29 January 2016

German Letters: A Key to the Past

Katherine is guest blogging on German translation today.  Thank you, Katherine.  Please see Katherine's bio at the end of the post.  I do not have any relation to Katherine or her ancestors.  I found her story interesting and thought my readers would too.  

As a translator of old German handwritten documents, I spend many days reading the personal correspondence between family members living in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I often wonder what these people would think if they knew that, 200 years into the future, a woman in America was reading their private hopes and dreams they had written to their mother, to their son, to their best friend. However, I like to believe that these writers wouldn’t mind, as this translation of their letters allows their great-great-great grandchildren to get an idea of what their ancestors were like all those years ago: how their minds worked, what their worries were, what they hoped for and so on. It allows the memory of these individuals to live on throughout the ages, and I think all people like the idea of that. 

I recently got to spend some time translating a few letters from my own ancestors, written on the back of photographs sent from Germany to America in the early 20th century. These letters were written by a woman named Adolphine (b.1843) to her sons who had moved to the Midwest in 1887. While one of these sons, Fritz, is my great-great grandfather, I never knew much about his mother until I began working with these pictures. Through Adolphine’s letters, the rather serious older woman in the photographs comes to life as a whimsical and loving little lady. One such letter, on the back of a picture of Adolphine with her youngest son Erick, can be seen below: 

My dear Fritz, Here comes your little old mother with Erick and his family to wish you a happy birthday! May you, my dear Fritz, always spend this day in health with your loved ones and may God’s blessings be with you, dear boy, in this new year of life! I thought it would make you all happy if my 80-year-old self came to you “in person”!  Warmest greetings to you and all my love, your mother and grand- and great-grandmother!

Without this sweet little note, I may have imagined Adolphine to be a somber, rigid 19th-century woman. However, through her happy words to her son, as well as her little “in person” joke, I now feel that I have more idea of who she was as a person. While I am sure she would have never imagined that her great-great-great granddaughter would be reading her birthday message in the year 2016, I hope that it would make her happy to know that her descendants are still thinking of her and want to learn about her life. I think that it would. 

Katherine is a German-English genealogy translator who works with old German handwriting in letters, marriage and baptismal certificates, church registers and more. After receiving her Masters degree in German from Bowling Green State University, she moved to Austria to teach English through the Fulbright Program and work as a translator. She now translates German genealogy documents full-time back in the States. Check out her website and blog at sktranslations.com for more information.

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