FREE Webinar: Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting

Date: Thursday, June 25, 1:00 EST

Description:

Frustrated with that old German handwriting? You’re not alone!

In this LIVE webinar, learn from professional German genealogy translator Katherine Schober:

  • How you can easily recognize certain letters in the old German handwriting
  • What those pesky abbreviations mean in historical documents
  • Spelling variations you need to know to decipher the words of your ancestors
  • Best websites to use in your work
  • Plus much more!

If you’ve missed this presentation at conferences, now’s your chance to see a good part of it!

Limited spots available – sign up below to save your seat.

Genealogy Quick Start Live: Immigration/Naturalization Myths and Transcribing Foreign Records

In this 1-hour episode, learn the truth behind major immigration myths and my favorite transcription tips for working with your foreign records. 

First 30 Minutes: Immigration/Naturalization Myths – Busted

Second 30 Minutes: 4 Tips for Transcribing Foreign Records

For more detailed German handwriting tips, check out this week’s webinar:
5 Top Websites to Decipher German Handwriting. 

A Visit With Grandma is Worth More Than You Think – Here’s Why (Guest Post by India Young)

When’s the last time you called your grandma?

Maya Angelou once said, “The more you know of
your history, the more liberated you are.”

While studying history at the University of Utah about five years ago, I happened upon an article in The New York Times that changed my life. It not only reaffirmed my belief in the value of history, but also redirected my course of study within the field as a whole.

Families may want to create a mission statement similar to the ones many companies use to identify their core values.
The Family Stories That Bind Us, New York Times, 2013

Entitled The Family Stories That Bind Us, this article provides scientific insight on the connection between doing one’s own family history and an increased capacity to develop resiliency in the face of opposition, specifically in the case of adolescent youth. In discussion of a study conducted at Emery University in the United States, this article concludes that:

The more children know about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.

Grandma, Grandson, Generations, Love, Hold Tight

What an
insightful discovery! Having grown up in a society bursting at the seems with
childhood mental illnesses such as depression, ADHD, ADD, bipolar disorder, and
anxiety, I can affirm that the cry for psychological stability is literally
everywhere. Perhaps this is one way in which history, and more specifically our
own personal history, can have real, tangible benefits in the lives of everyday
people, children and adults alike.

How This Discovery Opened My Eyes…

After graduation, I began interviewing the elderly in my community. I listened to and recorded their life stories, and then made videos of their stories for their posterity to keep. The results were pretty incredible. My eyes were opened from behind the lens as I left each interview feeling inspired, strengthened and connected to something so much greater than myself. Their grit and tenacity, coupled with a greater perspective of life as a whole, changed me for the better.

It’s Bigger Than Me…

While I’d happily keep doing these 1-on-1 interviews for the rest of my days, I think that this is something bigger than just me. I believe with all my heart that every child, teenager and young adult need to have the experience of sitting with and really listening to someone much older and wiser than them.

I’ve come up with a way to make it easy and fun for young people to do just this; to interview and record their elderly relatives telling stories from their lives. (More on that here if you’re curious..). However, while COVID-19 is still a grave concern right now, I know we can’t physically visit our elderly loved ones in their homes. So! In the interim I’m instead encouraging  *virtual visiting* of the elders in our communities!

My Challenge to You…

This week I challenge you or your kids to do a video-chat with someone in your life who could use a visit today. This could be a grandma, grandpa, a neighbor, or a family friend. Pick up the phone and FaceTime or Skype or Facebook video chat with them and just SEE the magic as they light up at the sight of your face. It will mean the world to them, and here’s the secret, it will mean the world to you, too.

And, if you need a little help to get the conversation rolling and keep it interesting, I wrote an ebook called Grandparent Chats a few months ago when quarantine began. It’s a collection of 10 curated questionnaires with the two-fold goal of:

-lifting the spirits of the elderly by engaging with them on a regular basis, and;

-inspiring youth to see personal value in the lessons our elders have to share.

The questions cover themes like ancestry, career, love & relationships, and spirituality. I’ve included a link to download the first Grandparent Chat for free here, if you’re interested!

