Did you know that Google Drive can be used to transcribe Fraktur documents? Fraktur, the angular, jagged-looking typeface used in newspaper articles, vital record certificates, and headings of church records, can be a little scary for some genealogists. But never fear! In this article, guest writer Gary Haas shares all his tricks for working with this typeface – by using Google Drive.
Using Google Drive’s Optical Character Recognition, by Gary Haas
When you upload a file to Google Drive, it automatically does OCR (optimal character recognition) on every file. This OCR allows you to search every item in Google Drive, even names on photos of tombstones.
For more information on how to find or set up your Google Drive, see How to Use Google Drive For Your Genealogy: 7 Questions with Expert Lianne Kruger.
Once you are set up:
1. Open your Google Drive
2. Drag and drop your genealogy images to Google Drive.
Google Drive can transcribe JPG, PNG, and PDF files.
3. Right click on file and open it with Google Docs.
4. Review & Edit transcription
Once your file is open in Google Docs, the machine-generated transcription will automatically appear below. You can increase the font size of all transcribed words by highlighting them and then changing the font size in the toolbar at the top of your screen.
Fortunately, Google Docs spell checks all German words. Right click on any red-underlined words in the transcription to see suggested spellings of misspelled (or possibly mistranscribed) words.
The machine transcription of a newspaper article from my ancestral hometown (not a direct relation) is not perfect, but it does give you a great headstart on the text. The actual transcription should read:
Waldmünchen. – Die Leiche des Metzgers Georg Bucherl wurde im Hofe des elterlichen Anwesens aufgefunden. Nun wurde der Bruder des Verstorbenen, der Metzger Max Bücherl, der dringend verdächtig ist, seinen Bruder im Streit erschlagen zu haben, verhaftet. Max Bücherl soll die That bereits eingestanden haben.
5. Copy transcription to Google translate.
Once you’ve checked the misspelled words by right-clicking on the red underlined words and looking at the other suggestions, it’s time to find out what your document means. Copy and paste the transcription into either translate.google.com or www.deepl.com.
From Google Translate: Waldmünchen. – The body of the butcher Georg Bucherl was found in the parental home. Now the brother of the deceased, Messger Mar Bücherl, who is strongly suspected of having defeated his brother in an argument, was arrested. May Bücherl is said to have already admitted the fact.
Actual Translation from Katherine: The body of the butcher Georg Bucherl was found in the courtyard of his family home. The brother of the deceased, the butcher Max Bücherl, who is strongly suspected to have beaten his brother to death in a fight, has been arrested. Max Bücherl is said to have already admitted to the deed.
As you can see, the machine transcription/translation process is not perfect, but it does give you the general idea of what the text is about!
6. BONUS – Create Cheatsheets for yourself.
You can also create cheatsheets of words you are looking for in documents you are translating so that they are easier to recognize in the future.
To do so:
- Install fonts http://www.germancorner.com/fonts/index.html
- Get a list of words in German.
- Put this list into Columns A, B, C of an Excel sheet.
- Change the font in Column B to Sütterlin.
- Change the font in Column C to Fraktur.
My cheatsheets also sort characters with similar characteristics, which allows me to focus on a shorter list of characters.
Google Drive is a great tool for helping to transcribe and translate genealogy documents. Remember, this is machine-translation, so it will not be perfect, but it will at least give you an idea of what the newspaper article, tombstone, or other record is saying. It can be a significant help in your genealogy research!
Sign Me Up! Find the time that works best for you! Description: Come learn my favorite Google tricks for deciphering that tricky German handwriting! In
Thank you to Lianne for this guest post and sharing her expertise with us. For more information on Lianne, see her bio below, or check
Disclaimer: This post is meant to share a piece of my client’s family history that he was kind enough to share – as well as
*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
Thank you to Lianne for this guest post and sharing her expertise with us. For more information on Lianne, see her bio below, or check out her blog here: iFamilyHistory.blogspot.ca.
1. How Can Google Drive Help With My Genealogy?
- Back-Up: All of your important genealogy files (such as documents, photos, and letters) should be in three locations: your computer, a USB drive, and somewhere online (that way, if something happens to one, you haven’t lost all your valuable documents!). Google Drive is a good location for the online component.
- Global Access: Google Drive allows you to access your genealogy files from anywhere, on any device, as long as you have an internet connection.
- Sharing: Google Drive allows you to share your genealogy files and photos with family members. You can give your family the ability to add information to the documents themselves, or simply just view them if you prefer to maintain control yourself.
2. How Do I Access Google Drive?
- If you have a Google e-mail, you already have Google Drive. If you don’t have one yet, you can easily create one here.
- Once your Google e-mail is set up, open your web browser.
- Type in Google.com.
- Log in to Google using the username and password setup when you created the account. Do not use the full Google email.
- In the top right of the page are 9 dots. This is a menu.
