Essential German Genealogy Vocabulary: The Collection

Genealogy can be challenging enough searching for records – but what if you don’t speak the language in which those records are written? In this post, I’ve gathered all my German genealogy vocabulary articles for you in one place, so that you can find the words that best fit your genealogy needs. Enjoy!

German Military Record Vocabulary: The Most Important Words

Deciphering military records can be hard. Filled with abbreviations, town names you’ve never heard of, and complicated military terms, these records are sure to give anyone a headache. But if your ancestor was in the military, these documents are often full of fascinating insight and incredible details about your soldier’s life – thus making them well worth the work. 

Below, I’ve compiled a list for you of the most common words on German military records (in my translating experience). I hope they will make your deciphering work a little easier. Now, off to find your soldier!

Militär Military
Schlacht Battle
Kämpfe Fights, Conflict, Battle
Krieg War
Waffen Arms
Armee, Heer Army
Amt Office
Wehrmacht Armed Forces
Truppen Troops
Marine Navy
Dienstgrad Military Rank
Kommandeur Commander
Führer Leader
Soldat Soldier
Gefreite Lance-Corporal
Grenadier Rifleman, Infantryman
Musketier Musketeer
Stab Staff
Feldwebel, Wachtmeister, Stabsunteroffizier Sergeant
Kompagnie Company
Einheit Unit
Regiment Regiment
Korps Corps
Bataillon (Batl.) Battalion
Abteilung (Abt.) Division
Infanterie Infantry
Batterie Battery
Artillerie Artillery
Ersatz, Reserve Reserves
Freiwillige Volunteer
Füsilier Heavy Infantry Unit
Luftwaffe Airforce
Flugzeug, Flieger Airplane
Flak Anti-Aircraft
Lazarett Field Hospital
Feld Field
Abwehr Defense
Kanone, Geschütz Cannon
Eintritt Joining Up
Führung Conduct
Dienst Service
Versetzt Transferred
Entlassung Discharge
Orden Medals, Decoration
Bestrafung, Strafe Punishment
Verletzung Injury
Kriegsgefangene Prisoner of War
Tot Dead
gefallen Died in Battle

German Church Record Vocabulary: The Most Important Words

German church records can be a genealogist’s dream. Filled with names, dates, places of residence and more, these entries can be the key to breaking down the brick walls in our genealogy research. If you don’t speak German, however, these records may seem a bit  overwhelming. But never fear! Below, I’ve compiled the most important vocabulary words you’ll need to know when analyzing German church records – keep this list on hand, and you’ll be well on your way to filling in your family tree. 

Important Church Record Vocabulary

Name Name, Namen, Nahme, Nahmen
Parish Pfarre, Gemeinde
local hiesig
Baptism Taufe
Birth Geburt
Child Kind
Son Sohn
Daughter Tochter
Mother Mutter
Father Vater
Parents Eltern, Aeltern
Boy Knabe, Junge
Girl Mädchen
Stillborn totgeboren, todtgeboren
Year, Month and Day Jahr, Monat und Tag
(In the) Morning; Afternoon; Evening früh; nachmittags; abends
Legitimate; Illegitimate ehelich; unehelich
Profession/Occupation Stand, Beruf, Gewerbe
Godparents/Sponsors Paten, Pathen, Taufpaten, Taufpathen, Gevatter
Witnesses Zeugen, Beistand, Beystand, Beistände
Pastor/Priest; Assistant Pastor Pfarrer, Priester; Koop., Coop.
Marriage Trauung, Ehe
Groom Bräutigam
Bride Braut
Married verheiratet, verehelicht
Wife Frau, Ehefrau, Gattin, Weib, Eheweib
Husband Mann, Ehemann, Gatte
Location/Place of Residence Ort, Wohnort
Divorced geschieden
Widower/Widow Wittwer, Witwer; Wittwe, Witwe
Death Tod
Die; Died sterben; gestorben, starb
Burial/Funeral Begräbnis, Beerdigung

Author’s Note: For more church record vocabulary and tips on deciphering your church records, check out my newest book The Magic of German Church Records: Finding the Key to Your Ancestor’s Past.

German Language Insight for Genealogists

While learning German is obviously not required for German genealogy research, it often helps to have at least a bit of understanding of the language when looking for your ancestors.  In addition to being able to recognize the most important genealogy words in German records, knowing a little about how the German language works can help you to narrow down what documents you think are important for your genealogy research. Below, I have summarized some of the most basic facts about the German language, in the hopes that this may give you a bit of a leg up when looking at your German documents.

1. All nouns are capitalized.

In the German language, all nouns (persons, places and things) are capitalized, no matter if it is a “proper noun” or not. For example, the word birth (Geburt) is capitalized in German, as is the word child (Kind). So if you see a capital letter, you now know that it does not necessarily mean that the word is a name – it’s likely just a noun.

The word Geburt (birth) is written with a capital “G”.

2. German has many different words for the word the.

 

Crazy, right? Depending if the word is the subject (Nom), direct object (Akk), indirect object (Dat), or possessive (Gen)*, the German word for the changes. No need to worry about what these grammatical terms mean for this article (unless you are a grammar nerd like myself – in that case, see below), but if you see any of the words above, you will know they all mean the. 

3. Lowercase words starting with ge- are likely past tense words.

The German past tense is formed with either  haben/sein (to have or to be – see how they conjugate below) + the past tense of the verb, which is usually formed with ge-. For example, the German word for to eat is essen. To say I ate, you would say Ich habe gegessen. The German word for to drive is fahren. To say I drove, you  would say Ich bin gefahren. 

