November 24, 2017

When to Use Google Translate for Genealogy–And Best Translation Websites for When You Don’t

You can often use Google Translate for genealogy to help you translate single words or phrases. But what if you need to translate an entire passage or document? Here’s why you might want to use a different web tool–and a list of top translation websites from expert Katherine Schober.
 Best translation websites

Thanks to Katherine Schober of SK Translations for this guest blog post.

Google Translate for Genealogy–and its Limits

Google Translate is a good tool for translating individual words and short, non-complex sentences. But it works better with basic words rather than long sentences or paragraphs. This tool often ignores idioms, or words and phrases that mean something different than the actual words imply.

Mistranslations of idioms can completely change the meaning of a document and leave you confused about certain aspects of your ancestor’s life. In German, for example, there are multiple idioms using the word “sausage,” a food that is a large part of the culture in Germany. If you type in the German idiom “Jemandem eine Extrawurst braten,” which literally means “to fry someone an extra sausage,” Google translates it word for word, coming up with the translation result “to bake an extra sausage.” This may leave the non-experienced person confused, thinking their ancestor was discussing cooking a meal. However, an experienced translator would know that this phrase actually means “to give someone special treatment,” and has nothing to do with cooking. (See my blog post, “10 Hilarious German Sausage Sayings to Try on Your Friends.”)

Google Translate can also be unreliable if a word has multiple meanings. For example, think of the word “run” in English. It can mean “a fast jog,” “a tear in your stocking,” “to be a candidate for an election,” and so on. Google Translate could easily pick the wrong English translation of your of your word, leaving you with a falsely translated document or simply very confused.

Beyond Google Translate: Best Translation Websites

Here are three websites I recommend when Google Translate just isn’t up to your genealogy translation needs:

  1. Linguee.com: This is a very helpful translation site. Unlike Google Translate, it shows you words and phrases translated into English by actual translators and not machines. You receive the definition of the word, plus pages of various sample sentences that include your word/phrase in a contextual format (in both the foreign language and in English). This means you can scroll through the examples to see which translation is the most accurate English word for your document.
  2. WordReference.com: This is an online dictionary with multiple language options available. Depending on the word, it may provide sentence examples and other entries where your word is found. This helps you to ensure the translated word is the right option for your text.
  3. Google.com: Although Google Translate can’t always get the meaning right, the Google.com search engine is a wonderful reference. If you can’t find your foreign word on the sites above, try typing it into a Google search with the word English after it. Sometimes you will find forums where your word is discussed by various family historians. If this doesn’t work, try adding genealogy after English, or taking English out and just writing genealogy. Playing around with your search request may very well give you different results. And Lisa Louise Cooke recommends putting quotation marks around the word in order to ensure it appears in every search result. Here’s an example of how that search would look: “Geburt” English Genealogy

Katherine Schober head shotI’ve previously recommended top websites especially for German translations on this blog: click here to check it out. Good luck to Sue, who commented after reading that post: “Great article! I can’t wait to try some of these websites. We have a large stack of German letters written to my husband’s mother that look impossible to read. Thank you!”

Katherine Schober of SK Translations specializes in translating German genealogical and historical documents. She has recently joined Lisa Louise Cooke on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast: catch her creative, use-in-any-language translation tips in episodes #151 and #152. Not a Premium member yet? Click here to see what you’re missing out on in the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast: Premium members get a year’s worth of access to all episodes! (Time for a binge-listening weekend??)

Translating German Genealogy Records: 9 Top German Translation Websites

Need help reading or translating German genealogical documents? These top German translation websites will help you identify and translate old German letters, words, abbreviations, street names, and occupations. These online resources are so good, even the experts use them! See how they can help your German family history.

9 Top German translation websites

 

Katherine Schober head shotThanks to Katherine Schober of SK Translations for this guest post.

Those of you who have braved the world of German genealogy may have run into a beautiful but solid genealogical “brick wall:” old German handwriting. “Kurrentschrift” (literally: “running script”) was the main form of writing in German-speaking lands until the mid-20th century. Unfortunately, this elegant script is often a major obstacle for modern-day genealogists searching for their German ancestors.

But it doesn’t have to be! While I recommend contacting a professional for the more complicated texts (I’d be happy to be of service), you can often make substantial progress in transcribing and translating old German documents with the help of several fantastic online resources.

