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??)  And if you’d like to learn how to learn how to read the old German handwriting check out her online course here

10 Top Tips for Beginning German Genealogy

Show Notes & Set Your Reminder to Watch the Show

Click the video player below to watch 10 Top Tips for Beginning German Genealogy now. 

Episode 52 Show Notes 

Researching ancestors in another country can be a little daunting. Challenges include foreign languages, moving boundaries, and spelling variations. This is certainly true for German genealogy.

If you’re new to German genealogy or your research has stalled, this episode of Elevenses with Lisa is for you. In fact, even if you don’t have German ancestors I think you will still find the principles and ideas covered very helpful.

Translator, author and German handwriting expert Katherine Schober shares her 10 Top Tips for Beginning Germany Genealogy. These tips are packed with tools and resources that you can start using right away.

Katherine Schober is a German / English translator, specializing in the old German handwriting. She is the author of “The Magic of German Church Records” and “Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting”, as well as the creator of the online course “Reading the Old German Handwriting.” And this year she will be one of the featured speakers at this year’s virtual International German Genealogy Conference.

Click the video below to watch the show. Then scroll down below to get all of the show notes. Premium Members will find the downloadable ad-free show notes cheat sheet PDF in the Resources section at the bottom of the page.

Mentioned in this video:

International German Genealogy Conference July 17-24, 2021.
Use special code EARLY until April 30 to get $50 off the package of your choice.
Registration here

Reading the Old German Handwriting Course online with Katherine Schober
Register for the course here

Use Coupon Code GEMS for 10% off the course.

Watch the video Finding German Villages for Genealogy and Family History with James M. Beidler ​  at the Genealogy Gems YouTube Channel

BOOK: The Family Tree Historical Atlas of Germany by James Beidler at Amazon.

10 Top Tips for Beginning Germany Genealogy

1. Start with What You Know about Your German Ancestor

Resist the temptation to start searching online immediately. Take the time to talk to your relatives, starting with the oldest. Review family documents, photo albums and other materials around your home. You may be surprised how much you already have, and the light that other relatives can shed on the family tree. Every step of the way its critically important to document everything!   

2. Look for Resources in America Before Jumping Over to Germany

  • Photos
  • Family Bibles (Watch Elevenses with Lisa episode 29)
  • Census Records
  • Local church records
  • Passenger Lists (Watch Elevenses with Lisa episode 34)
  • Newspapers
  • People

Read Katherine Schober’s article Before You Cross the Pond: Five Places to Find Your Ancestor in America.

3. Identify the Correct German Town

Records in Germany are kept at the local level. Make sure you have the right town in the right state.

Meyers Gazetteer
About the Meyers Gazetteer from the website: Meyers Orts- und Verkehrs-lexikon des deutschen Reichs “is the most important of all German gazetteers. The goal of the Meyer’s compilers was to list every place name in the German Empire (1871-1918). It gives the location, i.e. the state and other jurisdictions, where the civil registry office was and parishes if that town had them. It also gives lots of other information about each place. The only drawback to Meyer’s is that if a town did not have a parish, it does not tell where the parish was, making reference to other works necessary.”

Learn more at Genealogy Gems about Meyers Gazetteer – read 5 Expert Tips for Using Meyers Gazetteer for Your German Genealogy

The Historic Gazetteer at The Genealogical Gazetteer provides “The precise identification of places is essential in genealogy. Unfortunately, too few researchers care in identifying places. The project “GOV” was initiated to help historians and genealogists with the management of place references and to provide high quality data for anyone.”

4. Identify Available Records for the Town in Germany

  • FamilySearch Library Catalog
  • FamilySearch Wiki – click on region and see what is available.

5. Take Advantage of German Resources at the FamilySearch Wiki

6. Get Familiar with the Old German Handwriting.

  • Books
  • Reading the Old German Handwriting Online Course: https://german-handwriting.teachable.com/

7. Use German Church Records.

Katherine mentioned these websites:

8. Search for Vital Records

Vital records began nationwide in 1876, though it may be possible to find earlier records in certain locales.

9. Be Prepared for “Creative” Spellings.

Some pairs of letters can find themselves interchanged in German words. Understanding which ones were commonly swapped can save you a lot of frustration as you attempt to interpret documents. Examples of commonly switch letters include B and P, and K and G.

For help with common German spelling variations read Katherine’s article called Think Like a German: Spelling Variations in Genealogy Documents.

Geogen v4 offers genealogists a way to discover the areas of Germany where a surname appears most frequently. Type in your ancestor’s German surname and press Enter on your keyboard. Try variations that you have come across in records to compare the results.

geogen v4

Geogen v4 offers genealogists a way to discover the areas of Germany where a surname appears most frequently. 

10. Use the Genealogy FAN CLUB

If you get stuck, use the FAN CLUB principle by looking at Friends, Associates, and Neighbors. These are the people who interacted with your ancestors in important ways. They will come in particularly handy when you run out of records for your German ancestor. By reviewing the records of those closest to your ancestor you may find new clues that can move your search forward and lead back to your family tree.

Elevenses with Lisa Archive

Visit the archive of free Elevenses with Lisa episodes. 
Visit the archive of Premium Elevenses with Lisa episodes. 
You can also find them through the menu: Premium > Premium Videos > Elevenses with Lisa.

Learn More at Genealogy Gems

Lisa’s Guest: 

Katherine Schober is a German-English genealogy speaker, author, and translator, specializing in the old German handwriting. She is the author of “The Magic of German Church Records” and “Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting”, as well as the creator of the online course “Reading the Old German Handwriting.” Katherine lives in St. Louis with her Austrian husband, and can be reached via e-mail at language@sktranslations.com or via her website, www.sktranslations.com.

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