Genealoger

Family History and Genealogy Services

Listed as one of the "50 Top Sites for Genealogy Research" by Internet Genealogy, Aug/Sept 2012

German Genealogy

German Language, Handwriting, and Script

Deciphering early German handwriting can be a challenge. Handwriting evolved over time in German-speaking countries. By the 1300s, it had become the so-called Gothic script, sometimes called Fraktur. Later Fraktur referred to a printing typeface, normally used in Germany prior to World War II. It was not until 1941 when the government officially began discouraging the use of the old style Gothic handwriting. Since then a more modern Latin style has been taught in the schools. As a result, there are very few individuals in Germany today who can read the old records.

Besides the script, many early records were frequently composed in open paragraph form and not in columns. Also, the handwriting of individual priests, ministers, and clerks varied significantly from one to another, creating additional confusion. As education became more universal in the 1800s, handwriting became more standardized, and records became easier to read.

Older German records were written in letters similar to the style called Kurrent. Certain Kurrent letters appear very similar.  Other script styles are Fraktur and Sütterlin. Many records also lack indexes.

  • Akademie der Wissenschaften der DDR, eds. (1980); Das Niederdeutsche in Geschichte und Gegenwart; Berlin (Germany): Akademie der Wissenschaften der DDR. (History of Low Saxon; in German)
     
  • AltaVista search engine's translation site
     
  • Bach, Adolf. Geschichte der deutschen Sprache. [History of the German Language]. Heidelberg: Quelle & Meyer, 1965. Definitive work on the German language.
     
  • Bentz, Edna M. If I Can You Can Decipher Germanic Records. The Author, 1982.

  • BEOLINGUS - Your Online Dictionary. Online dictionary that will convert German words to English. In many cases you are able to hear the word spoken in German.
     
  • Bischoff, Bernhard. Paläographie des römischen Altertums und des abendländischen Mittelalters [Paleography of the Roman Antiquity and the Occidental Middle Ages]. Berlin: Erich Schmidt, 1979.  Description of the use of Latin in the German territories.
     
  • Cassell's German-English, English-German Dictionary. Rev. by Harold T. Betteridge. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1978.
     
  • Computing with Accents, Symbols & Foreign Scripts: German. From Penn State University.
     
  • Cordes, Gerhard, and Dieter Möhn (1983); Handbuch zur niederdeutschen Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaft; Berlin (Germany): E. Schmidt. (Overview of Low Saxon philology; in German)
     
  • Crous, Ernst and Joachim Kirchner. Die gotischen Schriftarten [The Gothic Handwriting Style]. Branschweig: Klinkhardt & Biermann, 1970. Analysis of German documents before the time of church records.
     
  • Deciphering Gothic Records  Pamphlet for sale.
     
  • Delbanco, Gerda. Kleiner Fraktur-Knigge für den Umgang mit gebrochenen Schriften. Ahlhorn, Germany: Schrift und Sprache, 1996.  Introduction to reading and writing skills associated with German handwriting of previous centuries.
     
  • Deutsch <-> Englisches Wörterbuch
     
  • Der Große Duden, Rechtschreibung. Leipzig: Bibliographisches Institut, 1942.  A German grammar for the early 1940's.
     
  • Epp, Reuben (1993); The Story of Low German & Plautdietsch: tracing a language across the globe; Hillsboro (USA): The Reader's Press <psdirect@southwind.net>. (Contains an excellent introduction to the history and spread of the language; in English)
     
  • Everton has a helpful letter writing aid at their Web site. If you need to correspond with someone in Germany, requesting genealogical information, you will find these form letters useful. These were compiled by the staff of the Family History Library, and come complete with English translations.
     
  • Family History Library. French Records Extraction. Salt Lake City, Intellectual Reserve, 198?. Designed for English speakers and provides information on copying names from French birth and marriage records.
     
  • Family History Library. Genealogical Word List: French. Salt Lake City: Intellectual Reserve, 1997.
     
  • Family History Library. Genealogical Word List: German. Salt Lake City: Intellectual Reserve, 1997.
     
  • Family History Library. Genealogical Word List: Latin. Salt Lake City: Intellectual Reserve, 1997.
     
  • The Family History Library's online guide to German Gothic handwriting
     
  • Form Letters for German Genealogy
     
  • Fraktur and German Script
     
  • Fraktur Chart. Used for music cataloging at Yale University Library.
     
  • Fraktur Script.
     
  • German-English Genealogical Dictionary  by Ernest Thode. The dictionary is designed for the family researcher who has little or no knowledge of German, but who needs to translate German language documents.
     
