As you search for your German ancestors there may be times when a search engine will find an ancestor's name in a newspaper which is printed in German. (Isn't OCR amazing?!) What happens when you know or suspect the article is about your ancestor but you can't read German? There's help if you're willing to patiently examine the letters and translate them.
I find the chart at right useful because it shows our Roman letters and both the old German type and the old German script. It will be helpful when translating newspapers as well as old German documents with mixed type and script. This is from KrauseHouse.
America Writes Home is another source showing Roman letters and both German type fonts and script letters. From all of these sources you can see variations of script, though the type fonts are essentially the same. If you are trying to translate a document with both type and script such as a church or civil record, it's helpful to have a variety of sources since you may need to determine which type of script was used. A previous post, Helps for Translating That Old German Handwriting, gives sources to aid in the translation of script lettering.
The chart at left, also from KrauseHouse, may be a bit better than the one above because it includes modified vowels and compound consonants, integral parts of the German language.
KrausHouse has another chart which shows Roman letters, German letters, German script letters, and approximate pronunciation in German. It could be helpful if you need to spell out a word to a German speaker.
After you've translated the old German font into Roman letters, you'll still need to translate from German to English unless you're already able to do that. If you can't, I find BeoLingus helpful for just such a situation.
Google News Archive has several German newspapers if you'd like to practice your translation skills. (You can look at this one if you like.) I tried it and decided it's not easy. Nor was there much incentive since I chose a large font advertisement (because I couldn't find a news article about my ancestor).
My motive for learning to translate old German into English is this: a year or so ago I learned that my great-grandfather, Henry Meinzen, may have served in the Civil War. Since he would have recently arrived from Germany, I thought perhaps his enlistment would have been mentioned in one of the local German newspapers. I thought it wouldn't be too hard to recognize at least his last name if I saw it. How wrong I was! German newspaper typefaces of the 1860s look as unlike Roman letters as possible. Armed with the aids I've shared in this post, I will make a second attempt at deciphering the local German newspaper of his day. I think I'll translate "enlistment," "Meinzen," "soldiers" and other words that may have been used to publish an enlistment announcement into German, then find the old German letters for the words. I am ever hopeful of finding more about Henry.
For readers hoping to translate old German script go to Helps for Translating That Old German Handwriting.
Copyright © 2010 by NDM for My Ancestors and Me.