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. 

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!

The Magic of German Church Records: The Book

Learn how to extract your ancestor’s information from German church records – without needing to speak German!

If you are researching your German ancestors, it is more likely than not that you will run into church records at some point in your research. For years, it was the German churches – not civil authorities – who meticulously kept track of their members’ births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths. Filled with information such as your ancestor’s name, parents’ names, occupations, dates, relationships, and more, these records are an amazing find for any German genealogist. But there is just one problem – they’re not in English.

In this how-to guide, learn how you can extract the information you need from German church records – without having to decipher every word on the page. Complete with handpicked examples from real German church records, this book teaches you to:

  • Locate those valuable church records for your German ancestor
  • Take yourself step-by-step through baptismal records, marriage records, death records – in both column and paragraph format – to pick out the details of your ancestor’s life
  • Recognize the different spelling variations of your ancestor’s name and hometown
  • Understand what church record phrases, symbols, and abbreviations mean and how these can help your genealogy research
  • Convert names of commonly-seen feast dates into actual dates of birth, marriage, and death for your ancestor
  • Work with the best technological tools and resources to make your genealogy journey easier – and more fun!

Best yet, this book includes the German transcriptions and English translations of multiple sample records – as well as comprehensive German vocabulary lists with handwritten examples of these important genealogy words.

Whether you are just starting out in the field or have worked with church records for years, this book will teach you the must-know methods to unlock the mysteries of your ancestor’s past. Are you ready to get started?

A Translator’s Guide to Online Translation Tools: What to Use and What Not to Use for Your Genealogy Documents

Deciphering German records if you can’t speak the language can be a challenge, to say the least. While I am always here if you’d like the help of a professional, sometimes it’s nice to have quick and easy online resources you can turn to in a pinch. Below, find four popular online translation resources, and my thoughts on each:

1. Google Translate

Google Translate is perhaps the most well-known online translation tool. While Google Translate can work well for individual words (such as Bruder for brother) or very short phrases, you do need to be cautious when using it for anything else. In Six Reasons Why a Human is Better Than Google Translate for Genealogy Documents, I outline the shortcomings of this tool for genealogy. For the purposes of this article, however, the two most important factors working against this tool are:

  • Genealogy documents contain many old-fashioned words and idioms that this machine translation doesn’t recognize.
  • Google Translate can’t always tell the meaning of the word for the context that pertains to your specific document. 

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. How is Google to know exactly what definition your document requires?

That being said, Google Translate is continuing to improve, so feel free to use this tool – just try to stick to individual words or phrases to give the site less room for error. And if you can, verify the definition provided with a second source.

In the example above, I was trying to figure out what the Latin phrase “natus et renatus est” meant in my German document. Google, for some reason, came up with “buttocks and revival”. Not sure where that came from – the phrase means “born and baptized”. So always take Google’s translations with a grain of salt!

2. Deepl 

Deepl.com is a relatively new translation tool, and I like it better than Google Translate. While it does have similar shortcomings to Google Translate in terms of genealogy documents, I find it to be more accurate overall.  It’s actually helpful to use both together – copy and paste your phrase into Google Translate, and then copy and paste it into Deepl. Does one give you a better translation than the other?

If you are dealing with idioms, Deepl is definitely better than Google Translate. While Google Translate still tends to translate idioms word for word, providing you with a literal translation (cats and dogs are actually falling out of the sky, instead of it’s raining hard), Deepl will often provide you with the actual meaning of the idiomatic phrase.  

Below, I typed the German idiom “Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof” (I don’t understand anything at all) into both tools. Google translated the phrase literally, giving you the result “I only understand train station.” This would make no sense to you as an English speaker, and could completely change what you think your ancestor’s document means. Deepl, however, recognized that the phrase was an idiom, translating it as “It’s as clear as mud” and providing you with an alternative below that “It’s all Greek to me.” One point for Deepl!

 

 

 

 

3. Linguee.com

If you have a word or short phrase and want to be more certain of an accurate translation, then Linguee is the site for you. This tool shows you your German word or phrase translated into English by actual translators instead of machines. Upon clicking search, the site provides you with the word’s definition, as well as various sample sentences that include your word/phrase in a specific context (in both German and English). Scroll through the examples, and find which definition of the word best matches the context of your document. 

