Spelling Variants in German DocumentsEdit This Page

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In this day and age of high literacy and standardization, we are used to, indeed expect, that what we see in print will be uniform. For example, we can look up words in dictionaries to find the ‘correct spelling.’ However, such has not always been the case. Centuries ago, there were no dictionaries available to dictate ‘correct spelling’ and most dictionaries that were available were designed to give definitions, not spelling. Most writers from before the 18th century would have found the idea of a single spelling for any particular word rather odd. If several possible spelling variants are available, why should one be limited to only one choice? Early writers certainly took advantage of the many possibilities available to them. After all, variety is the spice of life. In modern German, the sound represented by the English word ‘I’ can be rendered by ‘ei, ai, ey,’ and ‘ay.’ Again, writers from previous centuries could and did use any of these to render the ‘I’ sound.


In this article we will look at spellings that deviate from standard modern German that appear in genealogical documents. In the vast majority of cases, the variant spellings represent the same pronunciation as the standard form. We will not consider personal names or words that have Latin endings, such as ‘Aprilis.’ (Click here to see articles on Low German and dialect basis of spelling variation in German surnames). We will, however, consider some place names.
So, the researcher should not be alarmed, nor think the scribe ‘did not know how to spell,’ when he encounters these variants.  Many of these variants will be found well into the 19th century.

Standard German    Variant
abends abendts
April Aberil, Abril
Amt Ambt
auf                  auff, uff 
bei bey, beÿ
beigelegt- beÿgelägt-
copuliert copulirt
Dienstag Dingstag
-dorf -dorff
dreißig, dreissig dreisig, dreÿzig
ehelich ehlich
ehrbar- Ehrbahr-
ein(en) ain(en)
elf eilf, ölf
elften eilften
Eltern Aeltern, Æltern,   Ältern, ältern  *
Ernte Erndte
erste örste
erzeugt erzeüget
Frau Fraw
frei freÿ, fraÿ
Freiheit Freÿheit
Freitag               Freytag, Freÿtag
geboren             gebohren
Geborene Geborne
genannt gnandt, genandt 
getauft                getaufft, getauffet, getowffet, getaufet, getäufft 
Getauften Getaufften
gewesen geweßen
Gezeugen Gezeügen
Gote gothe
hat hatt
Hauptmann hauptman
Haus Hauß
Hausfrau Haußfrau, Haußfraw, Haußfrauw 
Häusler Heisler
heißt                   heist, hayßt, haÿßt, hëyßt
Heirat- Heirath-,Heurat-, Heÿrath-, Heyrath
hiermit hiemit
hinterlassene hinderlassene
hochlöbliches hochlöebliches
ist
Jahr iahr
Januar 
Jannuar, Jenner, Jänner, ienner
Jenner, Jänner** ienner
Juli Julÿ
Juni Junÿ
keinerlei keinerleÿ
Kind Chind,Kindt,Khind, Khindt, Kynd 
Köln                  Cöln
konfirmiert konfirmirt, confirmiert, confirmirt
Krefeld              Crefeld
lassen laßen, laßn
Mädchen Mägdgen
März                 Merz, Mertz. Märtz 
Mai Mäÿ
mit midt, mitt
Müller Miller
Monat Monath
morgens morgendts
Name                 Nahme
nehmlich nemlich
November Noüember
Oktober  October
Pate               Pathe
Paten Pathyn
Schuhmacher Schumacher
sei seÿ
sein seyn, seÿn
September Sebtember
siebzig siebenzig
sind seint, seindt, seynd, seÿnd 
Söhnchen Söhngen
Söhnlein Sohnlein
Sonntag Sontag
-tal -thal
tat that
taufen tauffen
Taufregister Tauffregister
Taufzeugen Taufzeügen
Tochter Dochter, dogter
Töchterchen Töchtergen
Töchterlein tochterlein
tot todt
treu treÿ
tun thun
Übersetzung Uibersezung
um umb
und undt, unnd
untertan unterthan
Vater Vatter
Verstorbene Verstorbne
vierten virten
war wahr
ward wardt
weshalb weßhalben
Wiedertäufer Widerteuffer
wird wirdt
Zeugen Zeigen
zwanzig zwantzig
zwei zwey, zweÿ

 * Also found is 'alter' with an 'e' (written in regular Latin script) above the 'a.'

 ** This is the standard form in Austria                    

Often, very old verb forms appear. For example, today we spell ‘scheint,’ but you might find ‘scheinet,’ with an extra ‘e.’

This list will grow in time as the writer finds more variants to add.

Although the following is not a spelling variation, we mention it here:
gewesene               geweste


 

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