisms (Taufregister): Name of child, dates of birth and baptism, parents’ names, mother’s maiden name, legitimacy of the child, occupation of parents, town of residence, pastor’s name, midwife’s name, godparents’ names, etc. The baptismal register may also list the corresponding family book number.
  • Marriages (Eheregister): Name of person married, their occupation, age, parents’ names and occupation, whether the parents are still living, town of residence, spouse’s name, occupation and age, spouse’s parents names, occupation and whether they are still living, dates of marriage banns, date of marriage,  witnesses’ names, ages and occupation, etc.
  • Deaths (Totenregister): Name, occupation, residence, age,  cause of death, date of death, date of burial, surviving relatives, etc.

 

 

 

1851 German Church Book Entry

Of course, these records are usually written in the old German handwriting. If you need help with the transcription or translation, feel free to contact me here. Or check out Ten Tips for Deciphering Old German Handwriting to try some transcription yourself!

Some records, depending on the region and the scribe, may have more or less information than others.  Confirmation and general family records may also exist in some parishes. 

Additional Information You Should Know about Church Records:

  • The entries were usually written in chronological order. 
  • Dates were written in Day-Month-Year format.
  • Some church records were written in Latin instead of German. Some use both languages. 
  • “-in” was sometimes added to the last name of women. For example, “Müller” could be “Müllerin” when discussing a female.
  • Spelling of names was not always standardized. A name could be spelled one way in one record and a different way in another record. Common letter variations include:
    • K/G 
    • B/P
    • F/V
    • D/T 
    • Vowel changes (ey – ay – ei, for example)

Now that you know where to look, go out there and start researching. There’s a wealth of information waiting for you!

Sources:

http://www.ancestry.de/kirchenbuch

https://www.archion.de/de/familienforschung/kirchenbuecher/

http://narafriends-pittsfield.org/gechurch.htm

Kathy Wurth at Family Tree Tours: https://familytreetours.com/

7 Tips for Reading German Marriage Certificates

When researching your genealogy, marriage certificates can be a gold mine of clues to your ancestors’ lives. Names, occupations, places of residence and other interesting tidbits of information often fill the short documents to the brim. However, if you don’t speak German, deciphering these clue-filled pages can be a bit of a challenge (not to mention the difficulty of deciphering the handwriting!) But what if it didn’t have to be so challenging? Below, seven common phrases you might find on German marriage certificates and what they mean:

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1. “Vor dem unterzeichneten Standesbeamten”: “Before the undersigned registrar”.   This is often the beginning sentence of the marriage certificate, underneath the city and date it was issued.

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2. “der Persönlichkeit nach bekannt/der Persönlichkeit nach _______ anerkannt”: “His (or her) identity known”/”His (or her) identity verified by_________”. In the first instance (bekannt), the registrar personally knows the individual and does not need a form of identification. In the second instance (anerkannt), the registrar verifies the person’s identity with a form of identification, filling in the blank with the ID that was presented. It could be a passport, birth certificate, baptismal certificate, military ID, etc.

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3. “geboren den_____ des Jahres_____”: “Born on the (day, month) of the year____”. The year was usually written out in letters rather than numbers.

4. “wohnhaft zu”: “residing in/resident of”. This is then followed by the name of a city or town.

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5. “Sohn/Tochter des_____”: “son/daughter of the______”. This line is normally followed by the occupation of the father, the father’s name, his wife and his wife’s name. If the parents are deceased or if there is any other relevant information about them, it is also mentioned here.

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6. “Zeugen”: “witnesses”. The name, age and occupation of the witnesses, as well as how they were identified, are listed underneath the witness section (usually the second page of the marriage certificate).

7. “Vorgelesen, genehmigt und unterschrieben”: “Read aloud, approved and signed”.  The names of the newly-married couple, as well of the names of the witnesses, are signed underneath this phrase.

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With these tips, deciphering marriage certificates should become a little bit easier. And if you would like to consult a professional translator, don’t hesitate to contact me here – I would be happy to be of service.

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10 German Words You Won’t Find in a Dictionary

Genealogy can be a fascinating journey. Finding your ancestor’s names, what they did with their lives and what their hopes and dreams were is an amazing process. That being said, genealogical research is certainly not without its challenges.

Delving into the depths of history is no easy feat, and it can be even more difficult if your ancestors spoke another language. In many cases, a bilingual dictionary can help you in your search for your family members. What to do, however, if a word is outdated and no longer in the dictionary? While contacting a translator can help you with this problem, sometimes it can be fun to try things yourself. Below, ten common German genealogy words you will not find in a German-English dictionary:*

  1. Ackermann – “farmer” (Today, the German word for “farmer” is “Bauer”.)

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2. Ökonom – “farmer” (In German today, this word usually means economist. In genealogical documents, however, “farmer” is the more common meaning.)