Usually, the translation that occurs the most on the right side is the accurate translation, but make sure that it makes sense within the context of your own document. 

4. Word Reference 

Word Reference is a great online dictionary that often provides sentence examples for the word in question. Again, this helps you to understand if your word is being translated correctly in context. Notice how it provides various meanings and examples for the word “married” below. 

In conclusion, we are lucky we live in an age where there are so many translation tools available on the Internet. However, it’s important to understand how each tool works, as this will allow you to make sure you are translating your German words as accurately as possible. 

Finally, if you’d like a bit of a boost with the German language, see German Language Insight for Genealogists. And if you do choose to go with a translator, see 5 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Genealogy Translation.

Happy translating!

The Top German Words to Find Your Ancestor’s Hometown

Discovering ancestral towns is a thrilling part of any genealogist’s research. But if you don’t speak the language, how are you supposed to know if a word is the name of a town or simply another foreign term? In the table below, find all the town-related words you’ll need to know when working with your ancestors’ German records – as well as what these words may look like in the old German handwriting!

The table starts out with prepositions that may come before the name of a town (all with slight variations in meaning, but which all can be translated with “from” if appearing before a town), followed by many words meaning “here” (many of which are old-fashioned), and concluding with some general town vocabulary that’s important for any German genealogist’s knowledge base. For more information on discovering your ancestor’s hometown, see 5 Tips for Deciphering Town Names on German Records. Best of luck!

*Please note: Due to font limitations, the “final s” of the old German handwriting could not be typed here. Any final “s” in German (an “s” at the end of a syllable or the end of a word), should actually look like this:

This applies to the word “aus” below.*

Eight Reasons You Should Be Using Newspapers.com For Your Genealogy Research

Eight Reasons You Should Be Using

Newspapers.com For Your Genealogy Research

Please Note: This post contains some  affiliate links, which does not affect you at all, but does help support my business as I earn a small amount from qualifying purchases. This in turn helps me to continue providing you with educational genealogy content and freebies for your genealogy research. Thank you for supporting SK Translations, and happy hunting!

My mom is one of ten children. Yes, you read that right. Ten children – seven girls and three boys. And the even crazier thing is that my mom’s grandmother, Florence Wolken, was also one of ten children – seven girls and three boys. 

And it was this family – all the (hundreds of!) descendants of my great-grandmother Florence Wolken and her nine siblings – who gathered together for a family reunion this past October. While I know a lot about my Mueller family history (Florence married a man named Frederick Mueller), I did not know anything about the Wolken family themselves. So the genealogist inside me was very excited to learn all the names, dates, and towns these new family members had to offer.

The day after the reunion, armed with this new information, I set off to do a bit of googling. As I typed in my ancestors’ names, one site kept coming up in the results – Newspapers.com. I had of course heard of the site before, but had never used it. Extremely curious based on those little newspaper blurbs I kept seeing, I quickly signed up and was amazed at what I found. 

So what can you find using Newspapers.com in your search for your ancestors? So much. With over 15,600 digitized newspapers from the 1700s to the 2000s, there is an incredible amount of information to discover: 

1. birth, marriage, and death dates related to your ancestor

In the past, our ancestors would often send announcements of major life events into newspapers – much like we still do with obituaries today. That means that there is a wealth of information on important dates in your ancestor’s life just waiting to be found.

Once I signed up for Newspapers.com, I typed one of my ancestor’s names – Frank Wolken, Florence’s father – into the search box, and was amazed at all the life events that showed up. One such event was his 1897 marriage to his wife Helen, shown below. I had known that his wife’s name was Helen, but didn’t know her maiden name – making this article one of my first great finds!

The above February 24, 1897 article tells us the date of Frank’s marriage to Helen Klodt. It also provides us with a number of names, a church location that would help us with further research, and more! 

