German Script Tutorial

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German Heritage > German Script Tutorial

German Script Tutorial

You are about to embark on a task that will become addictive. If you continue with this tutorial and study the material contained herein, you will find many hours of researching microfilm and manuscripts both rewarding and exciting.

We first of all need to know what it is that we are viewing when we are looking at the records we are researching. Somewhere in every record is a listing of the scribes and the years that they transcribed the records you are viewing. Sometimes it might surprise you to know that one of them just happens to be a relative of yours. The scribes wrote with quill and ink. The quill (stylus) was made from a feather and would be trimmed down to size. Over the course of time the quill might become dull and as it was used it would tend to bleed or blotch; thus rendering the transcription illegible. Sometimes the scribe might be running low on ink and his writing became faint or skipping parts of the letter. Sometimes the scribe might close the book before the ink dried and you have splotches. Last of all, the binding of the records book might be tight and it was difficult to microfilm. The only solution there would be a trip to where the actual record is kept.

The next condition facing the scribe would be the weather. We take the weather for granted. All we have to do is turn up the furnace on a cold day. Imagine having to maintain a fire in the fireplace if you were so fortunate. So just remember those times of the year when the mercury dips below the freezing point and imagine yourself with a blanket wrapped around you, your fingers aching from the cold, your breath coming out in front of you like steam from a warming engine. Maybe then you'll come to realize that it took a lot of sacrifice on the part of those scribes to give you what you see before you in those documents you are so comfortably viewing.

The next peril that you will face is that of derivations in the spellings of names, both given and surnames. The education level of most people during the 1400-1700's was nothing like it is in this the 21st Century.

Most folks were illiterate and so everything was passed on orally. Thus the variance in the spelling of surnames and given names. My surname is Reidt. The variation of the spelling of that name range from Reidt, Reit, Reith to Right. Phonetics was the way in which a lot of names came to be spelled so don't think that your name is unique, trust me you will find variations in the spelling. Do not discount a name that may sound the same as the one you are looking for is what I am trying to help you to learn. As you proceed through the tutorial, you will learn the similarities in the sounds of letters and come to realize this most crucial lesson.

The next thing to consider is the location of your records. When a couple married, the bans or notice of the forthcoming marriage were published in both his village and her village. So there are two records to support a marriage; your only problem is to find out which two villages they may have come from. Sometime their home villages are mentioned in the record, usually into the 1800's this becomes common practice in the Swiss records.

The reason I have included this little brief is to give you some background that will inevitably be useful to you once you become involved in extracting German vital records. I have learned these things over the years that I have extracted and pass them on to you for your benefit. There are a lot of resources available to you through The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Sanits in Salt Lake City, Utah. They have Family History Centers established throughout the world and qualified personnel are always available to assist anyone in their researching.

A lot of the following material has been excerpted from a tutorial that I was given when I started my research of Swiss records. But the single most beneficial thing is the confidence you will gain as you labor day by day to bring to light the records that you will be extracting. That single act of sacrifice will bless your life for years to come.

German and English Vocabulary

German and English are very closely related languages. They both belong to the Indo-European family of languages and to the West Germanic branch of Indo-European. They were the same language until the 5th Century. Then they began to separate from each other, and by the 8th Century they were different enough for us to say that they were distinct and independent languages.

Image:Development of germanic languages.svg

English, Dutch, Friesian and Low German (in the lowlands of North Germany) stayed for a time at least without any changes. But High German (in the higher lands to the South) underwent a remarkable series of sound changes which by 750 A.D. made its consonants very different from those of English, Dutch, Friesian, and Low German. By knowing these sound changes it is possible to recognize hundreds of cognates, words that go back and join at an older time. The changes took place in High German; English, Dutch, Friesian and Low German stayed much as they were.

English                               German

"d" to > > > "t" 
do . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . tun
drink . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . trinken
dance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .tanzen
had . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .hatte
sad . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .satt 'satisfied'
glad . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . glatt 'smooth'
day . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Tag
dip . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . taufen
deep . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .tief
dead . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .tot
did . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . tat
death . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Tod
drop . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Tropf
beard . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Bart
side . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Seite
old . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . alt
cold . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . kalt
garden . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Garten
dish . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Tisch 'table'
seldom . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .selten
hard . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .hart
good . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . gut


English                               German 
"d" to > > > "t" 
dapper . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . tapfer 'brave'
deer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Tier 'animal


"th" to > > > "d" 
the . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . die, der, das
this . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . dies
feather . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .feder
then . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .dann
three . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . drei
think . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . denken
thin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . dunn
other . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ander
thurst . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Durst
that . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . das, dass
thorn . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . dorn
bath . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . bad
thumb . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Daumen
mouth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Mund
thief . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Dieb
thank . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . danken
thing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ding
thick . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .dick
there . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .da/ dort 

Initially, after consonants, and when doubled (at an older time)

"t" to > > > "z" 

ten . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . zehn
tame . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .zahm
heat . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Hitze
heart . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Herz
to, too . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .zu
two . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .(2) zwo, zwei
twelve . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .(12) zwolf
tongue . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Zunge
tooth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Zahn
curt . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .kurz
seat . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Sitz
tap . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . zapfen
cat . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Katze