In a society so focused on ‘having more’ and ‘being more,’ perhaps one way to thrive today is to better understand how we fit within history as a whole. Maybe one key to knowing how to best move forwards with purpose and confidence is to lean on the lessons of the past to provide guidance and context. I love these words written by historian Frank Harper nearly 9 decades ago in 1936:

While the outside is altered, the heart of life is unaltered.

We are, after all, a sum of many parts, and perhaps so much of that which has come before us actually does reside in who we really are.

Happy chatting!

References:

“The Family Stories That Bind Us.” The New York Times

Hi, I’m India – a new mom, fitness junkie and avid family historian. I believe that history gives us context, and I fear that in the midst of today’s fast paced world, we don’t take the time to appreciate the valuable lessons our elders have to share. My husband and I launched my passion project, Narrativo, in late 2019. We promote bonding between generations while giving families a way to preserve their stories with lifelike quality at a reasonable price. We strive each day to help young people find strength in the stories of the past, feel a sense of belonging in a greater human context, and to develop and intergenerational self. Check us out at www.narrativo.co!

How German City Directories Helped Me Find My Great-Grandfather (Guest Post by Garth Wunsch)

Have you hit a brick wall? Is your one German ancestor giving you more trouble than you could ever have imagined? Luckily, there’s another source available – one you might never have considered. Thank you to Garth Wunsch for sharing his journey of using these fantastic sources with us! 

Berlin City Directory

How German City Directories Helped Me Find my Great-Grandfather

I’m seventy-five years old, which I seldom think about, but today is still the first day of the best half of my life… and at the rate my genealogical research is going, I may well need that next three score and ten… well actually, fifteen, to solve all the riddles my family history has posed.

Genealogy is strictly a hobby, so no professional letters after my name, no book credits, no public speaking… and in fact this is the first published article I’ve written outside my own genealogical society in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.  So this is an amateur’s story using “ancient” city directories (German: Adressbücher) from Eastern and Western Europe. I was amazed at what they have to offer…

It all started with Grandma…

My interest in our family history began with a Q & A between my paternal grandmother and myself. Grandma was doing her usual thing… working at something or other around the giant flat-topped Findlay cook stove, the heartbeat of the home in pre-electricity Anywhere. Although that encounter was well over forty years ago, I still have the original notes I scribbled with a red pencil on buff newsprint!

Fast forward four decades…I’m attending one of our monthly genealogical meetings, and I come across a magazine left behind for us by another member. The feature article, on using the World Wide Web to research your German roots, included a website that I hadn’t seen before. I decided to check it out – and was very glad I did. 

A Trip Back in time…

Once at the computer, I type in the link, and find myself inside thousands of pages of old German Fraktur text. I was, in effect, looking through pages and pages of digitized city directories spanning many decades of Berlin’s residents. In addition to names, these directories included: 

  • People’s addresses
  • Who else lived in the building
  • People’s occupations
  • Double-index between name and address for businesses and individuals

WOW! 

Could my great-grandfather Adolph be somewhere in these historical pages?

To access these Berlin city directories yourself:

1. Go to https://digital.zlb.de/viewer/index/
2. Click on the telephone and address book image. 
3. Click on the little German flag at the top right, and it will switch to the British flag – and English text (no need to do this if you are fluent in German). 
 
For other address books besides Berlin, simply Google “Adressbuch + your ancestor’s city” and see what comes up!

on the trail of my great-grandfather…

In 1900, the population of Berlin was 1,888,848 – a lot of names to go through! Luckily, the directory only listed the “heads of households”, so this narrowed down the search a bit at least…

From my Q&A with grandma forty years before, I knew that Adolph (the name he went by – and the only name I had for him) was a baker by trade, that he lived in Berlin, and eventually married the young Fräulein that delivered the baked goods every morning – the baker’s maid.

Sample Page of Berlin City Directory

In the surname section, I began my painstaking struggle with the text, looking for our last name of Wunsch. I searched through the W’s, moving 50 pages at a time, until at last I landed in approximately the right spot.

But suddenly, those upper case W’s looked like fancy English M’s to me! Perusing page after page of Fraktur font had “fraktured” my brain and I had trouble remembering W’s looked so different! Because of that, I actually skipped past the name Wunsch on my first go. It appeared to my English brain as Munich. I was confused, how did I end up back in the M’s? 

Then it dawned on me – again – hey silly, this is Fraktur and that is a W. So back I go, looking for that Fraktur Wunsch,  and there it was!

I Found the last name, now what?

While the city directory is organized alphabetically by surname, under the surname, there are no rules. It appears they were just typeset in random order . So how to find Adolph?

Luckily, I only had six A. Wunschs’ to choose from. One was a female with her married name. (Useful tip… if a female is listed, she’s likely a widow, and you get her married name too). That narrowed my search down to five.

Recall I mentioned that occupations were listed in these records? There was a miller and and a cigarette maker… and my German isn’t good enough to figure out the rest… but thanks to Google Translate, I knew that “baker” was Bäcker. To my great good fortune, of the five names listed, there was only one Bäcker. I had him!

Wunsch, W.A., Bäcker (baker)

And the best part…

Based on the “A’, the last name, the location, and occupation, it had to be him, but what was that W before the A? I called up Gerry Rosenfeld, my German-speaking friend and a fellow researcher, to share my great discovery.  Gerry had an Ancestry subscription, so off he went, and in twenty minutes called back with info on Wilhelm Adolph Wunsch. Everything matched with my great-grandfather, especially his birthdate! 

Discovering this W was crucial to my future research – I could now use the name Wilhelm Adolph Wunsch to find more information on my great-grandfather (For more information on German names, see here). 

And find it I did! Knowing his name was Wilhelm Adolph Wunsch allowed me to find his long-sought marriage certificate below:

I trust this little story will encourage you to keep up your search and find your own German ancestors!

In conclusion:

1. City directories can provide you with the name, address, occupation, housemates, and business information of your German ancestor.

2. To access city directories, either use this link for the Berlin directories or type in the German word “Adressbuch + city name” to see if you can find your town’s address book. 

3. The first names may be in random order under the alphabetized surname. Knowing the names are in random order is useful to remember if you happen to be searching a really long surname list, such as Schimidt. You just never know where your Schmidt is on the list…never give up!

4. Keeping a discovery journal as you make your great genealogy finds may be very helpful for future research (for yourself and other family members). 

Good hunting!

Related Links: How German Address Books at Ancestry.com Are Helping Bust Brick Walls 

Garth Wunsch:
Born on a farm in 1944 in Mattawa, Ontario,  I was raised in the mining village of Creighton Mine, now a ghost town, but technically part of the City of Greater Sudbury. The town consisted almost entirely of first and second generation European immigrants, so at an early age I developed an ear and love for those languages, which has proven valuable in my genealogical pursuits. In 2015 I was able to make a successful research and vacation trip to Poland, my paternal ancestral home.
 
I’ve been a member of the Sudbury branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society, recently rebranded Ontario Ancestors, for about four decades. In that time I’ve been responsible for streamlining our cemetery transcription and publishing process, thus helping to greatly enlarge our database (and income). I also spearheaded the copying, indexing and publishing the employment records of about fourteen thousand employees of the Mond Nickel Company, the primary miner in the Sudbury Mining Camp from 1905 – 1928. Ancillary to all this is my ongoing support of the branch as an active photographer/memory keeper.

FREE WEBINAR: 5 Top Websites to Decipher the German Handwriting

Description: Does the old German handwriting seem overwhelming? An obstacle insurmountable in your German genealogy journey? If so, it’s time to learn the top online resources that make deciphering that script much easier! 

Professional German genealogy translator Katherine Schober will show you the tools she uses every day to make working with those scary squiggles doable – and – dare we say it – actually kind of fun. Register now to find the time that works best for you – limited spots available. 

Understanding Numbers in German Genealogy

In order to decipher your ancestor’s dates of birth, marriage, and death in German genealogy, you’ll need to understand how numbers work. Luckily, once you learn numbers one through ten, you have a major head start!

Numbers one through twelve, seen below, will need to be learned by heart:

Video Fun

You can also practice counting to ten with this simple German YouTube video. I find language videos for children are the best way to learn – the catchy tune gets stuck in your head no matter what your age, and you’ll find you have the numbers memorized in no time!