The obituaries available on the site are also interesting. In this December 9, 1918 issue of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, I can see that my ancestor Frank Wolken died of influenza – which no one in my family today actually knew. It also provides the fascinating information that many of the rest of the family members had influenza as well. This gave me more of a sense of what the family was going through at the time, as well as a personal connection to the 1918 flu epidemic, which I never knew I had!

Notice how Frank’s name is spelled incorrectly in the title – it is definitely worth searching a few variations of your ancestor’s name to see if different articles appear.

2. your ancestor’s actual address

How amazing to be able to find the actual house where your ancestor lived! In the wedding announcement under Point #1, Frank and Helen’s address was also listed, making it even more of a great find. Using Newspapers.com, I also found an address for Florence Wolken (Frank and Helen’s future daughter, my great-grandmother) and Fred Mueller (my great-grandfather) in the below notice of their marriage license from October 17, 1928. 

I think a visit to their old house might be in order!

3. Your Ancestor’s siblings’ names

All good genealogists know the important of the FAN(S) Club – researching your ancestor’s friends, associates, neighbors, and of course, siblings, to see if you can go further back in time via one of those routes. With Newspapers.com, you may find these siblings’ names listed in obituaries, wedding announcements, social notices, and more. 

This December 9, 1918 obituary for my ancestor Frank Wolken provided me with the names of all of my ancestor’s – Florence Wolken’s – siblings – as well as her mother’s maiden name. It also lists the address where the family lived, and where my ancestor is buried – another great newspaper find!

4. Your ancestor’s burial plot location

As you can see above, the 1918 obituary also gives us the cemetery where Frank Wolken was buried. The below 1968 obituary for Helen Klodt, Frank’s wife, does as well:

This obituary also gives us many of the Wolken children’s married names – allowing me to take another new step in my research and look for present-day family members and cousins! This also explained a lot of those names in my Ancestry DNA matches – names I saw under relations but didn’t know who they were or why we were related. 

5. The names of the previous generation

Many newspaper articles will list a woman’s maiden name, which allows you to go back one more generation than you had before. In the below March 21, 1950 obituary for Florence Wolken Mueller’s grandmother Anna, Anna’s maiden name is listed – allowing me to start researching an entirely new family line!

6. your ancestor’s school information

Some newspaper articles may also list where your ancestor went to school, which allows you to then contact the school and ask for records. In the below August 12, 1937 engagement announcement, we find out the school history of Virginia Wolken, Florence’s sister. 

7. fascinating stories related to your ancestor 

We can of course use FamilySearch and Ancestry to find wonderful records and facts about our ancestors, but Newspapers.com allows us to fill in the fascinating details of their lives – various events that allow us to see the life in between the year they were born and the year they died. 

In the above December 1918 article, we learn that Frank Wolken Jr.’s car (or machine!) was stolen when he was in downtown St. Louis filing his father’s will. Between the obituary we found and this, we learn that this must have been a very hard month for the Wolken family – first, they all get influenza, then their father dies, and then their car is stolen. This gives us a lot more context than simply a death date on a record!

But it wasn’t all sad. The below 1922 article tells me that my great-great-grandmother and great-grandmother took a trip to Yellowstone in July of that year. I always thought that my family stayed put in St. Louis, so that was interesting for me to see as well. 

Finally, in this 1896 article, I learned that Frank Wolken’s father, Gerhard Wolken, had to deal with neighbors complaining about his dairy business. It has long been in our family’s oral history that the Wolkens owned a major dairy company in St. Louis, so this was fascinating for me to see proof of (not that I didn’t believe my family, of course, but it’s nice to see documentation).

8. Chuckle at the old-fashioned ads and stories. 

In addition to looking at your own ancestors’ stories, it’s also extremely amusing (and addicting!) to scroll through the old newspapers themselves and see what else was going on or deemed worthy of reporting in those years. See a few of my favorite examples below:

No photo description available.1921 Article

1896 Fashion

Advertising arsenic for women’s faces!

So there you have it! Eight wonderful reasons to sign up for Newspapers.com. It is my new favorite way to research my ancestors – and have a lot of fun along the way (to be honest, I often find myself getting side-tracked and looking up article after article when I should be working – just ask my family about all the stories they’ve been receiving via text)! 