Some verbs use a “t” form in their past tense instead of the “-en” ending. For instance, the word for to play is spielen in German, with the past tense (I played) written as Ich habe gespieltWhile getting into all the rules of the past tense here would take a bit too long, the important idea to take away is that if you see haben or sein plus ge-verb, the sentence is likely in past tense.

4. Umlauts can also be written out with an “e” after the vowel. 

Most German writers do use the umlaut (ä, ö or ü), but in some texts, you will see this sound written as ae, oe and ue instead. In genealogy, this is especially relevant for the spelling of certain last names. For instance, the last name Mueller is spelled M-u-e-l-l-e-r in America, but our German ancestors spelled it M-ü-l-l-e-r. The ü changed to a ue in English spelling. 

5. German loves compound words.

The German language consists of many compound words, or two words combined together to form one. How does this help you? Well, if you come across a word and can’t find it in your dictionary, try looking up the two parts of the word individually. This should then help you to form a better idea of what the author could have meant. 

Some fun examples of German compound words include:

6. Sometimes the verb is written at the very end of the sentence. 

While many German sentences do use Subject-Verb-Object word order (just like we do in English: “I ate the burger”, in which the verb, ate, comes right after the subject, I), sometimes German puts the verb at the very end of a sentence or phrase. Why would they do such a crazy thing, you ask? Well, if the sentence includes a certain type of word (a subordinating conjunction*, to be exact), such as weil (because)dass (that), ob (whether), während (during), etc., this is a signal for the verb to move to the end of a sentence, as it cannot be directly after the subject when one of these words are present. So if you don’t see the verb after the subject, keep reading, and it may be the very last word in the sentence. See this article on German word order for more information: https://www.fluentu.com/blog/german/learn-german-word-order/.

Mark Twain explains this crazy grammar best in his article “The Awful German Language“: 

“An average sentence, in a German newspaper, is a sublime and impressive curiosity; it occupies a quarter of a column; it contains all the ten parts of speech — not in regular order, but mixed; it is built mainly of compound words constructed by the writer on the spot, and not to be found in any dictionary — six or seven words compacted into one, without joint or seam — that is, without hyphens; it treats of fourteen or fifteen different subjects, each inclosed in a parenthesis of its own, with here and there extra parentheses which reinclose three or four of the minor parentheses, making pens within pens: finally, all the parentheses and reparentheses are massed together between a couple of king-parentheses, one of which is placed in the first line of the majestic sentence and the other in the middle of the last line of it — after which comes the VERB, and you find out for the first time what the man has been talking about; and after the verb — merely by way of ornament, as far as I can make out — the writer shovels in “haben sind gewesen gehabt haben geworden sein,” or words to that effect, and the monument is finished. I suppose that this closing hurrah is in the nature of the flourish to a man’s signature — not necessary, but pretty. German books are easy enough to read when you hold them before the looking-glass or stand on your head — so as to reverse the construction — but I think that to learn to read and understand a German newspaper is a thing which must always remain an impossibility to a foreigner.”

You can see what Mark Twain means in this newspaper article I had the pleasure of translating below. The subject of the sentence, Termin (appointment), is in the second line, while the verb festgesetzt (was set) doesn’t appear until 9 lines later! So if you can’t find the verb in your document, don’t give up – just read on for a few more hours and it may eventually appear. 

While there are of course many more intricacies to the German language, it is my hope that these basic tips will give you a bit more of an idea of how German works. The German language is at times fascinating, at times entertaining, and yes, as Mark Twain put it, at times awful  – but overall, it is a great language to know, especially if you’re researching your German genealogy. Until next time, auf Wiedersehen (which happens to be another great compound word: wieder means again, sehen means to see)!

Image Credit: www.itchyfeetcomic.com

* Cases in German, explained with English examples:

Example Sentence: The girl threw me the ball. 

Nominative case is the subject, which answers the question “who is doing the action?”.  

Who threw the ball? The girl. Girl is therefore the subject of the sentence.

Accusative case is the direct object, which answers the question “who or what after the verb?”. The girl threw what? The ball. Ball is therefore the direct object of the sentence and in the accusative case.

Dative case is the indirect object, which answers the question “to whom or for whom after the verb?”.

The girl threw the ball to whom? To me. Me is therefore the indirect object of the sentence and in the dative case.

Genitive case in German is the possessive case, expressed as “The sister of my father….” 

Of my father would be in the genitive case in German.

*Subordinating conjunction: http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/parts-of-speech/conjunctions/subordinating-conjunctions.html

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

 

 

 

 

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:*

This post contains some  affiliate links, which does not affect you at all, but does helps support my business as I earn a small amount from qualifying purchases as an Amazon associate. This in turn helps me to continue supporting you with educational (I hope!) genealogy content. That being said, I personally own – and personally love – anything I recommend, and hope that these resources help you as much as they have helped me. I couldn’t translate without them!

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

fb5e443b27334ceaeee759cf069e9676

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

cornad

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

ThatchedCottage

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

marshall44

5. Chausseewärter – “caretaker of rural roads”

valleypike

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

imageGen

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

gravestone

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

download (1)

9. Dermalig – “currently, at present”

home-insurance-company-1880-calendar-folding-advertising-card-providence-ri-475d7363d566b622900cb97d2135fe7a

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

download

Helpful References for Outdated Words:

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