28 September 2012

Help for Understanding and Translating German Handwriting

I was approached by a gentleman named Peter who is part of a small family business located in Berlin, Germany that specializes in transcribing and translating old handwritten German documents into English. Peter asked if he could possibly be a guest author and write a post for The Educated Genealogist.  Sounding a little too good to be true, I snooped around and checked this company out.  The company is called "Metascriptum" and found they have a great rep for  accuracy and excellent customer service.  With few Germans capable of translating the Old German handwriting known as Sütterlin script, many are turning to this company for help.

German Writing:  The Difference in Time

As anyone who has seen an older German document and a newer one can tell you, German writing has undergone many changes throughout a vast span of time. What is now considered to be standard German was only recently developed out of the ashes of older German dialects. Understanding older German documents can be quite trying to the unpracticed mind.

There are actually many different variations of the German language, some of which are no longer spoken or used in the written word. As such, there are many cases of German writing that cannot be read by fluent speakers and readers of standard German. A brief history of the German language can be very interesting and worthwhile to learn.

Low and High German

Before the middle ages, the German language went through what is called the Second Germanic Sound Shift. This sound shift was only adopted by the Southern half of Germany. The Northern lowlands did not adopt the sound shift. Therefore, low and high German was born. It was called Low German due to the lowlands.

Low German is now rarely used. It has been losing popularity over the last several hundred years, and there are many who can no longer speak or read it. Low German dialects are still sometimes found in the Northern lowlands, however, although the more common standard German is used throughout Germany.

Old, Middle and New High German

High German went through many different stages. Old high German was spoken until around the tenth century. This form of German has many differences in how articles are used, or actually not used in Old High German, as well as verb conjugation and other features of the language. Middle high German was used by minstrels in speaking and particularly in writing. It overlaps with both the old and the new High German, but is distinctly different from both. Finally, new High German developed out of Middle High German, near the end of the middle ages.

The German You Hear Today

Today’s German language is called standard German. This is now the language that all German writing is in. It has been the language of writing for the country as a whole for some years. The development of standard German was slow, with important steps being taken in the thirteenth century and each century thereafter until the 1800’s. As such, there are many older forms of German writing that are difficult to read or understand.

If you have writings that are clearly written in a dialect or form of German, and you cannot understand them, there are those that can help. Professional transcribers who have a grasp of the old and new Germanic languages can transcribe older forms of German to the new German. Alternatively, you can also have those writings translated into English, although this may take a bit more time. In this way, the German writing of the past need not be lost or misunderstood. The meaning can easily be restored and studied, giving older German writing back to the masses, or simply back to a united family. 

DISCLOSURE:  I have not received any compensation nor services from this company in return for the guest post.  EVEN MORE DISCLOSURE:  I have been really busy lately and my blog needed a post and he happened to approach me at the right time so I used him.  

23 September 2012

New England Hospitality

Before I left for my trip to Rhode Island,  Barbara Mathews informed me that pineapples symbolize welcome and they are carved everywhere in Rhode Island.  Well I didn't see any pineapples during my trip, but I did get to meet with several genealogists who until now I have adored and admired from afar.

Marian and Me

Marian Pierre-Louis drove all the way from Massachusetts just to have lunch with me. We ate at a place she described as a shi-shi type restaurant. It didn't matter to me, I was thrilled to finally meet Marian in person. I don't know how she manages to get things done especially with a young family, but she does. And she does it well. Marian is the author of two blogs: Marian's Roots and Rambles and The New England House Historian. You will also find her presenting webinars over at Legacy. Her latest project is a weekly radio show called Fieldstone Common. The show airs live every Thursday at 1:00pm Eastern. Her guest this week will be Maureen Taylor - The Photo Detective - to discuss her newest books "The Last Muster" and "Fashionable Folks Hairstyles 1840-1900."

And this lets me segue smoothly into the next day when I had a lovely dinner and a grand tour of Providence at night by car with Maureen Taylor. I have met Maureen several times at conferences over the last couple of years but this was the first time I had her all to myself. After we had a lovely dinner she drove me around Providence, pointing out all the historical sites of the city.

Diane and Me with Barbara in the mirror taking photo

I had yet another enjoyable lunch with Barbara Poole and Diane Boumenot. Diane is the author of "One Rhode Island Family." Although fairly new to genealogy blogging, Diane is not new to genealogical research. Her blog has a page devoted to free Rhode Island Resources that you won't find anywhere else! Barbara, who also drove from Massachusetts, is the author of two blogs "Life From The Roots" and "Seeing New England." She started blogging about the same time I did and felt like I knew her already. But meeting for the first time in person was way more than special for me.

Barbara, Me and Sharon

Last but most certainly not least was when I drove to Massachusetts (without GPS or a map) to an extraordinary dinner I shared with Sharon Sergeant and Barbara Mathews. Both are brainiacs beyond belief. I had some previous interaction with Sharon through various online things. The first was back in 2006 when Ancestral Manor had presentations one could attend via teleconference. One of the best was when Tom Jones gave a presentation about writing for genealogical periodicals. This was way before webinars came on the scene. Barbara Mathews is a certified genealogist who works for the Massachusetts Society of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America as a verifying genealogist. She is also the author of a great blog - "The Demanding Genealogist." Barbara is proof that CG's know how to have a good time. I wish that I had more time to chat about the experience she had becoming certified through the Board for Certification of Genealogists.

