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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
I’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.
Recently Katharine, a Premium podcast member, asked for my advice on collaborating with a research partner. She wrote, “While I am primarily a digital researcher, and have divested myself of duplicate papers, my research buddy uses a lot of binders and has many unconnected families in various computer genealogy programs. We need a good way to collect and focus our research.”
As it happens, Genealogy Gems Contributing Editor Sunny Morton and I just co-wrote an article on this topic. “Teaming Up” appears in the December 2013 issue of Family Tree Magazine. In honor of this article, we’ve prepared a companion series of blog posts on collaborating and are hosting a FREE giveaway for a digital subscription to Family Tree Magazine.
First, check out these strategies for deciding how to work with someone.
First, don’t judge or try to change each other too much. If one of you really wants to learn new tech tools or organizational methods, that’s great. But your strategy for staying organized and connected should be as easy as possible for both of you so you can focus on the research itself. Requiring an old-school genealogist to suddenly master Skype, Evernote and Dropbox to work together might be as unfair as asking a newbie researcher to locate unindexed court records and transcribe them in German!
Next, play to your strengths. Is one of you super organized, or a fast typist, or great at merging GEDCOMS or another skill that would move your project forward? Does only one of you have direct access to certain research materials (databases, manuscript sources, etc)? Talk about your individual strengths and interests and then divide the workload accordingly.
Mix it up. Often in any collaboration, one person is more tech-savvy than the other. Sometimes a combination of traditional and up-to-the-minute technologies will work best. For example, maybe you’ll decide to keep your shared files in Dropbox but communicate by old-fashioned telephone instead of Skype. Maybe one of you will organize everything online (or at least on the computer) and then mail printouts to a non-computer-user for review.
Watch this blog for more on technology tools for collaborating, and check out our article (which has lots of great exclusive stuff!) in the December 2013 issue of Family Tree Magazine , available by digital and print subscription.
Check out the other posts in this series:
Remember the board game LIFE? Archives.com has put its own spin on this family favorite that experienced a revival in the 1960s.
(Quick Quiz: 1. What year was the game of LIFE created?
Bonus: 2. What was the original name?)
We recently discovered this cool, interactive webpage for learning more about U.S. history through census facts. It’s called The American Family Through Time and you can “play” it here free at Archives.com.
This clever page uses census data to show how American life has changed over the course of 220 years (and 23 censuses). You can click on decade-by-decade summaries on the “gameboard.” In addition to the census questions, you’ll find some fun now-and-then comparisons for housing, education and occupations. Great for kids of all ages!
Quick Quiz Answers:
2. The Checkered Game of Life