Tuesday, October 6, 2015

And Now I Have to Learn German

Today is German American day, and it reminds me that I need to keep up my studies on learning German.

But not some normal useful German, that I could use for say, a trip to Germany.  You know, go to Germany and eat, talk, and act like a native son returning to the old country for a homecoming visit!

No, I need to learn the old kind of German handwritten script. That German. The stuff that looks almost impossible to read, German. Chicken scratch German.

I realized this a while back when I found a treasure trove of old documents coming out of Berlin. Birth, marriage, and death certificates all written in the old German hand.  And then I started finding letters and postcards that my various relatives had written.

My first question was does Rosetta Stone even have a course in old German script?  No, no they do not.

Well, so I went to Amazon and bought pretty much every book on deciphering that crazy handwriting that the Germans insisted on using at exactly the my ancestors were born, married, or died. What a coincidence.

The issue I was then confronted with was this. All the books were filled with the same indecipherable stuff, and the more I looked at it, the more I realized how daunting this task was going to be.  And, on top of all that, different people write in different ways! Who knew!

So, here are your options if you are ever faced with this yourself.

How to read old German handwriting script:

  1. Hire someone else to do it for you. Throw cash at the problem. This is a problem that money can solve. 
  2. Find a support group and join it.  There are people in the world that can still read this stuff, and some of them like doing it. They even do it for free!  You have to search for them, but there are support groups on Facebook and other places. Genealogy Translations on Facebook even does all languages. 
  3. Buy a good book. And by this, I mean choose one book and actually read it. Do the exercises they prescribe. I have bought all of the books, and if you are only going to buy one book, it should be A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your Germanic Ancestors by S. Chris Anderson and Ernest Thode. It is a great book, and the title doesn't say anything about German handwriting, so you might miss it. As it turns out, much of German genealogy is reading this stuff, so everyone is in the same boat. 
  4. Practice practice practice.  And, yes. The more you do it, the better you get. Volunteer to help someone do an indexing project and practice, practice, practice.  
  5. Buy more books as you learn more. You need to walk before you can run. You shouldn't be buying advanced books on German script until you have at least done some of the basics, like learning the alphabet.  Just like when you were a child. And, just doing that is not as easy as it sounds.  You'll know when it is time to read the college text books. 

So, my tip for today's German American day is just simply buy A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your Germanic Ancestors and be done with it.

A Genealogist's Guide to Discovering Your Germanic Ancestors 
Starting learning German script with me today. Misery loves company!

Oh, and by the way, that postcard at the top translates as:
21 Feb 1913 Berlin 
To Frau H. Maass at the Hotel Imperial in Menton on the French Rivera 
Very esteemed Lady! Allow me to send you a Sunday greeting and hope that it finds you in excellent health. I am enclosing a new photograph, but the boy did not stand still. Gerda  is standing there like a little doll. The children and myself are feeling well and I am signing this letter respectfully your devoted M. Zemsch [housekeeper]

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