Using Google Drive to Transcribe Your Genealogy Documents (Guest Post by Gary Haas)

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. 

1824 Church Record WIth Fraktur Headings

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

Go to https://drive.google.com/drive/my-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. 

Right click on your image or file to open 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: 

  1. Install fonts http://www.germancorner.com/fonts/index.html
  2. Get a list of words in German.
  3. Put this list into Columns A, B, C of an Excel sheet.
  4. Change the font in Column B to Sütterlin. 
  5. Change the font in Column C to Fraktur. 
See my cheatsheet for commonly-appearing words in my documents below: 
Please Note: The "s" in "Haas" should be the "end-s", which resembles the number 6, rather than the "beginning-s" shown above. "Zimmermann" should also have two "n"s.

My cheatsheets also sort characters with similar characteristics, which allows me to focus on a shorter list of characters.

Please Note: An "e" cannot be umlauted in German.

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!

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