New England Hospitality. I experienced it first hand and will never be the same.

22 September 2012

Office of the Town Clerk in Rhode Island

DAY 2   IN RHODE ISLAND - Yesterday I told you about the mahvalous time had by all at the Exeter Town Clerk's Office.  Well I am here to tell you that not every town clerk office is quite so accommodating.  AND I think that you ought to know about it.  It blows my mind that each of these offices rule the roost however they want.  I cannot believe that there is no consistency from one office to the next.  Total Chaos and dare I say it - a touch of Anarchy.  Town Clerks are allowed to run amok in the State of Rhode Island.  They should be called realms and the Town Clerk is the Lord of the Manor who makes the rules.  As far as I can tell, there is no place to file a complaint should one dare to disagree with the rules. Here are the ones I have dealt with in the past week:

Exeter Town Hall
675 Ten Rod Road
Exeter, RI  02822
Town Clerk:  Lynn Hawkins
Deputy Clerk:  Ruth Stone
Clerical Assistant:  Pat Whitford

The ladies of the kingdom of Exeter were so helpful, pleasant and knowledgeable about the records housed in their office.  If you find the record you came for, Ruth cheerfully makes a copy of the pages of the book the record is in and charges 20 cents per page.  Keep in mind this is for birth and marriage records over 100 years old and for death records over 50 years old.  For records or certificates more current, you will not be able to browse, however if you have a general time period they will search for the record for you.

869 Park Avenue
Cranston, RI  02910

When you walk into this very busy office you will see a sign that says the only persons allowed in the vault to search for records are:


If you have an exact date of the birth, marriage or death then the clerk will go into the vault and retrieve the book.  It is then transcribed from the book to the shiny modern certificate for $20.  This bothers me.  What if the clerk makes an error transcribing?  When I asked for a photocopy of the page and would gladly pay for it and the certificate  I was told no - I could only have the certificate.  If you do not know the exact date of the vital event you are told to go to the Rhode Island State Archives or to the Rhode Island Historical Society.  The staff in this office seemed to have no patience for people there to search or obtain vital records.

1385 Hartford Avenue
  Johnston, RI  02919

This office appears to have all of their records indexed in a database on their computers.  They do not allow the public into the vault to search through records.  The clerk at the front desk was friendly and was willing to search through their database to help me locate records.  Unfortunately they were not there so I don't have information about costs for certificates or copies.

1670 Flat River Road
Coventry, RI  

The public is welcome to enter the vault to search for birth and marriage records over 100 years old and death records over 50 years old.  Land records, probate records, plat maps and more are also available in the vault to search through.  You are expected to make your own photocopies at $1.00 per page which is a little pricey but worth it for the opportunity to search the records yourself.

181 Howard Hill Road
Foster, RI 

Town Clerk :  Tina Freeman

According to their website all of their land and probate records are "Public Records" and their vital records are not.  If the record you want is over 100 years old they will refer you to the Rhode Island State Archives. Otherwise if you have an exact date of the vital event you will pay $20 for a certificate but they will make you a copy of the page of the book the record was found in.  The ladies in this office were friendly and had no problem with helping you look for records in their office.

More to come . . . . .

18 September 2012

OMG! I Love Rhode Island!

It has been ages since I have written on my blog, however I have been kept extremely busy with a long term research project for a dream client. This client is so dreamy she sent me to Rhode Island to research her family more in depth. And so here I am in Rhode Island as I write this.

Rhode Island is a state that has few to almost no digital images of any kind of records. FamilySearch has digital images of the Rhode Island State Census 1885, 1905, 1915, 1925, 1935. They have also indexed some birth, marriage and death records but no digital images of those records.

Rhode Island is also a state where vital records are kept at the town level. Nothing is held at the county level. So if you don't know exactly which town the event occurred, then you are pretty much screwed unless it is in the Arnold Collection which is only records up to 1850.

Birth and marriage records 100 years or older and death records 50 years or older are considered public records and may be obtained from the city or town hall where the event happened or through the Rhode Island State Archives.

I have found some of the Arnold Collection volumes over at Internet Archives. Boy oh boy, what was this Arnold guy thinking when he put these books together? I almost need to take a class on how to use the books!

I had the best experience with the ladies of the town clerk's office in Exeter. The office is located at 675 Ten Rod Road, Exeter. The town clerk Lynn Hawkins, Deputy Clerk Ruth Stone and Asst. Pat Whitford were so very helpful and friendly. No one will give you the old "eye roll" in this place. Jeeze the place looks like my great grandmother's house - not an office building!

Yes it is going to be a good week here. How do I know this? It's because of my rental car - it is a "arrest me right now red" colored camero!!!