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Sometimes the family search can take you into another language

So what do you do when you find out one of your ancestors is an immigrant, and now you are going to have to do research in another country? If you are dealing with England, things aren't so bad, but what if you have to deal with a foreign language on top of everything else?

The first place to turn is the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake City, Utah. They have many useful publications that will help you function in a foreign country using a foreign language.

The FHL publishes general research guides which will tell you where to go (or write) to find the information you need. There are guides for the following countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada (general, all provinces and some cities), Denmark, England, France, Germany (general, all current states, all former Prussian states and some cities), Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latin America (general), Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Scotland, Sweden, Wales

They have genealogical word lists for the following languages: Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Latin, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish. These word lists will familiarize you with the most commons words and phases you will see in genealogical documents.

They also publish letter writing guides for the following languages: Czech, Slovak, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish. The letter writing guides will teach you the correct way to correspond in that language/county as well as all of the phrases you will need to put together a coherent letter.

An additional resource available for German research is a German Gothic handwriting guide. Prior to 1941, Germans wrote using a completely different looking alphabet which makes reading documents especially difficult.

If you are dealing with Germany or Prussia, you will need to learn how to read these letters. You can "read" the document and write down the modern equivalent of the letters and then consult a regular dictionary to help translate the words.

Many of these guides are available online for free at After you bring up their home page click on "library," then click "education," then click "Family History Library Publications."

You can then browse through the publications listed under Forms, Letter Writing Guides, Reference Documents, Research Outlines, Resource Guides, Step-By-Step Guides and Word Lists. If you need to order a print version, click on the item number all the way to the right, and it will automatically bring up the order screen. All of these guides include a complete bibliography so that you can do further research on the subject. The foreign research publications from the FHL are invaluable.

Taking a basic language course in the language of interest would be well worth your while. Another good idea would be to study the history and culture of that county.

To truly understand the documents and letters you will be evaluating, you need to immerse yourself in the language and culture as much as possible.

Dealing with a foreign language can be a little intimidating, but there are resources out there to help you get though it.

Web posted on Wednesday, March 23, 2005


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