  • German-English On-line Dictionary
     
  • German-English Online Dictionary contains about 120,000 words; add your own entry if you find something missing.
     
  • German fonts
     
  • German for Beginners
     
  • German Genealogical Word List
     
  • German Genealogy: Dialects. genealogy.net
     
  • German Gothic Typeface : www.fontshop.com or www.fonts.com
     
  • German Letter Writing Guide from the Family History Library
     
  • German Script Alphabet can be downloaded from this site in Adobe PDF format.
     
  • German Town Name Meanings.
     
  • German True Type Fonts. There are over a dozen German fonts that are available to download in a zip file. You can download individual fonts or the entire collection. German American Corner.
     
  • German Words.
     
  • Gernentz, Hans Joachim (1964); Niederdeutsch, gestern und heute; Beiträge zur Sprachsituation in den nördlichen Bezirken der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik in Geschichte und Gegenwart; Berlin (Germany): Akademie-Verlag. (History of Low Saxon in East Germany; in German)
     
  • Gladt, Karl. Deutsche Schriftfibel [German Handwriting Primer]. Graz: Akademische Druck und Verlagsanstalt, 1976. Analysis of German handwritten letters and documents from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
     
  • A Glossary of German Words Used in Official Documents
     
  • Goldschmidt, Jonas, et al. (1845-1846); Niederdeutsch gestern: eine Sprache in Pro und Contra; edited by Claus Schuppenhauer, 1980; Leer (Germany): Schuster. (Controversies surrounding pre-modern Low Saxon; in German)
     
  • Gorman, Stuart and Joachim Reppmann. Low German: Platt in America. Davenport, Iowa: Hesperian Press, 2006. It tells the history of Plattdeutsch in Europe/Asia and continues the story of its spread into America.
     
  • Gothic Script and Fraktur Samples
     
  • Graesse, Benedict, and Plechl. Orbis Latinus. Braunschweig: Klinkhardt & Biermann, 1971. German-Latin and Latin-German dictionary of place names from all over the world.
     
  • Grun, Paul Arnold. Leseschlüssel zu unserer alten Schrift. [Deciphering Our Old Handwriting]. In Grnundriß der Genealogie. Limburg/Lahn, Germany: Starke, 1984. An excellent resource providing an analysis of each letter of the alphabet.
     
  • Guide to German Pronunciation
     
  • Handwriting Guide: German Gothic
     
  • Heinemeyer, Walter. Studien zur Geschichte der gotischen Urkundenschrift [Studes on the History of Gothic Handwriting]. Köln: Böhlau, 1962. Description of Gothic handwriting from about 1140 to 1500.
     
  • Here you can learn Suetterlin - the "German handwriting" . Excellent online tutorial on the German script and handwriting including an alphabet and scanned examples of documents.
     
  • Internet Translator
     
  • Johansson, Carl-Erik. Thus They Wrote: A Guide to the Gothic Script of Scandinavia. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1970.
     
  • Kinderling, Johann Friedrich August (1800); Geschichte der Nieder-Sächsischen oder sogenanten Plattdeutschen Sprache vornehmlich bis auf Luthers Zeiten, nebst einer Musterung der vornehmsten Denkmahle dieser Mundart, entworfen von M. Joh. Fried. August Kinderling, zweitem Prediger zu Calbe an der Saale; Magdeburg (Germany): G. Ch. Keil. (History of Low Saxon prior to the Reformation; in German)
  • Kindred Roots Online: Old German Handwriting. Charts to aid interpretation.
     
  • König, Werner. Dtv-Atlas zur deutschen Sprache [Atlas of the German Language]. 6th edition. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag, 1985. Useful for geographic clues to German vocabulary. Includes dozens of maps of regional language variants.
     
  • Lammers, Wulf (1996); Die plattdeutsche Sprache: Ursprung, Entwicklung, Verwandte, Prognose; Neumünster: Wacholtz Verlag; ISBN 3-529-04507-1. (Covers the history of Low Saxon from the Old Saxon period until the present and its outlook for the future; with maps, tables and a bibliography; in German)
     
  • LEO English/German Dictionary - Search 400,000 words in English or German for translation.
     
  • Lindow, Wolfgang, and Claus Schuppenhauer, eds. (1991); Plattdeutsch im Buchhandel; Bremen (Germany): Institut für niederdeutsche Sprache. (Everything currently in print in or about Low Saxon - Invaluable and inexpensive for those wanting to locate Low Saxon books and literature in the language itself; in German.)
     