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3. Häusler – “cottager” ( a small farmer who lived in their own cottage)

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4. Hintersaß – “copyholder; smallholder or tenant”*

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5. Chausseewärter – “caretaker of rural roads”

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6. Heuerling – “self-employed farmers who usually received living quarters from the main farmer in exchange for farming”

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7. Weiland – “deceased, the late” (sometimes abbreviated “weil.”)

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8. Verlebten – “deceased, the late” (today the past tense of the word “spend”)

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9. Dermalig – “currently, at present”

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10.  Allhier – “in this place, here” (Used in certificates when describing where the person was from or worked)

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Helpful References for Outdated Words:

  • If I Can You Can Decipher Germanic Records, Edna M. Bentz: Edna provides a list of many old-fashioned occupations and illnesses, along with their English translations.
  • Deutsches Wörterbuch von Jakob und Wilhelm Grimm (German Dictionary by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm): While knowledge of German is required for this dictionary, they offer German definitions for many old-fashioned words.
  • Duden.de: This German-German dictionary has many definitions that German-English dictionaries do not. If you don’t know German, simply copy and paste the Duden definition into an German-English dictionary like this one.

Best of luck with your genealogy search!

*Based on Leo German-English Dictionary

*Definition by “Heath’s New German Dictionary: In two parts, German-English–English-German.” (1888)

 

Image Credit:

http://hewit.unco.edu/dohist/farmrnch/food/clothing/photo3.htm

www2.kenyon.edu

http://www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/Ireland-genealogy.html

www.virginiaplaces.org

www.burnsscotland.com

shau.dvrlists.com

www.germany.travel

www.terapeak.com

www.highbrowmagazine.com

 

19 Most Common Abbreviations in German Genealogy

It happens to the best of us. There we are, happily transcribing our German genealogical document, when we’re suddenly confronted with two obscure letters. What in the world do they mean? In Ten Tips for Deciphering Old German Handwriting and Ten *More* Tips for Deciphering Old German Handwriting, I discuss how frequent abbreviations are in German genealogy. But it doesn’t have to be so difficult! Below, I’ve compiled a list for you of some of the most common genealogical abbreviations and their meanings:

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  1. u. –  “und” (and).

2. v. –  “von” (from).

3. b.v. –  “beide von” (both from). This is often used when describing the residence of two people on a certificate , stating that they are “both from here.”

4. d. –  “den” (the). Seen before a date, as in “d. 25.12.1924” (December 25, 1924).

5. geb. –  “geboren” (literally “born”, but often translates as “nèe”). Usually seen after a woman’s married name and before her maiden name.

6. led. –  “ledig” (single/unmarried). Usually before a name.

7. verh.“verheiratet” (married)

8. Wwe/Wwer“Witwe” (widow) or “Witwer” (widower). Seen in the place where an occupation would normally be, before a name.

9. männl. – “männlich” (masculine, male). Usually seen before the word “child” (Kind).

10. weibl. –  “weiblich” (feminine, female). See above.

11. ev. – “evangelisch” (Protestant). This can also be abbreviated “evan.” Along the same lines, “kath.” stands for “katholisch” (Catholic).

12. Pfr. –  “Pfarrer” (priest/pastor). Common in many church records and baptismal certificates.

13. weil. –  “weiland” (deceased or the late). This would always be before a person’s name.

14. ehel. – “ehelich” (legitimate, as in a child is legitimate). “unehel.” is therefore “unehelich” (illegitimate). These words are common in baptismal records.

15. Bez.“Bezirk” (district). Seen when describing where someone lives or where a document was issued.

16. d.d. –  “de dato” (on this date). This is one of the Latin abbreviations frequently used in German documents.

17. p.t. – “pro tempore” (temporary or acting in the place of).  Another Latin abbreviation, sometimes seen before a pastor’s name.

18. eod. – “eodem” (the same). Another Latin abbreviation found in genealogy documents.

19. ejusd. – “ejusdem” (in the same month or year). One last Latin abbreviation, usually denoting when someone was born, baptized, married, or had passed away.

So, German genealogists, don’t let those pesky abbreviations get the better of you. Use these helpful hints and share them with your fellow researchers using the button below. Together, we can conquer German genealogy!

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*If you would like professional transcription or translation help, contact me here. I’d love to hear from you.

Helpful Abbreviation Websites:

Use these websites to find the entire German word and then use a German dictionary to find the meaning.

