Friday, February 9, 2007

Deciphering "Old" German

One of my recent undertakings is working on my church's Historical Committee. The committee's job is to take the mostly disorganized records that have accumulated over the last 114 years and create a Church Archive. Since one of the original seven founders of the church was an ancestor of my husband, this has been more of a genealogical pleasure than a chore! I get a little thrill every time I open up a box of ledgers and find the entries full of familiar names.

As the original members of the church were the children of German immigrants, and they lived in a fairly isolated area, as a rule, they only spoke German. This continued until sometime during or shortly after the first World War. None of the volunteers in our group speak or read German, so trying to decipher enough of the early records to even figure out what they are has sometimes been a challenge! We tried copying down the words and then using a German/English dictionary to look them up, but the handwriting (although beautiful) was still difficult to read.

I recently stumbled across a website that has been very helpful! It's called Omniglot, and here is a link to their German (Deutsch) page. What I found so helpful about this site is that it gives examples of the various alphabet scripts that have been used in the German language over the years, with English equivalents. The "German handwriting" style used at that time was called Sutterlin script -- and although it somewhat resembles the English alphabet I grew up with, enough letters are different to make it a real challenge! Having a "key" to the letters has been a real boon. For instance, finding out that what we thought was a lower case "f" was really an "h" has made a big difference in our translation successes!

It would still be a lot easier if at least one of us on our committee could read German (one of us does have plans to take classes). We do have resources in our area, and someday we'll undoubtedly arrange to have someone transcribe the old German texts for us...but in the meantime, this website has helped us decipher enough to be able to catalogue the record books!

Happy Hunting!

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