  • Lindow, Wolfgang, and Claus Schuppenhauer (1994); Niederdeutsche Sprache - Nedderdüütsch Dichten; Bremen (Germany): Leer Schuster; ISBN 3-7963-0319-6. (A lecture in German about Low Saxon until the present day - includes study materials, regional dictionaries, etc., and a lecture in Low Saxon about Low Saxon literature with examples from the Heliand until the present. A good concise introduction to the language; in Low Saxon and German)
     
  • Lockwood, William B. (1978); An Informal History of the German Language, with chapters on Dutch and Afrikaans, Frisian and Yiddish; The Language Library; Blackwell; ISBN 0-233-96797-4. (in English)
     
  • Meyer, Gustav Friedrich (1983); Unsere plattdeutsche Muttersprache: Beiträge zu ihrer Geschichte und ihrem Wesen; St. Peter-Ording (Germany): H. Lühr & Dircks. (General reader about Low Saxon; in German)
     
  • Minert, Roger P. Deciphering Handwriting in German Documents: Analyzing German, Latin, and French in Vital Records Written in Germany. GRT Publications, 2001. 182 pages. ISBN: 0967842077. Contact: grtpublications@juno.com. ($26.95). Minert is Professor of Germanic and Slavic Family History at Brigham Young University. 131 sample texts from genuine vital records and the application of the alphabetical index in the deciphering process.
     
  • Minert, Roger P. "The Role of the Old High German Sound Shift in German Genealogical Research" in The Palatine Immigrant, vol. XVII(1), pp. 19-33, January 1992. Columbus, Ohio: Palatines to America. Description of the application of linguistic geography to German family history research.
     
  • Minert, Roger P.  Spelling Variations in German Names: Solving Family History Problems through Applications of German and English Phonetics. GRT Publications, 2000. 96 pages. ASIN: 0967842018. Contact: grtpublications@juno.com. For fourteen historic provinces: Baden, Braunschweig/Oldenburg/Thuringia/ Hanover, Hesse, Hesse-Nassau, Mecklenburg, Palatinate, Schleswig-Holstin (with Bremen/Hamburg/Lübeck), Westphalia (with Hohenzollern/Lippe/Schaumburg-Leppe/Waldeck), and Wurttemberg.  Minert is Professor of Germanic and Slavic Family History at Brigham Young University. Shows the researcher the kinds of vowel and consonant variations that occur in names and why, when, and where the changes can occur.
     
  • Moravian Church Archives German Script Seminar. - Learn about the archives’ intensive seminar on reading old German script.
     
  • Moravian German Script Tutorial.
     
  • The New English-German Dictionary - Online dictionary with more than 190,000 translations.
     
  • Nordmann-Stabenow, Gertrud (1980); Plattdeutsch und Plattdänisch im Grenzland Schleswig; Husum (Germany): Husum Druck Verlag. (About Low Saxon and Southern Jutish ("Low Danish") in the area of the Danish-German border; in German)
     
  • Nordmann-Stabenow, Gertrud (1994); 1000 Wörter Plattdänisch verglichen mit Plattdeutsch, Hochdeutsch und Reichdänisch / 1000 ord Sønderjysk sammenlignet med plattysk, høgtysk og rigsdansk; Husum: Husum Druck; ISBN 3-88042-644-9. (1000 words compared between Low Saxon and Southern Jutish ("Low Danish"); in Danish and German)
     
  • Old German Gothic Handwriting. FamilySearch
     
  • Old German Handwritten Scripts
     
  • The Old German Handwriting
     
  • Old German Script. Examples of upper and lower case writing.
     
  • Old German Scripts and Fonts. Links to numerous sites.
     
  • Online Translator (German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese)
     
  • Paulun, Dirks. Platt auf deutsch: Herkunft und Bedeutung plattdeutscher Wörter. Bruckmann, 1974. ISBN: 3765416088.
     
  • QuickDic. Provides more than 250,000 words translated between German and English.
     
