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Reading Old German Letters

 
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roger.pape
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Joined: 17 Mar 2009
Posts: 385
Location: Liverpool, NY

PostPosted: Wed Dec 09, 2009 11:20 pm    Post subject: Reading Old German Letters Reply with quote

Some time ago, cousin Myrna sent me a number of family letters from Germany. Most were letters to my Grandfather Jacob Pape from his brothers back in the Heeslingen area during the 1890s. They were handwritten in “alte Schrift” (or Kurrent), the cursive handwriting in use at that time. Another letter was to my aunt Flora from Claus Pape’s family dating about 1955 or 1956, written in the more modern style.

To get an idea of the handwriting, samples of the early and later styles are shown below.

Early Kurrent:



Pastor Kurth was able to translate this particular letter and in this section Claus is talking about the high cost of hogs. One word that Pastor Kurth couldn’t interpret was “ferkeln” which means “farrowing”. (He may not have been familiar with that word although, in early days, it was often the custom that the pastor managed the livestock breeding for a community) If you are interested in learning to read this type of script, there is a good LDS tutorial at https://familysearch.org/learningcenter/lesson/reading-german-handwritten-records-lesson-1-kurrent-letters/69. Another good tutorial is on the BYU site at https://script.byu.edu/Pages/German/en/intro.aspx.

For comparison, the following is a snippet from the later letter written in the modern style.



Don Dittmer translated this letter for Myrna. In this section, cousin Anna is writing about her mother (Claus’s wife) who was 71 years old and having difficulties coping with her son’s death in WWII.

Obviously, the later style is much easier to read; but, then, one must be able to translate it. I started the first grade in 1941. I remember bringing my copy of the German primer to school where Miss Lulu was to begin instructing us in the German language. But then came Pearl Harbor and war with Japan and Germany. German was no longer taught in St. Paul’s Elementary School and we were told to put away our primer. So I never became proficient in the language. Of course, many people still spoke Plattdeutch and the oldtimers that came into the lumber yard expected you to understand them.

If you have difficulties reading the language, there are various on-line translation services such as http://translate.google.com/?hl=en#de%7cen%7c . With them, you can paste in German words, paragraphs, documents, or website addresses and get a reasonable translation of the text. Give it a try with some German text and see what the results look like. Maybe you have some old German letters in your files and wondered what they said.


Last edited by roger.pape on Mon Jun 13, 2016 6:12 pm; edited 2 times in total
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roger.pape
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Joined: 17 Mar 2009
Posts: 385
Location: Liverpool, NY

PostPosted: Mon May 03, 2010 1:57 pm    Post subject: Translating tips Reply with quote

Since I wasn't having any luck finding someone proficient in transcribing old German script, I decided to take a stab at doing it myself. I was surprised to find that it was not all that difficult, but definitely time consuming. For me, the process involved transcribing the individual characters one by one to form words and then trying to translate the words. Someone with a good command of the German language could probably do this much more efficiently.

I had difficulty transcribing some of the passages in the old letters because an individual's handwriting can vary significantly from the "classic" form. However, I could at least get the gist of certain parts and discovered things about my ancestors in Germany that I was not aware of.

After doing this for a while, I found a few techniques that helped me. You can read this in the following document, Translating Tips.
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