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Saraband Music

Transcribing German parish registers

I'm an Australian who doesn't speak or read German (except for a few musical terms) so this is written from my point of view and my experience in working with 3-4 German parish registers.

The Eissen registers (available on microfilm) run from about 1653 to 1874, although of course the registers held in Eissen would run to the present. Up to 1701, the registers are very hard to read, and the father's name was only added from the 1670s. The registers were also arranged by the child's first name, which makes it incredibly difficult to use even if you can read them, and both Latin and a mixture of some German compound letters adds to the fun.

From 1701 to about 1804 Latin was used. This makes life considerably easier, although the entries from earlier years of the century are still fairly difficult to make out. But by the 1740s to about the end of the century, it's reasonably clear to read. After 1804, the registers revert to German and at times the handwriting is very small and difficult to read. They also start to spread each entry across two pages of the register. Differing amounts of information were noted at different times. Some pastors were very good at recording things like occupations, while others seem to have missed out quite a lot of information or got names wrong.

The Grosseneder registers only begin in 1718, which is very frustrating if you're trying to link earlier families. I haven't yet discovered where people from Grosseneder went for their BMDs prior to 1718, or perhaps they were at Grosseneder and nobody bothered to write them down. The handwriting in the early registers is decipherable, but there is not a lot of information. Another problem with the Grosseneder genealogy is that a lot of families with the same surname also gave their children the same first names. A lot. And at about the same time. Sorting out the Anna Maria Elisabetha Michels or the Maria Catharina Kriwets from one another is tortuous and downright impossible at times.

The Peckelsheim registers are the biggest, and begin in the 1690s. The writing varies enormously, and is sometimes extremely hard to read.

If you're approaching some German parish registers for the first time, and like me, you're in another country and don't speak German or have a willing German helper, there are several things you need to do.

Firstly, there are a number of websites which explain German handwriting. There are compound letters, Hs that look like Gs and lots of things which an English/American/Australian genealogist will find very confusing. Do Google this and download a list which you can have beside you while working on the film or printout.

Secondly, during the years when Latin was the dominant language for registers, you can also find websites which will give you a list of the common terms. Like Hieraten (wedding), uxor (spouse) and so on. Another convention concerns the dates. After July and August, they commonly abbreviated the months to 7bris, 8bris, 9bris, 10bris. These aren't July to October. They are September (sept - 7), October (8 - octo) and so on. You also need to be careful of March and Mai, as they can sometimes look alike if the writing is hard to read.

Thirdly, keep an eye out for details. All of the registers I have looked at are Roman Catholic, but occasionally you find the word "Judex" written beside a name. It is highly likely that most people in these parishes were originally Jewish, but converted to Catholicism over time. I found that my Hummernbrums of Grosseneder were still listed as Jewish in the early registers.

Fourthly, note the changes in spellings of names. I transcribe the registers onto paper, then type it all into an Excel file at home. Meyer became Meier, Rhauden became Rhoden, Berenholz became Berenholtz, Brandt became Brand, Emmerig became Emmerich or Emrich. The final "n" was dropped from many names: Rosen, Ewen, Brencken, Lucken and so many more. Spellings often vary when a new pastor took up his post. When you trace a family through to another register, the spelling can differ there too. My Eissen Hummernbrum became Hummerenbrum in the Grosseneder registers.

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