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Tips for Translating German Church Records: Cheat sheet

It is hard enough to find the German church record you want, but when you do, it sometimes is near impossible to read! For most of today's researchers, both the German language and the handwriting make using the old records tough.

Very old records often consist of blocks of text, and they might be in Latin (especially typical for Catholic records), but many later ones came in a register like an example from 1864 Motzlar (a small town now in Thuringia). Knowing the template helps in figuring out where to look for key genealogical names, dates and places, such as in the baptismal register below.

Tip: The scribes often would underline the key names in church and civil records. Below, Hohmann is underlined in two spots, in this case once for the child and once for the father. This baptism is for a child with the last name Hohmann.

1864 German Baptism Record
1864 German Baptism Record

Getting familiar with your family names written in German helps tremendously. Our "Old German Writing Tips" has some suggestions for ways to see the names you want in both the Gothic Fraktur and the old cursive Kurrent or Sütterlin. For example, in searching for the Hohman family in Motzlar, I could easily zero in on the Hohman name (written in both Latin script and the old cursive).

Tip: Get familiar with how the Family (and place) names look written in German Fraktur or the old cursive Kurrent.

Birth and Baptism Words in German
Birth and Baptism Words in German

In the Motzlar record, the third and fourth columns have dates - the fourth with the word "Taufe" or baptism, a critical word for genealogists. Many people did not have a birth record per se. Instead the focus was on the baptism and its record. Often the record would also list the birth date. In this case, the third column does say "Geburt" or birth. The Hohman child was born in April which conveniently is the same word in both German and English. Luckily, English is a Germanic language and many months are similar between the two languages. The child was born and baptized the same day, the 9th of April.

Tip: Learn the months in German and look for dates (our tip sheet shows the typical words for months in German). Note: some older records use alternate words for the months. FamilySearch has a great extensive list.

The fifth column "Geschlecht- und Name des Kindes" provides the surname and given name of the child. The priest wrote Hohmann in the Latin alphabet, but he wrote the given name using Kurrent. It has a tough-to-read name with the crazy W and the name Wendelin.

German Translation for Given and Last Name

The sixth column "Name und Stand der Eltern" lists the Name and City of the Parents - more key family information. We already know Hohmann. With some practice, we can determine that the father's name is Leopold. The mother's name is trickier, especially since the first name breaks over two lines. She is Margareta geb (which is for geboren, or née, her maiden name) Fischer.

The godparents "Taufpaten" (sometimes just listed as Paten) appear in the seventh column, and these can be critical clues for you as often godparents had a significant relationship with the family. In this case, we see another Wendelin Hohmann, quite possibly a uncle or some similar relation. Notice that this time Hohmann is written in Kurrent.

Tip: Get used to reading names in different writing styles.

Fraktur is Hard Enough. What about Kurrent or Sütterlin?

Old German cursive handwriting truly can be a challenge, especially since people used many variations. Even so, spending some time looking at key words written in Kurrent or Sütterlin can help. Look at our free German Vitals (Church & Civil Records) Tip Sheet with the translation of many words typically found in church and civil records in Fraktur and two versions of Kurrent. We hope this helps you! Find it and more at the "Tips Section" of our site.

Examples of German Translations and Writingin Fraktur Kurrent and Sutterlin
Examples of Words in English, German, Fraktur and Suetterlin

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