Decoding an old German-language Obituary

Prior to the craziness of the holidays, I was mining the “Reading Adler” on GenealogyBank for obituaries. The “Reading Adler” was a German language newspaper published in Reading Pennsylvania. GenealogyBank has scanned issues of the paper from 1796 to 1876. It’s been a small treasure trove for finding deaths and marriages of my Pennsylvania German ancestors and relatives who lived in the area. The big drawback, of course, is that all the articles are in German – a language foreign to me – and in a Fraktur font. Add to this the occasional misspelling and/or archaic spelling, poor image quality due to age and condition of the paper, and, well, there are challenges!

Fortunately, most of the “obituaries” I found were more like death notices – short and sweet and fairly easy to decipher with the help of a German Genealogy word list and a listing of English equivalents of Fraktur letters. But there were some longer, more detailed ones – and that’s where the fun began! I needed to decipher the Fraktur writing and enter the text into google translate. After much trial and error, I downloaded a fraktur font to my computer and typed a transcription into notepad. This step allow me to see how well my interpretation of the Fraktur matched the original, before copying and pasting into google translate.

The whole thing was very much an iterative process – typing my best guess at the letters/words and seeing if the result was something google could translate. For example, if you’re looking at a scanned image of an old newspaper and you see a word that looks like “thc,” you know right away it is really “the.” But if you aren’t familiar with the language and don’t know that “the” is a common English word, it’s a much harder problem. (i.e. Did you misinterpret the “c” or was it the “t” or the “h”?)

One such obituary that was of particular interest to me was that of a William Bechtel. His obituary appeared in the June 19, 1855 edition of the paper. Since it is against the terms of use of GenealogyBank to include a scan of his obituary in this blog post, I’ll include an image of the transcription that I made in a Fraktur font:

bechtel-william-jun-1855-transcription

And google’s translation:

“Alößlicher death. – A man of intemperate habits, named William Bechtel, from the neighborhood of Pottstown, who had taught at the guest house of Levi Savage here, is on the last Thursday when he dined, choking, probably by an attack of apoplexy. The Coroner held by Rühn investigation: Jury did the pronounciation: “death by suffocation, caused by an attack of apoplexy at the lunch table.” The deceased was about 45 years old.”

As you can see, google could not come up with a translation for the very first word. And I couldn’t come up with any letter substitutions that stayed “true” to the original scanned image and produced a meaningful translation. However, the rest, though a little stilted, looks pretty good.

My interest in this obituary is because I feel that there is a good possibility that William Bechtel was a descendant of my ancestor Johan George Bechtel who immigrated in 1743 and lived in the area that is now Amity Township, Berks County, Pennsylvania. I would love to hear from any Bechtel researchers who may know more about William. And if anyone can provide an improved translation – well, that would be wonderful too!

Video

Using the Montgomery County PA Orphan’s Court Records on FamilySearch.org

I have created my very first video tutorial!!! This tutorial demonstrates how to access information in the Orphan’s Court Dockets which are part of the Montgomery County Pennsylvania Probate Records on FamilySearch.org. These dockets may contain valuable genealogical information for those of you who are researching Montgomery County Pennsylvania ancestors or cousins. If you are having problems finding what you need in these records, give this tutorial a try. Thanks and happy searching!!

Wordless Wednesday – Chasing Butterflies

I’m back with a Wordless Wednesday post this week. I can’t believe these photos were taken over 10 years ago! I’ve seen this technique of blending close-up and distance photos on many layouts, and I’ve been meaning to give it a try. So here it is, chasing butterflies…

chasing butterflies scrapbook layout

Google Giveth and Google Taketh Away

Just needing to vent (er, I mean lament) over the impending demise of Google Reader. Like so many others, I had been a very happy and active user of Reader for several years — particularly to keep up with the genealogy blogging community. After Google made the announcement of the death of Reader, I let the dust settle for a few days and then started looking for a replacement. I’ve since found one that I’m pretty happy with – and I’ll get to that later. The main problem in this situation, however, is that having to research and come up with an alternative to Reader wasn’t something I was anticipating having to do.

This is the second time that I’ve felt like Google has pulled the rug out from under me. The first was when they abandoned the newspaper archive project. I used that extensively in my genealogy research. I could have better understood if they abandoned the scanning, indexing and adding of new content to the archive while leaving the search mechanism intact. But they pulled the archive search box too. Yes, the newspapers are still available, but searching them is now so much more convoluted. And we have no guarantee as to how long the existing newspaper archive will remain available.

Both times Google has used the excuse that the popularity of these services is too low to justify maintaining them. I can maybe believe that with regard to the newspaper archive, but with Reader? Really? If that’s the case why are so many complaining about it on blogs, websites and even G+?

Then, virtually before the ink was dry on the press release announcing the end of Reader, Google announced a new service called Keep. This one apparently is in direct competition with the very popular Evernote. Honestly, I’m not sure I even want to give it a try. I’m afraid if I like it and start relying on it, they’ll stop supporting it too! Or maybe it’s just me being overly cynical.

But back to the Reader replacement. I chose to go with Feedly and I am slowly getting used to it. I’ve actually been trying out some of the different layouts just for something a little different. Eventually I’ll probably even prefer it to Reader. Eventually.

The Onion Snow

I know — I’ve been completely ignoring this blog for a long time. I’ve been caught up in transitioning my genealogy database to RootsMagic as well as some other research activities. I’ll post some updates on that shortly. But this morning when I looked out my window and saw snow — yes, snow covering the ground and clinging to the trees — I just knew that I had to write about the onion snow!

onion snow - March 25, 2013

the view off my front porch this morning

What’s onion snow, you ask. Well, a couple of weeks ago I was discussing a forecasted snow shower with my Mom. (At this time of year in this part of Pennsylvania we don’t usually get snow — and on the rare occasions that we do, it does not amount to much. So to call it a snow storm at this point in the year is typically a bit of an exaggeration.) Anyway, at that time she told me about the onion snow.

Now I had probably heard this story before because as she was telling it to me a vague recollection was tickling at the back of my memory. But now that I’m trying to be more of a family historian, I am trying to pay more attention to the stories being passed down. You know, not letting it go in one ear and out the other! (See – I was paying attention to the theme of this year’s recent RootsTech conference.)

But back to the onion snow. According to my Mom’s Mother, my Grandmother, the farmers in our area plant the onion bulbs in the early part of March. Ideally, there should be a small snowfall after the onions are in the ground. This is called the “onion snow,” and it should happen by about March 17th – St. Patrick’s Day. The onion snow enables a better crop when the onions grow and are harvested. At least that’s the family lore from the farmer ancestors and relatives of my Grandmother!

So when I woke up this morning and saw the snow, my very first reaction was that the onion snow is here, but it’s about a week late! Hope all you farmers out there have the onion bulbs planted. I am ready for spring and once this melts away (which should be soon) I don’t want another, even later in the season, onion snow this year!