German Language and Languages

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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-Holsteinuntil Preußen annexed that area in 1864.

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.

Language Aids

The Family History Library has genealogical word lists for German, Latin, French, Danish, and Polish. The German Genealogical Word List includes symbols commonly used in German genealogical sources. For more information about reading German writing, see the “Handwriting” section.

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.)

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: