Tips and Tricks of Deciphering German Handwriting: A Translator’s Tricks of the Trade for Transcribing German Genealogy Documents by Katherine Schober is not going to make you an immediate expert. Only practice can do that and no book, no matter how detailed and exhaustive, can include every little nuance. Humans create handwriting and individuals variants abound. But it will give you some direction and specific hints to work on translating German language documents if you have been hesitant to begin translating yourself and Schober’s work gives the reader some ways to work around writing idiosyncrasies that all genealogists face.

Short, to the point, and based on Schober’s years of experience, it’s even a good set of reminders for those who have already made their initial forays into deciphering German handwriting. Schober provides specific examples of errors she’s actually made and how to avoid making them. That’s a nice change of pace from those books that say “here’s everything I do and the right way to do everything.” Showing errors is a good instructional device.

Schober’s section on “letter swaps” is particularly helpful and readers may wish to even write the ones they notice in the margin of their book. The book is not meant to be a German genealogical dictionary although there are definitions scattered throughout the book. That is not its focus and there are other books that serve that purpose. Some of Schober’s tips and tricks work just as well in other languages–just make the appropriate substitutions.

There are two things that I would add and I apologize to Schober if they were in the book and I missed them. Non-German speakers and readers have the easiest time with German language documents from the late 19th century and after–particularly those items written on pre-printed forms. That’s the time period to begin working on records in German for those unfamiliar with the language and the script. Then work your way back earlier in time.

Practice writing common German genealogical words in the actual script. That helps to cement the image of the letter in your mind and provides some firsthand insight to writing variants.

All in all, a good book.




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