Click on the dots.
- Select Google Drive.
3. How Do I Create a New Genealogy File in Google Drive?
If you want to write something within Google Drive, such as a family history or research log, take the following steps:
- From the main menu of Google Drive, click + New.
2. Select the program you want to use. For genealogical purposes, Google Docs is great for writing your family history, and Google Sheets is helpful if you are creating an inventory list or a research log. (If the program you want is not on the first list, simply click More, as shown in the image above).
3. Type your new document title at the top left of the screen.
4. Start writing down your genealogical data. Your document will be automatically saved every few minutes.
4. How Do I Upload Genealogy Files That Are Already On My Computer?
Some of your genealogy files may already be stored on your computer. You can easily upload these from your computer to your Google Drive by following the steps below:
1. Click New.
2. Click File upload.
3. Find the file on your computer and click upload. It will then be saved on your drive.
5. How Do I Create a Folder to Group Certain Genealogy Documents Together?
If you are working with multiple lines, it may be nice to group certain documents together in one place. To do so:
- Click New.
2. Click Folder.
3. The following window will then appear:
4. Type in the name for the folder.
(This name might be a last name for a specific line or a certain location, depending on what you are going to store and how you are grouping your items).
5. Click Create.
6. I’ve Uploaded Many Genealogy Documents. How Do I View All My Saved Files and Folders on Google Drive?
There are two ways to view files and folders: the view list and the grid list.
This is a view list:
This is a grid list:
You can choose which option works best for you.
Google Drive will also show you a “Recent List”. This is found above the grid or list views.
If you don’t like the recent list at the top, you can remove it by taking the following steps:
- Click on the gear icon in the top right corner of the screen.
- Click Settings.
- Make sure General is selected on the left.
- Scroll down (bar on the right) until you can see the section Suggestions.
- Click inside the box to remove the check mark for “Make relevant files handy when you need them in Quick Access.”
The Quick Access section will now no longer appear at the top.
You can still view this list at anytime after closing the list at the top with the following steps:
- On the main menu on the left, click Recent.
Recent files are listed in date categories such as Last week, Earlier this month, and Earlier this year.
7. Is It Possible to Search For A File By Name or Subject Matter?
Yes, it is. To find a file in your Google Drive:
- Click in the Search box at the top of the screen.
2. Type in the name of a file or a phrase inside the file that you are looking for.
3. A list of files that have the text as a title or text inside that file will appear.
In conclusion, Google Drive can be extremely helpful for your genealogy research. In addition to giving you peace of mind with back-up options for your files, you can also easily share letters, photos, census records, newspaper clippings and more with your family and friends. Best yet, you can also access them yourself at any library, archive, or any place of your choosing.
Do you use Google Drive? Any tips for other users? Let us know in the comments!
Lianne began doing genealogy as a youth with family at graveyards, then as a teenager with a list of names in front of a microfilm reader on Saturdays at a Family History Library. At college she began researching her paternal grandmother’s line researching back to the first European landowners of Canada.
Lianne taught genealogical courses five years at LDS Institute in Ogden, Utah. She has spoken at genealogical conferences and sessions for RootsTech, Ontario Genealogical Society, The Genealogy Show (UK), FamilyRoots, Saskatchewan, and variety of locations in Alberta. Lianne has articles published by BYU Studies Quarterly magazine, FamilySearch.org, SK Translation, AGS Relatively Speaking and Tree Climber.
She has done webinars for The Surname Society, Virtual Genealogical Society, Red Deer Family History Fair, and a panelist for Looking 4 Ancestors.
She was President of Red Deer branch of Alberta Genealogical Society (AGS) for two years and Vice President of AGS for six years. She is now on the Ancestry.ca advisory committee and a member of the mitoYDNA board.
Check out Lianne’s other popular guest post: How to Use Social Media in Your German Genealogy Research
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:
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!
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!
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.
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.
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:
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?
This article shares ways to use different platforms of social media for your genealogical research in Germany. As social media and websites change constantly, I have included the steps you will need to find new items. We will discuss Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube.
The advantages of using social media for genealogical research in Germany include:
- Being able to talk to people who live in the area
- Being able to access current information
- It’s free!
It would be nice if we could be members of all the genealogical societies where our families lived. Most of us, however, can not afford that.
Enter Facebook – the next best thing. These groups are available through the popular social media platform, which includes many pages which can help you in your German genealogy.
To find these groups:
- Click inside the search bar at the top left side of the Facebook page.
2. Type in German Genealogy.
A list of Facebook pages then appears, which includes three different categories:
- Lists of relevant groups
- Articles that mention your search items
- Facebook posts by those you are friends with who mentioned your search items
Below are a couple of descriptions of German genealogy groups:
“Join us and discover that family research is the most interesting and rewarding hobby that will enable you to discover your past and preserve your heritage for future generations. Be a part of the fastest growing hobby today!”