The Teens

Once you are confident with 1-10 (and can remember eleven and twelve from the table above), it’s time to move on to the teens, numbers you will also see in dates on your documents. 

For the numbers 13-19, you simply take the first four letters of the number between three and nine, and then add the word “zehn” to it (our equivalent of “teen”).

More Video Fun

In the video below, review your numbers 1-10, and then add 11-20 to your knowledge!

The Multiples of Ten

Next, it’s important to learn the multiples of ten. While twenty (“zwanzig”) and thirty (“dreißig”) are exceptions, the standard rule is that  you again take the first four letters of the numbers between one and ten and add the word “zig” after (“zig” is like our “ty” in English). Check out the table below, with the word for “hundred” (hundert), thrown in for good measure. 

The In-Betweens

The next part of learning numbers is perhaps the most complicated. For numbers such as 21-29, or 31-39, and so on, you write these numbers  the reverse of how we would in English. 

For example, in English, we would say twenty-two, stating the bigger number first, followed by the smaller number (twenty, then two). In German, however, you would say the smaller number first. For example: 22 would be literally translated as “two and twenty”, or “zweiundzwanzig” in German. 54 would be “four and fifty” or “vierundfünfzig” in German.

And More Video Fun

And if you really love these videos (and how can you not – they are numbers with eyes!), here’s one taking you all the way up to 100!

Important Genealogy Facts to Know

Now that you know numbers in German, there are a few things you should be aware of for genealogy in particular:

 

1.  A “-te”, “-ten”, or a period after a number makes it into an ordinal number (like fourth instead of four in English)

2. The abbreviation “d.” before a date simply stands for “den”, which means “the” (as in d. 6. Mai – the 6th of May)

3. Sevens can be crossed in the middle in German. 

4. Ones can sometimes be written to resemble the lowercase letter “i”. 

5. The number thirty can be written as “dreißig”, “dreissig”, or “dreÿßig” (or another variation). This spelling variaton of “eÿ” instead of “ei” can also apply to the number three (“drei”). 

6. The number “seventy” was sometimes written as “siebenzig” in the past, instead of the shortened “siebzig” used today. 

While handwritten numbers can vary, they tend to resemble those in the image below:

 

For more information on deciphering dates in particular, see The Ultimate List of Months in German Genealogy. Anything else you would add about numbers? Let us know in the comments below!

Premium Member of the Week: Alexander Tolksdorf

1. WHAT’S YOUR NAME?

Alexander Tolksdorf

2. HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN DOING GERMAN GENEALOGY and what got you started?

Over 10 years.
 
My paternal grandparents immigrated to the United States from Germany in the 1950s. As such, I began exploring my family history directly in German records and sources from the get-go. Indeed, as all of my grandparents immigrated to the United States, Germany seemed like the easiest place to start!
 

3. What’s your favorite genealogy story from your family?

A story my great grandmother loved to recount. While I never met her directly, the story has been retold through my father. My great grandmother grew up in the Prussian province of Posen, near Ostrowo, on a farmstead, which contained a cherry orchard. She was a young girl when World War I broke out, and one day witnessed soldiers from the Russian army foraging across the farm collecting cherries. One soldier decided to demonstrate his civility to my onlooking family, so he proceeded inside the house to wash the cherries. Unusual for the time, the house contained an indoor bathroom and toilet. Indeed, the soldier spotted the toilet and, thinking it a washbasin of sorts, deposited his cherries in the toilet to wash them — and of course, pulled the lever. As the cherries disappeared before his eyes due to this new dark magic, he proceeded to pull out his rifle and shoot up the toilet while yelling obscenities! Certainly must have been frightening at the time, but my great grandmother always burst out laughing when telling the story!
 

4. What’s One Piece of Genealogy Advice You’d Give to Others?

Always keep looking! Retrace your steps and approach the problem from a different angle. Often time, genealogical records and resources can be difficult to find or access, but will reward your persistence.

5. How has the premium membership helped your research in german genealogy?

 I am actively looking to improve and develop my ability to read and transcribe the old German scripts. The Premium Membership has given me invaluable tips and tricks to analyze a new piece of text and the ample practice to develop my skills.