Before the 1940s, most records in German-speaking areas (as well as surname books, newspapers, journals and gazetteers) used a Gothic font called Fraktur. Handwritten documents were composed in cursive using a type of script known as blackletter. Notoriously difficult to read, the Fraktur form of blackletter has been giving German genealogy researchers fits for centuries.
As a matter of fact, the font isn’t just difficult for the human eye. Only within the last couple of years has optical-character recognition software allowed archivists to scan German-language newspapers printed in Fraktur/the Gothic script.
Online German Script Translators and Resources
Old German handwriting in the Fraktur script can be hard enough to read, let alone translate. So to make a serious attempt at understanding German genealogy records, you’ll have to crack the Fraktur code. How? Here are six German script translators that can help:
- Brigham Young University: The German Script Tutorial
- FamilySearch Wiki: Germany Handwriting
- Genealoger: German Genealogy—Language, Handwriting, and Script
- My Ancestors and Me: Helps for Translating That Old German Handwriting
- Omniglot: German
- Suetterlin Schrift: German handwriting (For fun, you can see how your name looks written in Suetterlin!)
Germanic Alphabet Chart
A great supplement to your German script research is our free Germanic Alphabet Chart.
As you’ll notice, the uppercase S is often mistaken for C, E and G. In addition, you can easily confuse the following pairs of uppercase letters: the V and B; I and J; and N and R. Likewise, the lowercase letters h, n and y are difficult to differentiate; f and s look alike, as do c and e and i and j. The lowercase k can also cause confusion because it looks like a Roman font letter l with a line through it.