Top German Translation Websites

These are my favorite German translation websites for genealogy (and yes, I use them myself):

  1. Wordmine.info: This is a great site for transcribing German genealogy documents, especially if you can only recognize some of the letters in a word. Choose either “words ending with” (Wörter mit Endung) or “words beginning with” (Wörter beginnend mit) and type in the first or last letters of the word you are deciphering. For example, if you can only recognize “tum” at the end of the word, type in “tum” under “Wörter mit Endung”. It will then show you all the German words ending in “tum”, which may help you to recognize what your handwritten word could be.
  2. Kurrent Wikipedia Page: This site offers a nice key of the Kurrent letters and the corresponding letters in our alphabet.
  3. Abkuerzungen.de: If you see an abbreviation in your genealogy document but aren’t sure what it stands for, you can type it into this website and it will provide you with a list of possible German words for your abbreviation.
  4. Online German Dictionaries: LEOOnline Dictionary by Langescheidt, and dict.cc are all extensive online German dictionaries. If one of these dictionaries doesn’t have a definition for a word, one of the other two might.
  5. Linguee.com: This is a very helpful translation site. Unlike Google Translate, it shows you words and phrases translated into English by actual translators and not machines. You receive the definition of the word, plus pages of various sample sentences that include your word/phrase in a contextual format.
  6. Woerterbuchnetz: This is a good site for finding the meanings of old-fashioned German words. Modern dictionaries often do not have definitions for the outdated words found in genealogy documents, but this online collection of old German dictionaries does. Knowledge of German required.
  7. Der Familienstammbaum: This website provides an A-Z list of old-fashioned German occupations with their modern-day German translation.
  8. Street Search Engine. If you know that a word in your document is a street (“Straße”), but can’t figure out which street it is, use this site to help you out. First, type in the city in the “Ortsverzeichnis A-Z” (gazetteer). The site then pulls up a map of the city and an A-Z list of street names. If you know at least some of the letters in your street name, this list can help you to recognize the correct transcription of the word.
  9. Fonts2U. This site allows you to type in any word to see how it would look in Kurrentschrift. While everyone’s handwriting was, of course, different, it is nice to get an idea of what a word could have looked like in the old-fashioned script. For example, “Kurrentschrift:”

Katherine Schober of SK Translations specializes in translating German genealogical and historical documents. She recently joined Lisa Louise Cooke on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #151 with creative, use-in-any-language Google strategies for translating documents and identifying ancestral names and places. Click here to see what else has aired on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast–and consider becoming a Premium member to get access to the entire Premium Podcast archive (it could see you through a whole year’s worth of workouts, commutes, or household chores!).

How To Pronounce Names: Google Translate and Name Pronunciation Tools

how do you pronounce thatCheck out these 3 free online tools that help with how to pronounce names.

Recently, I heard from a Genealogy Gems listener in The Netherlands, who shared research tips for those starting to trace Dutch ancestors. I wanted to mention his email on my free Genealogy Gems podcast, but I didn’t know how to pronounce his name, Niek.

There have been other times I wished I knew how to pronounce names of ancestors or distant cousins, or other foreign words. Here are 3 free online tools that can help. They’re each a little different. I’m giving you all three so you can run the name through more than one site to be even more confident you’re getting the right pronunciation.

1. Google Translate is a powerful, free tool I use for quick translation look-ups. Google Translate now has an audio tool for some languages that will pronounce the words you enter. Look for the speaker icon in the bottom left corner of the translate box and click it:

Google Translate how to pronounce Niek

Google Translate is an awesome free tool for other reasons, too–click here to read about one of its qualities that actually got a gasp out of the audience when I mentioned it in a lecture.

how to pronounce niek2. Forvo describes itself as “the largest pronunciation guide in the world, the place where you´ll find millions of words pronounced in their original languages.” It’s like a pronunciation wiki. A quick search for “Niek” gave me the result shown here. I clicked on “Pronunciation by MissAppeltaart” to hear how that contributor (who is from The Netherlands) said that name. By the way, you can contribute your own pronunciations by clicking on “Pronounce” to see a list of words that are waiting to be recorded.

niek at pronounce names3. Pronounce Names gives you visual cues for pronouncing a name, which is helpful for those who aren’t sure they heard an audio pronunciation correctly. This is what it looks like when you ask for a name pronunciation for Niek.

More Free Online Tools–These are Gems!

Try These Two Powerful Tools for Finding Genealogy Records OnlineTry These 2 Powerful Online Tools for Finding Genealogy Records

New Online Property Map Tools for U.S. Genealogy Research

Compare Look-Alikes in Your Family with This Facial Recognition Web App