Shelved: Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting

tips and tricksI never win anything; my grandmother has won the knitting competitions at the Erie County Fair for the past three years in a row now (no, really, she knits blankets and sweaters and she’s made a name for herself in the Buffalo area), but I clearly didn’t inherit the same luck. But then again, my luck might be changing: last week, I won a copy of Katherine Schober’s new book, Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting: A Translator’s Tricks of the Trade for Transcribing Germany Genealogy Documents. It seems 2019 is off to a pretty good start; so here’s my review:

I have two lines of German ancestors on my dad’s side of the family tree: my great-grandmother, Marie Helen Getman, descends from a long line of Catholic Maria’s and Mary’s and Marie’s (she was even a nun herself back in the day), and I can trace my paternal grandmother’s family back to Carl and Charlotte Sophia Bluhm, two innkeepers in Blumberg, Germany. That’s why I was excited to hear about Schober’s new book: I have experience in deciphering Polish records, but I’m not as confident when it comes to my German ancestry. I’ve been following her blog, SK Translations, for a few months now (after I learned about her work on Faces of NextGen), and the advice she provides–from German language insights on umlauts to handwritten examples of common German names–has been invaluable to my research.

Tips and Tricks is a compilation of Schober’s most popular blog posts and articles on deciphering German documents, and the idea is to provide the reader with the tools they’ll need “to try deciphering [German documents] on [their] own, working out the puzzle of the individual letters and feeling the sense of excitement and pride that comes with being able to read a previously illegible word.” The book is divided into eleven easy-to-read-and-navigate chapters that I can see myself referencing again and again with each new German record that I come across in my search. There’s a chapter on deciphering look-alike letters in German handwriting; one on identifying typical spelling mistakes; and another on common ancestral occupations in their written form.

Have you found a German marriage certificate, but don’t know how to interpret its format? There’s a chapter for that. Need to understand the abbreviations you’re seeing? Found a word that isn’t in the dictionary? Or worse, found a Latin word hidden among the German text? There are chapters for that, too. My favorite, though, is chapter eleven, “Practice Makes Perfect;” Schober provides a list of “real-life” examples of handwritten German words and phrases for the reader to practice deciphering, and she offers an answer key at the end. Tips and Tricks is the perfect resource for the family historian who is just starting out with German records–it’s brief and concise and to-the-point–as well as the long-time genealogist who needs to brush up on their skills.

Plus, Schober seems like a genuine and collaborative and hard-working member of the genealogy community; she even agreed to write her favorite German word on the inside cover of the book, right next to her signature: Schmetterling, or butterfly. If you have a spare moment, check out her blog, follow along with her progress on her new handwriting course or show your support on Twitter. After all, isn’t that what genealogy is about? Collaboration and support and a lot of hard work. I give Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting five out of five stars; thank you for sharing your wisdom with the rest of us, helping us work out “the puzzle of the individual letters” and feel “the sense of excitement and pride that comes with being able to read a previously illegible word.”Jamie

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Goodreads // LibraryThing // Amazon // SK Translations

29 thoughts on “Shelved: Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting

    1. I made a scarf about a year ago based off of a YouTube video–I think I did a stitch or two and alternated with a pearl? Something like that. It surprisingly doesn’t look too bad! I can imagine socks being really difficult; I don’t know how my grandmother manages the sweaters with the buttons. More power to you both!

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  1. German genealogy can be a bear. Fortunately, I read modern and Gothic German as well as Latin and Italian. This comes in handy when researching records in Italy’s South Tirol region as many church and civic records are a mix of these three languages along with our local dialect Nones. In the end I must “Varda e fas.”

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    1. Of course you do–not even surprising! I did take Latin in college, and I sang a song in German one year in chorus, but yeah…this is all Greek to me! I thought my ancestors were tough, but the records alternate only between Polish and German so far.

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      1. Oh no, that’s not how you’ve ever come across at all! I’m sorry if I made you feel that way–you just always share the most interesting stories here. It doesn’t surprise me that you know all of these languages–that just seems like you. Your comments make my day, I assure you!

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      1. Just from the little I’ve dipped into, when I start researching my Gauffreau ancestors, I think anything further back than three or four four generations is going to be written in French. I took French in high school, but it was a very long time ago, and I retained next to nothing.

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