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

South Africa Genealogy Records & More Online

Featured this week are new and updated records for South Africa. The all-free site FamilySearch has two new and one updated collection for South Africa including death and probate records and passenger lists. Ancestry.com also has an updated collection of church records going back to the 17th century. Also new at Ancestry.com are four genealogy records collections for Essex, England.

new genealogy records for South Africa

Featured: South Africa Genealogy Records

If you have ancestors that lived in South Africa, you may already be familiar with some of the challenges of researching them. And if you’re new to genealogy or to your ancestors that lived in South Africa, you might be in for a surprise when it comes to records: census records aren’t available! They are routinely destroyed after being abstracted and thus not available to the public.

So where’s the best place to start looking? Most genealogy experts will tell you to start with death notices. A death notice is different than a death certificate, in that it’s not an official document. Rather, it is a document provided by next of kin, friends, or associates of the deceased. Information provided may not be 100% accurate or reliable, but it can often provide really helpful details and a glimpse into the person’s life.

FamilySearch as a new collection of South Africa, Orange Free State, Probate Records from the Master of the Supreme Court, 1832-1989. There are over 300,000 records in this set, and the most useful records in the collection are the death notices, which give detailed information. The probate records usually have multiple pages and are included in a probate file, which is identified by a probate number.

south african genealogy record

When a person died, the nearest relative or other connection should have completed a death notice and sent it to the Master of the High Court within 14 days of the death. These records might tell you the deceased’s name, birthdate and place, marriage status, parents’ names, the names of their children, information about property and wills left, and more.
There is an updated collection of actual death certificates at FamilySearch, which is the Transvaal, Civil Death, 1869-1954 collection. “Death certificates are arranged chronologically and alphabetically by place and include full name, parent’s name if under the age of ten, mother’s residence, age, sex, birthplace, marital status, occupation, whether pensioner or pensioner’s dependent, place and date of death, residence, place of burial, cause and duration of death, and background of informant. For the years 1899-1902, records are arranged separately by internment camp and district where death occurred.”
If you’re an Ancestry.com subscriber, you can also check out the recently updated collection of Dutch Reformed Church Registers, 1660-1970. This collection contains records from various locations which were part of historic Cape Colony, including Namibia, Cape of Good Hope province and Transvaal province. Record coverage will vary depending on location. It is also available at FamilySearch.

Essex, England

Ancestry.com has four new collections of genealogy records for Essex, England. These BMD records date back as far as the 16th century and may hold important details about the lives of your ancestors living in Essex.

Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1918: “Children were usually baptised within a few days or weeks of birth. The records generally include when the baptism took place and in what parish, child’s Christian name, parents’ given names and the family surname, residence, father’s occupation, and who performed the ceremony. Sometimes you’ll find additional details such as date of birth. Early records may contain less detail.”

Church of England Marriages, 1754-1935: “Couples were usually married in the bride’s parish. Marriage records typically include the bride and groom’s names, residence, date and location of the marriage, names of witnesses, condition (bachelor, spinster, widow, or widower) and the name of the officiant. Some records may also include the father’s name and occupation.”

Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1994: “Burials took place within a few days of death. Records generally list the name of the deceased, residence, burial date, and age at death.”

Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812: “This collection contains images of Church of England parish registers of baptisms and burials during the years 1538–1812, and marriages during the years 1538-1754 from Essex, England.”

Get more new and updated records every week!

Each week we round up the new and updated genealogy records collections for you in a helpful article so you can jump right into researching! Our free weekly email newsletter always has the latest records round up article, as well as other featured articles on genealogy methodology, inspiration, tips and tricks, and more. Plus the newsletter also lets you know where there is a new episode of The Genealogy Gems Podcast, new videos, and updates on news and events. And best of all it’s free! Sign up today to get our email newsletter once a week in your inbox.

Lisa Louise Cooke Author

About the Author: Lisa Louise Cooke is the producer and host of the Genealogy Gems Podcast, an online genealogy audio show and app. She is the author of the books The Genealogist’s Google ToolboxMobile GenealogyHow to Find Your Family History in Newspapers, and the Google Earth for Genealogy video series. She is an international keynote speaker and the Vice President of the Genealogical Speakers Guild.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems

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