German in the Cemetery


If you happen to be in an area where many Germans immigrated in the late 19th or early 20th century and you wander into an older cemetery, you've a good chance of coming upon some monuments with German words or abbreviations. In the spirit of the season, it's the perfect time to go over some of the common words or phrases that often appear in older US cemeteries marking the final resting place of many German-Americans.

Many of the words on the headstones are very simple and common, just as in English. Luckily, some words are really quite easy to figure out even to someone who hasn't spent much time with German. That's mainly because English is a Germanic language. If you try sounding out the German, you might realize how similar the word sounds to English and figure it out. Many of the months are literally the same.

Pairs of stones with Vater and Mutter frequently appear in these older graveyards. Pronounce the "V" as "F", and you'll likely figure out that you have "Father" and "Mother." Oftentimes, you'll find other relationships carved on nearby stones as well. The chart lists several other common family relationships. Particularly check out the words used for "wife," which include "Frau, Gattin, Ehefrau von."

​Some words are a less obvious. The majority of stones and monuments list either Geb and Gest. Quite simply they just mean "born" and "died," although these are abbreviations. Sometimes, you'll see the full words

Many of us are used to seeing some familiar words on a headstones, including "Rest in Peace", "Farewell", "The Lord is My Shepard", "At Peace."

Just as in English, many German-speaking family members would choose traditional phrases to go on a loved one's stone. Just as in English, several key words often appear in different combinations. Frieden means Peace. Ruhe or ruhet mean rest. Gott is very close to the English "God." In truth, just as English headstones have almost unlimited inscriptions, so do the German ones. These are just a few of the most common ones to get you started.

If you'd like a handy reference of common German gravestone translations, get your free one page tip sheet: German Gravestone Key here - for those times when you're just dying to know what those words mean.

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