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Most materials used in German research are written in German. However, you do not need to speak or read German to do research in German records. You will need to know some key words and phrases to understand the records.
Because of Germany's history, you may also find several other languages in German records. Latin was frequently used in Roman Catholic church records. French was often used in Elsaß-Lothringen and during the French domination of the area west of the Rhein river (1806-1815). Danish was used in much of Schleswig-Holstein until Preußen annexed that area in 1864.
- Low German language
- languages in the Lower Rhine area
- Spelling variation in the northern Rhine area.
German grammar may affect the way names appear in genealogical records, so your ancestor's name in German may vary from record to record. For help in understanding name variations, see the “Names, Personal” section and Affect of dialects on German surnames.
See also: spelling variations in German documents.
FamilySearch Wiki has genealogical word lists for:
- Danish Word List
- French Word List
- German Word List
- Polish Genealogical Word List
- Portuguese Genealogical Word List
The German Word List includes symbols commonly used in German genealogical sources. For more information about reading German writing, see Germany Handwriting.
The following books and English-German dictionaries can help in your research. You can find these and similar materials at many research libraries.
Thode, Ernest. German-English Genealogical Dictionary. Baltimore, Maryland, USA: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1992. (FHL book 433.21 T352g 1992.)
Langenscheidts German-English, English-German Dictionary = Langenscheidts Deutsch-Englisches, Englisch-Deutches Wörterbuch. New York, NY, USA: Pocket Books, 1952, 1993. (FHL book 433.21 L262g.)
Grimm's Dictionary online can be found at this link Dictionary of German historical words.
Other language aids, including dictionaries of various dialects and time periods, are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
Also check the Subject Search of the catalog under:
Other language aids for parish Latin can be found at these links:
In some genealogical records, numbers are spelled out. This is especially true of dates. The following list gives the cardinal (1, 2, 3) and the ordinal (1st, 2nd, 3rd) versions of each number. Days of the month are written in ordinal form. Ordinal forms may have other endings, for example: erste, ersten.
Dates and Time
In German records, dates are often written out. For example:
Freitag den vierzehnten Februar achtzehnhundert sechs und dreißig [Friday, the 14th of February, eighteen hundred six and thirty (1836)].
To understand German dates, use the following lists as well as the preceding “Numbers” section.
|January||Januar, Jänner, Hartung, Jenner|
|April||April, Ostermonat, Osteren|
|May||Mai, Wonnemonat, Blütemonat|
|July||Juli, Heuert, Heumonat, Heuet|
|August||August, Erntemonat, Hitzmonat|
|September||September, Fruchtmonat, Herbstmonat, Herpsten, 7ber, 7bris|
|October||Oktober, Weinmonat, 8ber, 8bris|
|November||November, Wintermonat, 9ber, 9bris|
|December||Dezember, Christmonat, 10ber, 10bris, Xber, Xbris|
A more extensive list of month names in German.
Days of the Week
Times of the Day
German birth and death records often indicated the exact time of day when the birth or death occurred. This is usually written out.
ein Uhr one (o’clock)
zwei Uhr two (o’clock)
drei Uhr three (o’clock)
halb eins half one = 12:30
halb zwei half two = 1:30
halbe Stunde half hour
früh early (a.m.)
spät late (p.m.)
morgens in the morning
vormittags in the forenoon
mittags at noon
nachmittags in the afternoon
abends in the evening
mitternachts at midnight
Sometimes a symbol is used in German genealogical sources rather than abbreviations. Some of these are shown at GenWiki, Genealogical Symbols and Signs.