A small portion of the Wolken descendants at the October family reunion! Can you find me hidden on the left, third row from the back, next to the lady in the orange vest?

The Ultimate List of Months in German Genealogy

When analyzing  your ancestors’ documents, you are likely looking for two things – events and dates. Being able to read these dates, therefore, is of the utmost importance for your genealogy research. In an ideal world, all you would need to do would be to memorize the 12 German words for the months (German: Monate) of the year. and you’d be good to go. But because we are talking about documents of the past, there were often multiple words used for the same month, depending on the time, the region, the scribe, etc. So it’s important to be familiar with all these variations. But no worries – I’ve got you covered!

Two different words for January – Jänner and Januar 

In the table below, I’ve summarized for you the different possibilities of German words you may run into for each month. The “regular” – and most common – translation of the month in German is first, and this word is provided for you in the old handwriting as well. The words that follow are the less common – but no less important – variations, as sometimes this will be the only month word you find in your ancestor’s record.

You’ll notice that September – December are denoted 7, 8, 9, and 10ber/bris (you may also see December written as Xbris). This numbering of the months dates back to the time of the Romans, when the calendar began in March, making September the 7th month of the year. So don’t get confused and think 7bris means July!  Most of the other month words are descriptions – March as “Wind Month” and October as “Wine Month” for example – and are rather interesting in their translations. So if you run into one of these less common words, just refer to this table, and you should be good to go. Happy transcribing!

The Ultimate List of Months in German Genealogy

 

My 5 Favorite Books for Deciphering German Records

The Association of Professional Genealogists recently asked me about my favorite books for German genealogy, and it got me thinking – I should share them with you as well! I always include a slide in my presentations at conferences about the books I’d recommend, but I’ve never written them on the blog before, so I’d say it’s high time I did so. Check out the books that I use in my translation work below (in no particular order).

This post contains some  affiliate links, which does not affect you at all, but does help 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 – all of these books, and hope that they help you as much as they have helped me. I couldn’t translate without them!

My 5 Favorite Books for Deciphering German Records

  1. German to English Genealogical Dictionary by Ernest Thode

  

I only discovered Ernest Thode’s dictionary two years ago, and I wish I had known about it so much sooner. It would have saved me hours of Internet research trying to figure out what obscure and old-fashioned German words mean. Do you remember my blog post 10 German Words You Won’t Find in a Dictionary? Well, you actually will find a lot of those words in this wonderful dictionary! Focusing on genealogy-specific words, this almost-300-page dictionary is a must-have for anyone researching German records. It’s sitting on my desk as I type right now! 

2. If I Can, You Can Decipher Germanic Records by Edna Bentz 

 

Edna Bentz’ book was one of the first books I bought when I started learning the old German handwriting.  Filled with lists of genealogy terminology plus what these words look like in the old German script, this book is extremely helpful for someone beginning their German genealogy journey. From common abbreviations and months of the year to illnesses and occupations, this book will save you a lot of time and frustration as you decipher your documents. 

3. Deciphering Handwriting in German Documents by Rogert Minert

This book was the first book I bought when I decided to become a genealogy translator. Minert teaches you the individual letters of the German script, explaining how to recognize each one, and also provides numerous examples of various records with their transcriptions and translations. Truly a great resource for anyone looking to decipher records themselves.

4.  The Family Tree Historical Atlas of Germany by James M. Beidler 

This newest book by James M. Beidler is another must-have. Filled with over 100 full-color maps, this atlas is both incredibly beautiful and educational. The maps in the book allow you to see the border changes of Germany throughout the centuries – making it much easier to find your ancestors’ hometown and where their records may be kept. Plus, it looks pretty on a coffee table! (For more of Beidler’s great genealogy books, see here: www.JamesMBeidler.com). 

5. Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting by Katherine Schober

I can’t let you go without mentioning my own book, can I? Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting is everything I wish I would have known when I was first starting to learn the old German script. During those first few years of starting my genealogy translator career, I spent a lot of frustrating time on the Internet, trying to find the answers to all of my questions as I ran into them on various documents. This book summarizes all of those answers for you, which I hope will save you a lot of time and frustration yourself. It’s all of my best secrets, summarized in book form!

