Need help reading or translating German genealogical documents? These top German translation websites will help you identify and translate old German letters, words, abbreviations, street names, and occupations. These online resources are so good, even the experts use them! See how they can help your German family history.
Thanks to Katherine Schober of SK Translations and the instructor of the innovative online course on learning how to read the old German script and handwriting for this guest post.
Those of you who have braved the world of German genealogy may have run into a beautiful but solid genealogical “brick wall:” old German handwriting. “Kurrentschrift” (literally: “running script”) was the main form of writing in German-speaking lands until the mid-20th century. Unfortunately, this elegant script is often a major obstacle for modern-day genealogists searching for their German ancestors.
But it doesn’t have to be! While I recommend contacting a professional for the more complicated texts (I’d be happy to be of service), you can often make substantial progress in transcribing and translating old German documents with the help of several fantastic online resources.
Top 9 German Translation Websites and Resources
These are my favorite German translation websites for genealogy (and yes, I use them myself):
This is a great site for transcribing German genealogy documents, especially if you can only recognize some of the letters in a word. Choose either “words ending with” (Wörter mit Endung) or “words beginning with” (Wörter beginnend mit) and type in the first or last letters of the word you are deciphering.
For example, if you can only recognize “tum” at the end of the word, type in “tum” under “Wörter mit Endung”. It will then show you all the German words ending in “tum”, which may help you to recognize what your handwritten word could be.
Kurrent Wikipedia Page:
This site offers a nice key of the Kurrent letters and the corresponding letters in our alphabet.
If you see an abbreviation in your genealogy document but aren’t sure what it stands for, you can type it into this website and it will provide you with a list of possible German words for your abbreviation.
Online German Dictionaries:
LEO, Online Dictionary by Langescheidt, and dict.cc are all extensive online German dictionaries. If one of these dictionaries doesn’t have a definition for a word, one of the other two might.
This is a very helpful translation site. Unlike Google Translate, it shows you words and phrases translated into English by actual translators and not machines. You receive the definition of the word, plus pages of various sample sentences that include your word/phrase in a contextual format.
This is a good site for finding the meanings of old-fashioned German words. Modern dictionaries often do not have definitions for the outdated words found in genealogy documents, but this online collection of old German dictionaries does. Knowledge of German required.
This website provides an A-Z list of old-fashioned German occupations with their modern-day German translation.
Street Search Engine:
If you know that a word in your document is a street (“Straße”), but can’t figure out which street it is, use this site to help you out. First, type in the city in the “Ortsverzeichnis A-Z” (gazetteer). The site then pulls up a map of the city and an A-Z list of street names. If you know at least some of the letters in your street name, this list can help you to recognize the correct transcription of the word.
This site allows you to type in any word to see how it would look in Kurrentschrift. While everyone’s handwriting was, of course, different, it is nice to get an idea of what a word could have looked like in the old-fashioned script. For example, “Kurrentschrift:”
Katherine Schober of SK Translations specializes in translating German genealogical and historical documents. She also teaches the online course that can help you learn how to read the old German script and handwriting. Learn more here.
She recently joined Lisa Louise Cooke on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode #151 with creative, use-in-any-language Google strategies for translating documents and identifying ancestral names and places.
Click here to see what else has aired on the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast–and consider becoming a Premium member to get access to the entire Premium Podcast archive (it could see you through a whole year’s worth of workouts, commutes, or household chores!).
Thank you for the publication. I now have a study of German surnames. It is necessary to test the proposed resources for the translation of letters.
Great article! I can’t wait to try some of these websites. We have a large stack of German letters written to my husband’s mother that look impossible to read. Thank you!
Did you have any luck getting your letters translated? I also have letters written in German to my great grandmother that I would like translated.
Which sites did you use and does this cost money?
Thank you for your time
My family has found an 1874 German Bible. We do not need translation of the Bible but all the little things that were put in that Bible. These meant something to someone. The family name is Knapple. There are cards, letters, drawings, newspaper clippings, cuttings of hair that are mounted to paper with writing in German, probably old German. I have seen two genealogist in local Libraries. Also two people I know from my church who are German. They were unable to read all that I had. I live in OKC area. If anyone knows someone in my area or if I could scan and send these items to them let me know. One of the records from Ancestry is one I wish I knew what was written. I have learned the name Knapple and Mueller. Thank you email@example.com