by Michele Simmons Lewis, Student
I just completed my third National Institute for Genealogical Studies German course, German: The Language . I was looking forward to this one because I was wondering what the course could teach me considering that I am a native German. I was in for a few surprises.According to the course description found online, the course covers the classification of German words, fundamentals of German grammar for family historians, and basic spelling conventions. The description states “One does not need to become fluent in the German language to be a good genealogist in German records. This course introduces the key information needed about the German language so researchers can be successful in reading German. Pronunciation of and writing in German is not generally necessary for genealogical research.”
This course begins by teaching the basic language structure and essential German genealogy vocabulary, and then you translate excerpts from actual documents. There are 16 translation assignments but before you start having palpitations, each assignment is pretty short. After you translate each section you will then get to see the translation from the instructor. You can put all of these together to make your own translation guide for each type of document to refer back to.
One thing that you learn very quickly is that once you know the basic root words you will recognize a lot of words in the documents. For example, any word that contains Geburt has something to do with a birth. I bought one of the recommended books, German-English Genealogical Dictionary by Ernest Thode and in it there are 34 compound nouns listed with Geburt in them. Since the other parts of these compound nouns are also common genealogical words you can figure out what a document is in no time. Schein is the word for certificate so Geburtsschein is a birth certificate. If you know that the word Tauf refers to baptism you can now make the word for baptismal certificate, Taufschein. Germans love their compound nouns and you can have a lot of fun with this. You will immediately know what the document is referring to even if you don’t understand it 100 percent. The translation assignments come from baptisms, marriages, burials, gazetteers, web pages, lineage books, emigration records, published books and biographies so you get a good variety. Practice is essential because just knowing the words isn’t enough. You need to be familiar with how the documents are formatted and worded.
Even though I speak German many of the genealogical words are not commonly used in everyday speech so I was not familiar with them. I definitely benefited from this course .