A year or two ago I requested and received some church records written in the late 1800s in German. The handwriting was completely indecipherable to me! I trusted that they were the records of my ancestors because the church historian who had searched the church ledgers knew the old German handwriting and assured me that they were for my ancestors. It wasn't enough, though. I wanted to know for myself what the handwriting said, so I looked for websites where I could learn Old German handwriting.
I realized that there are two problems with Old German documents. The first is that the alphabet is not the same so I had to translate the letters from Old German to English. Second, I still couldn't read them until I translated the German words to English. Double work!
Depending on the age of the documents, you may need to translate from Fraktur, Sütterlin/Suetterlin, or Kurrent. It will be fairly easy to determine which handwriting was used if you compare the letters on your document to the letters from each style of writing.
One of the resources I found very helpful was a lecture hand-out by Sabine Schleichert called "How to Cope With That Old German Script" from German Genealogical Research Service. Because this hand-out has a copyright, I give you only the link. I found it especially helpful because it has a chart with letters in English, Fraktur, Kurrent, and Sütterlin. It also has the signs for days of the week as well as a chart for German symbols and words of genealogical use, such as birth, baptism, marriage, etc. The German Genealogical Research Service may be a helpful website to you if you have German immigrant ancestors because of the links available there.
The image at the top of this post is Sütterlin from a website called Suetterlinschrift. You can see that some of the letters are similar to their English or modern German counterparts but others look nothing like our modern letters. I found that I either needed to practice till I recognized certain words or use a chart like this one and translate letter by letter.
Another site I found useful was German Script Alphabet which looks like Suetterlin and shows the letters in handwriting and in print. While the digitization of this page is not exceptional, the information is very helpful. You will be surprised at how different the printed and handwritten versions of the letters look.
This Alphabet Chart includes modern, Fraktur, Sütterlin, and Kurrent as well as several handwritten examples for each of the letters. You know how handwriting varies from one person to another, right? We all generally recognize a variety of handwriting but when translating it from another language, it's sometimes hard to tell for sure which letter is which. This excellent chart helps with that. Again, you might be surprised at how differently people wrote the same letters.
Handwriting Guide: German Gothic is an excellent resource guide from the Family History Library. It covers old German type and handwriting and includes a chart showing Roman type, German type, and German script.
If you happen to be interested in having a True Type Font of Fraktur letters, here you go! Have some fun. This site includes a few paragraphs of lessons about the alphabet and some specific letters as well as how to type the vowels with umlauts using the number keypad.
Beolingus is a translation site. If you can translate the Old German alphabet into modern letters, you can use this site to translate from German to English and vice versa.
Finally, among the FamilySearch Research Courses is a series of interactive lessons on Kurrent handwriting which include handouts that you can print. The great thing about these lessons is that no matter what kind of learner you are, aural, visual, interactive, etc., that method is included in these lessons. They are presented by a lady with a beautiful German accent who invites you to do on-screen activities. When you get to the site, be sure to scroll down till you get to "Reading Handwritten Records Series" and then look for the three German Kurrent lessons.
If you're translating Old German handwriting, I wish you all the best. You will feel like you've really accomplished something by the time you're finished!
If you're translating Old German typefaces, Helps for Translating the Old German Typeface may be helpful to you.
Copyright © 2010 by NDM for My Ancestors and Me.