“The International German Genealogy Partnership’s mission is to facilitate German genealogy research globally as the internationally recognized federation of German genealogy organizations. Lists session on German genealogy”
Click on the + Join button to become part of a group, receive notifications of posts made in the group, and have the ability to add posts yourself. You will also be able to talk to others trying to research their family.
Many groups will ask you to answer two or three questions before they allow you to join their group. They want to make sure that you are actually interested in their topic. Do not be offended. This helps to keep the posts centered on the topic.
These Facebook articles link to a blog post for each group or person.
Click on an article not just to read the article, but to get to know the blog itself.
Follow the blog if you like the article(s) so you will get an email when new articles are posted.
This last search list shows Facebook pages that are open to everyone that you can like. Once you click like, their posts will appear on your newsfeed stream.
Add comments and ask questions to posts in groups or to the regular pages. Get to know these people. Help others and get help from throughout the entire world.
You can also search for the town your family is from in the Facebook search bar. Not only will genealogy groups appear, but history groups and chamber of commerce type pages will show up as well. Like these pages. They will help you with the family history part of your research. You might even find cousins who still live in your ancestral hometown!
Twitter allows you to chat with others all over the world. Follow fellow genealogists and those specifically researching or who know about the topics or areas of the world you want to research. Read the tweets. Many tweets will have links to their blogs with posts on the subject, such as German genealogy. The following list appeared today when I searched German genealogy.
If I wasn’t following these people already, then the “Following” button would say “Follow”. Click on the Follow button to have their tweets appear on your feed. Ask questions and make comments to engage with others in the genealogy field.
This genealogy chat meets together on Twitter for an hour on the second Wednesday of each month. Questions are asked on a specific German genealogy topics. Other questions can also be asked, and answers are given by anyone who wants to answer. You may contribute or ask questions on the topic or related items. Their twitter page is https://twitter.com/GenchatDe
To connect and see past tweets, search for the hashtag #GenChatDE.
Get to know people on Twitter from the areas of your ancestors. They could be a relative!
Pinterest is a platform where anyone can create “pins” related to any topic. Imagine it like a giant bulletin board where you save your favorite items. Effective pins have a link to a website or blog post where more information can be obtained.
To find pins on a specific topic, type the subject, such as German Genealogy, in the Pinterest search bar.
A list of pins appears. A different list appears if you type in German Genealogical Research and another list if you type in German Genealogy Research – so try out different searches and see what works best for you. If you are looking for maps of Germany, add that phrase to the search. If you want a specific city, add it to the search.
If there is a pin you like:
- Move your mouse over the pin
- Click on the Save
- Select a board to save it to.
This pin is now filed for you for later reference.
Go directly to website
- Move your mouse over a pin.
- Click on the black bar with the name of the person who posted the pin.
This opens the link in a new browser tab.
Click on the pin to open it. The following appears with the pin on the left and more information on the right. You can hit the Save from here if you would like.
The person who posted this pin was Legacy Tree Genealogists. There is a Follow bottom to the right of their name. If you click the follow button here, you will follow all of their posts from all of their boards – just make sure you check out their boards and like what they post before you follow.
To view all of their boards, click on their name instead of the Follow button. All of their boards will then appear, as shown below. Review their boards. If you like what you see, then click Follow at the top. If there are some boards you do not want to follow, the simply click Follow beside the boards that you like, and you will only follow those.
YouTube has videos on “how to’s” for everything and can be a great resource for genealogy. And not just for Germany – for all aspects of genealogical research.
At the top of the screen is a search bar.
In the search bar type in German Genealogical Research or German Genealogy Research.
Videos that meet that criteria will appear. Below is the list that I saw today. However, with more videos uploaded daily, this list will constantly change.
After searching for a topic, a list of videos will then appear. If these look like videos you would like to watch, and you want to make sure you don’t lose them, then mark them as Watch Later by taking the following steps:
- Move your mouse over the video.
A clock will appear in the top right corner.
- Click on the clock.
The clock changes to a checkmark.
The video is now on your Watch Later list.
The watch list appears on the left menu of your YouTube page, as shown below.
Check the bottom of videos that have content you like. Some videos have hashtags. If the hashtag matches a subject you find interesting, click on it. A list of videos with the same hashtag will appear (if there are any, otherwise it will just lists random videos).
Use these social media strategies to supplement your genealogy research, and you will be amazed at the doors opened for you. Do you have any more strategies? Let us know in the comments!
From microfilm and a list of names as a teenager to researching her paternal grandmother’s line back to the first white landowners of Canada, Lianne loves to share her knowledge, experience, and love for genealogy and technology. She has published articles and spoken at conferences in Ontario, England, Saskatchewan, multiple locations in Alberta, and Utah including RootsTech.
Follow Katherine Schober on the following social media platforms for more German genealogy tips!
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!).
#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|
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.