  • Reich, Konrad (1986); Das große plattdeutsche Bilderbuch; Hamburg (Germany): Hoffmann & Campe; ISBN 3-455-06204-0. (richly illustrated history of Low Saxon publishing; in German)
     
  • Russ, Charles, ed. (1990); The Dialects of Modern German; London (UK): Routledge. (This comprehensive book covers all major German dialects and includes the Low Saxon language within "German"; in English)
     
  • Sample Letters in German to Obtain Genealogical Information
     
  • Sanders, Willy (1982); Sachsensprache, Hansesprache, Plattdeutsch: sprachgeschichtliche Grundzüge des Niederdeutschen; Göttingen (Germany): Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. (History of Low Saxon; in German)
     
  • Sarauw, Christian Preben Emil (1921-1924); Niederdeutsche Forschungen; Copenhagen (Denmark): A. F. Host. (Low Saxon studies; in German)
     
  • Shea, Jonathan D. and William F. Hoffman. Following the Paper Trail: A Multilingual Translation Guide. New Milford, Connecticut: Language and Lineage Press, 1991.
     
  • Shea, Jonathan & William Hoffman. In Their Words: A Genealogist's Translation Guide to Polish, German, Latin, and Russian Documents. New Britain, Connecticut: Language & Lineage Press, 2000.
     
  • Stellmacher, Dieter (1981); Niederdeutsch: Formen und Forschungen; Tübingen (Germany): Niemeyer; ISBN: 3-484-10415-5. (Overview of Low Saxon structure and research; in German)
     
  • Stellmacher, Dieter (1990); Niederdeutsche Sprache: Eine Einführung; Bern (Switzerland): New York (USA): P. Lang. (Introduction to the Low Saxon language, in German)
     
  • Stockman, Robert Lee (???); Platt Düütsch: A brief history of the people and language, plus glossary and orthography; Alto, Michigan (USA): Platt Düütsch Press (10748 100th Street, Alto, MI 49302; tel. 616 891-8932); ISBN 0-9665502-0-X, LCCN 98-091-589; US $18.00 + US $2.00 shipping & handling. (Introduction to the Low Saxon language with references to the language in America, in English)
     
  • Sturm, Heribert. Unsere Schrift: Einführung in die Entwicklung ihrer Stilformen [Our Handwriting: An Introduction to the Development of its Styles]. Neustadt/Aisch: Degener, 1961. A study of successive alphabets and handwriting styles in Germany from the early Middle Ages to modern times, featuring many different styles.
     
  • Storrer, Norman and Larry Jensen. A Genealogical and Demographic Handbook of German Handwriting. Pleasant Grove, Utah: Storrer, 1977.
     
  • Süß, Harald. Deutsche Schreibschrift [German Handwriting]. Augsburg: Augustus, 1995]. Designed for calligraphers, it has artistic samples of handwriting styles from many eras and schools.

  • Sütterlin Schrift. Old German Sütterlin script.  Take lessons and more.
     
  • Sütterlin Schrift.  German script.
     
  • Sütterlin German Script.
     
  • Sütterlin Script.  Learn how to write it.
     
  • Sütterlin Text Generator. Write your name in Sütterlin script.
     
  • Thode, Ernest J., Jr. German-English Genealogical Dictionary. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1992. Excellent dictionary designed specifically for German family history research. Included among the thousands of entries are odd and archaic occupations, regional variants, and numbers.
     
  • Transcribe Old German Documents.
     
  • Transserv. Transserv is a project of the German Society for Computer Genealogy. A number of volunteers are dedicated to help in translating  genealogical documents from one language into another one. They translate short text files from English to German and German to English for free. Write your letter in English and send it to them.  Follow directions carefully!
     
  • Translation Service (Free translating of documents by e-mail)
     
  • Travlands German-English On-line Dictionary. Includes some annoying pop-ups.
     
  • Übungsheft für die Deutsche Schrift. [Primer for German Handwriting]. Iserlohn: Brause, many editions. Meant for use in German schools.
     
  • Verdenhalven, Fritz. Familienkundliches Wörterbuch. Verlag Degener & Co., 137.  Dictionary of genealogical terms.
     
  • Wirrer, Jan (1992); "So herrli klingt mi keen Musik un singt keen Nachdigal: Niederdeutsch gestern, Niederdeutsch heute: Perzeptionen und Bewertungen"; Niederdeutsches Wort: Beiträge zur Niederdeutschen Philologie; Münster (Germany), 1992 Issue, vol. 32, pp. 109-35. (Historical overview of perceptions and image of Low Saxon; in German)
     
  • Witter's Deutsch-Englische SCHREIB- und LESEFIBEL für Amerikanische Freischulen. Reprint. Indianapolis: Indiana German Heritage Society, 1987. Designed for young people, but the paleographic principles are practical for all age groups.
     
  • Write Your Name in Suetterlin. Type in the name you are looking for in German records and it will show approximately what the name will look like in Suetterlin script. You can copy and paste the lettering.