Even for German-language buffs, text in German genealogy records can be hard to read. Here are seven free resources for deciphering Old German script.
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 scripts that may well appear to be chicken scratches to the naked eye.
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.
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. Here are some online tools that can help you:
- 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
You can also download our free Germanic Alphabet Chart for more help decoding German script.
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.
You can learn more about finding, deciphering and using German records in my book The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide. And for more on German genealogy websites, dive into Trace Your German Roots Online.