The Life of a Genealogy Translator – Guest Post by Katherine Schober

January 20, 2016 Josiah Schmidt Guest Post

Katherine is a German-English translator who works with old German handwriting in letters, marriage and baptismal certificates, church registers and more. Check out her website at sktranslations.com for more information.

As a German genealogy translator, I can honestly say I love what I do. One day could be spent in 1868, deciphering the words of a young lady in Germany writing to her older sister in America. I am taken back in time as the girl describes the new railroads being built throughout the land, which cities the new trains service, and how much a journey from here to there costs. Another day might be spent in the 1920s, in a German community in Russia, where the author of the letter nervously describes how people are forced to sell clothes on the black market. He writes to his relatives that vendors walk around with layers and layers of clothing for sale on their very bodies, so that they will be able to run away and still keep their goods if the Russian soldiers suddenly appear in the market area. Yet another day could be devoted to World War II, as a family in Dresden desperately begs their relatives in America to send food, shoes, clothing, whatever they can spare, to help them survive the hardship of the war.

What I am most struck by, however, is the normality of these letters. Take away the politics of the time, or the different technology, and what we are left with are pure human emotions. A mother expressing her desire to see her son more often, a daughter inquiring about her father’s health, a friend worrying what another friend might think of her…these same sentiments could be expressed in e-mails or text messages today. The humanity of the authors allow me to immerse myself in their past, learning their stories, so different and yet so similar to ours, to share with their descendents throughout the ages.

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