Image Credit:

gazette.teachers.net

www.skipprichard.com

8 Questions with St. Louis Genealogical Society: The Largest Local Genealogical Society in the USA

When our ancestors set off for America searching for a better life,  they often didn’t know what to expect or even where they would end up. While many stayed near the East Coast, others, the German and Irish in particular, chose to travel inland and make lives for themselves in St. Louis, Missouri. After all, the city and surrounding area offered the Mississippi River for trade, forests for hunting,  land for farming and even hills for wineries.  While I am lucky in knowing who my ancestors were and where they came from (From Germany to Missouri: My Own Family Story), there are many Americans who remain extremely curious about their family history.

This is where St. Louis Genealogical Society comes in. Founded in 1968, StLGS has been guiding people around the world in their genealogical searches for almost 50 years. Below, they offer you some of their very own genealogical expertise and tricks of the trade to help you with your own family search:
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The St. Louis Riverfront, 1840

1. What is something most people don’t know about genealogical research?

Most people don’t know that only 10% (or even less!) of existing genealogical records are available on the internet. There are many more records available at churches, libraries, court houses, archives and other such places. So it’s very important not to limit your search to the online world!

2. What is the best advice you could give family historians?

The best advice we can give is to start at the very beginning. By this, we mean that you should confirm your ancestors in America before trying to find your ancestors in their home country hundreds of years ago. Have proof of each generation, starting with your grandparents, then  your great-grandparents, and so on. Many people make the mistake of being too excited and trying to locate their great-great-great-grandfather in Germany as their very first step. However, as there were many similar names throughout history, this can lead to researching the  completely wrong person!

Other advice is to research more than only your direct line. It is amazing how many clues you can find from documents related to siblings and aunts and uncles. Town names, parents’ names, etc. can appear in documents where your direct ancestor may not even be mentioned.

3. What is the best advice you can give family historians who are more experienced in genealogical research?

Review, review, review.  When you started out years ago, you didn’t have the experience you have now. Therefore, it is very beneficial to go back and check your work that you did when you began your family history search. You may have missed something important – a vital clue that could help you unlock a mystery of the past. Confirmation of all your research is also incredibly important.

Making a chronological timeline of everything is another piece of advice we find helpful. It helps to organize your information in a clear and concise way.

4. Can you tell us anything about German genealogy in particular?

Most of the German church books date back to the Reformation (16th century). Prior to the Reformation, there was no need to record names in church books, as everyone was the same religion and  belonged to the parish no matter what. After the Reformation, people were both Protestant and Catholic, so it was necessary to record which people belonged to which church.

5. What are the oldest records available in St. Louis?

As St. Louis was founded in 1764, most of the records begin in 1765.

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Records, Records and More Records Available at StLGS

6. What do you think is one of the most challenging aspects of genealogy? How can genealogical societies help family historians with this?

As we stated above, patience seems to be one of the most challenging aspects of genealogy. People are anxious to find ancestors from hundreds of years ago, but this can lead to errors if the more recent ancestors aren’t confirmed first. Genealogical societies can guide people throughout this process and help them find out where and how to locate important documents.

7. What has been one of the most rewarding moments for you at StlGS?

St. Louis Genealogical Society hosted the National Conference last year. We had over 3,000 attendees and 110 volunteers. It was a great week, complete with many workshops and events.

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8. And finally, do you have anything you would like to add about St. Louis Genealogical Society in particular?

St. Louis Genealogical Society is the largest local county-level volunteer-run genealogy society in the US. We have approximately 100 regular volunteers, many of whom come in on a weekly basis to help index, scan and more. We also have about 2,000 members worldwide. We are currently working on our congregation project, collecting records from 1,000+ churches in the St. Louis area in order to place them online for our members. We also work together with the St. Louis County Library and offer free monthly genealogy lectures there,  as well as free classes for our members at our office.

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“The Ballroom”, where St. Louis Genealogy Society volunteers are hard at work.

So whether you are delving into the depths of your own Missouri ancestors or are simply interested in the history of the city, the St. Louis Genealogical Society is definitely worth a trip. And if your ancestors never set foot in Missouri, these tips and tricks of the trade from the St. Louis genealogy experts can be applied to ancestry searches all over the world. From all of us, best of luck in your genealogy search!

 

* For those researching their German ancestry,  StlGS and the St. Louis County Library are offering a discussion meeting on “Missouri’s German Heritage”, led by Dorris Keevin-Franke, on Saturday, July 9, at 10 a.m. in the auditorium at St. Louis County Library Headquarters.

* St. Louis Genealogical Society is open Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.  See their website for contact information.

Image Credit:

St. Louis Photo: http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/metro/look-back/look-back-cholera-epidemic-firestorm-afflict-st-louis-in/article_444e5a39-e350-5800-9697-94cdab955cd5.html

All other images are my own.