Otherwise:

"t" to > > > s, ss, or ß (esset)

it . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . es
water . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Wasser
great . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . gross
out . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .aus
that . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . das, dass
hot . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .heiss
let . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . lassen
white . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . weiss
bite . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . beissen


Initially, after consonants, and when doubled (at an older time):

"p" to > > > "pf"

pan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Pfanne pipe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Pfeife pound . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Pfund plant . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Pflanze penny . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Pfennig hop . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .hopfen cup . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Kopf 'head' tap . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . zapfen pole . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Pfahl path . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Pfad pile . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Pfeil 'arrow' plaster . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Pflaster plow . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Pflug

Otherwise: "p" to > > > "f, ff"

hope . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . hoffen ripe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . reif pipe . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Pfeife up . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . auf ape . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Affe

Usually: "g (y, i)" to> > "g"

garden . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Garten yard . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Garten give . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . geben day . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . tag daily . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . taglich lay . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .legen lie . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . liegen eye . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Auge good . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . gut yellow . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . gelb may . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . mag hail . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Hagel nail . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Nagel rain . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Regen

After "l and r": "w" to > > "g"

follow . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . folgen (to)morrow . . . . . . . . . . . . . . morgen sorrow . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . sorgen

Final: "-ght" to > > > " -cht"

right . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . recht, Recht sight . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sieht light . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Lieht/leicht 'easy' tight . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . dicht night . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Nacht eight . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (8) acht

"b,v,f,gh" to > > "b"

if . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ob give . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . geben staff . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Stab seven . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (7) sieben have . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . haben leaf . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Laub half . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (1/2) halb

Many words are spelled alike in German and English and have the same meaning:

Der Arm, der Ball, der Finger, der Frost, der Humor, der Humoris, der Hunger, der Name, der Park, der King, Der Strand, der Student, der Wind, der Winter, der Wolf, die Butter, die Dame 'lady', die Form, die Hand, die Minute, der Professor, der Prophet, der Sack, der Sand, das Museum, das Nickel, das Verb, blond, in, warm, mild, die Rose, das Deck, das Land, das Nest, das Echo, das Sofa, blind, so, still, wild

The meaning of many other words in German can also be recognized even thought the spelling is slightly different from English.

Der Appetit, der Bar, der Busch, der Diamant, der Eisberg, der Elefant, der Fisch, der Kafee, der Kapitan, der Keller, der Mann, der Marsch, der Norden, die Armee, die Familie, die Klasse, die Kohle, die Lampe, die Lippe, die Maschine, die Maus, die Meile, die Musik, die Pistole, die Universitat, die Schule, das Eis, das Ende, beginnen, finden, enden, fallen, fischen, hungen, kosten, waschen, scheinen, der Suden, der Osten, der Westen, der Offizier, der Philosoph, der Prinz, der Puls, der Schuh, der Stall, der Storch, der Wein, die Asche, das Gras, das Haus, das Knie, das Konzert, das Theater, das Korn, das Krokodil, das Lamm, abstrakt, konkret, braun grun, dumm, elktrrisch, zoologisch, schwimmen, singen, sinken, setzen, springen, wandern, lang, oft, das Ohr, gesund, rund, hier, vill, allein, die Nase, die Brust, die Schulter, das Bein 'bone, leg', sehen 'see', horen.

English inherited many words from Latin and Greek through Norman French after the invasion of 1066. Likewise German borrowed many Latin and Greek words-for the most part during the period of Humanism around 1500. There are several thousand of these that English and German have in common.

Affekt, affront, Agent, Album, Amateur, Aorta, Aspekt, Borse 'stock exchange', Brom, Bukett, Butter, Chance, Charakter, Karte, Chef, Chemie, Chor, Christus, Courage, Cousin, Dame, diskutieren, disputieren, Drama, emigrieren, exerzieren, Experiment, klar, falsch, Fee, fay, fairy, Altar, E. purse, Monch, Nonne, Schule, Tinte E. tint, predigen, Kreuz, schreiben, Tafel, Brief, Lattich, Regel, Pelz, fasten, Kirche, Kirsche, Bischof.

By actual word count you already know 75% of more or all the words in German. All you need to do is recognize them. And we haven't even mentioned the many English words used in German.

The German Script Alphabet

I remember as a child the penmanship exercises we completed every day while in school. I am sure that the scribes whose records you study, went through the same sort of penmanship exercises before they might be considered as apprentices to scribes.

Just remember that what you are about to view is the common rendering of the alphabet, but by no means the only way each letter could be written. In a later chapter I will bring in some examples of "exotic" or "flowery" renderings of the beginning letters a word.

German Script Alphabet German Script Alphabet

Recognition Exercises

page #1 page #2 page #3


Learning the Script Alphabet page #1 page #2 page #3


Given Names page #1 page #2 page #3 answer key


Given Names in Different Script page #1 page #2 page #3 page #4 page #5 page #6 page #7 answer key 1 answer key 2


Exercise #5 Answers to Exercise #5


Words relating to elements of time page #1 page #2 page #3 page #4

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