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.*

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

 

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.

15 Sneaky Latin Words in Your German Documents

As if it’s not enough of a challenge that you need to know some German to find your ancestors, the scribes of yore now want to challenge you just a little bit more – by throwing in some Latin words in your otherwise German document. Of all the nerve! Luckily, there are Latin words that appear over and over in the German documents of the past. Over my years of translating, I’ve collected the words I come across most frequently, now summarized in a table for you below with their English equivalents and and an example of the word in the old German script.  If you have any common Latin words to add, please say so in the comments!

For more Latin words in genealogical documents, see here for a great list.  

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

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!

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

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

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

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

Occupation levels included:

“Lehrling” – apprentice

“Geselle” – journeyman (apprenticeship complete)

“Meister” – master

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

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

Common Occupations for Men:

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

Common Occupations for Women:

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

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”.)

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

cornad

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

ThatchedCottage

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

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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”

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

gravestone

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

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9. Dermalig – “currently, at present”

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

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Helpful References for Outdated Words:

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