So there you have it! These are the five books that I have in my office right now, and every one of them is helpful in a different way. What about you? Do you have any of these books, or would you add any to the list? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

5 Tips for Deciphering Town Names on German Records

Your ancestor’s hometown is one of the most important finds you will make on your genealogy journey. Unfortunately, a town name can also be one of the hardest words to decipher on a historical record. Why? Because towns exist in the thousands, and, technically, the town name can be made up of any combination of letters that make sense within the German language. A bit overwhelming, to say the least!

So how do you go about deciphering the town name if you can’t read all the individual letters? Read on to find out all the tricks that I use when I am translating my clients’ documents:

1. take advantage of Google’s suggestion features

The first tip is the most obvious, but it is definitely worth mentioning. Try typing your transcription guess into Google Search, with the country or state where your document comes from after it (for example, type “Obertraun, Austria” into the search box). If an entry comes up, you then have verification that your transcription is correct.

If you are one or two letters off, however, Google’s “Showing Results For” or “Did You Mean?” features are very helpful. If you typed “Obertrun, Austria” into the search box, Google may correct you, saying “Showing results for Obertraun, Austria”. You can then double check the handwritten word on your document, along wit the location of Google’s suggestion, and verify that the suggestion is correct. If it is, mark it down, and continue transcribing. Nice when a search engine is so helpful!

 

2. use Meyers Gazetteer’s wildcard tool

If your town is in Germany (or used to be), then Meyers Gazetteer is the website for you. This collection of pre-WWI towns, villages, cities, estates, and more is a wonderful tool for deciphering towns – especially if you can’t read all the letters. Simply type the letters you recognize into the website’s search engine – and use an asterisk for the letters you don’t. Meyers Gazetteer will then give you a list of all towns with that letter combination.

Have a long list? Narrow your search by selecting the state (if known) where your document comes from (“Filter Results by Region”). You will then get a list of only the towns in that region, and can go back to your handwritten word and see if any of these towns match up with your word on your document.

3. Toggle the Meyers Gazetteer Map

No luck with the list? If you know another town name on your document (where the document comes from, the groom’s town name, etc.), then type that town name into Meyers Gazetteer’s search engine. Click on it, and it will take you to the entry for that town. Next, click on the map to the left of the entry, and the modern map will toggle to the historical map (pretty cool, right?). You can then drag the map around and see what towns are in the surrounding area. Does one of those nearby town names match up with your handwritten word? I have found a lot of town names using this historical map!

4. play with Google Maps

Just like the old-fashioned map on Meyer’s Gazetteer, Google Maps also works well for this trick. Type in the town you know related to your document, and drag the map around to see if any other towns nearby match up with your mystery word. (If you can’t find it on the Meyer’s Gazetteer map, try Google, and vice-versa – I sometimes have more luck with one, and sometimes with the other, depending on the town. Always good to have two options!).

5. Use the Record itself

Last but not least (although perhaps this should be first – it’s a good trick), use the record itself! More times than I care to admit, I have struggled and struggled over what a town name could be, only to find a stamp with that town name – in printed text! – at the bottom of the document. So before you start deciphering, scan your entire document, and look for other components of the document that might include the town name. These might include:

  • Stamps
  • Column Headings
  • Document Titles
  • Margin Notes (perhaps the town name is easier to read there)
  • And More – every document is different!

So there you have it! With these five tips, deciphering the towns in your German documents should become much easier and easier. And if you want more help reading the German handwriting, check out my new self-paced handwriting course here! You’ll be reading the script in no time.

Any other tricks that you use? Let us know in the comments!

FREE Webinar: Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting

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

Come 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, the spelling variations you need to know to decipher the words of your ancestors, and much more. If you’ve missed this presentation at conferences, now’s your chance to see a good part of it!

When: Thursday, July 25, 1:00 p.m. EDT

Cost: Free!

I want free German handwriting tips – sign me up!

 

Photo Credit; Teri Cusamano