52 Ancestors: Another Language


As I have mentioned before, my mom’s side of the family were rather new arrivals to the United States. As such, many of the documents I encounter are in another language.

On my maternal grandma’s of the family, her father John August Gall was born in Germany (exact location TBD), and her mother Ida Catherine Borchert was born in Michigan but conceived in Germany.

In my research on my maternal line, I come across a lot of German.

Hermann Peter Borchert birth certificate
The birth certificate of my 2x great-grandfather, Hermann Peter Borchert, born 13 December 1860 in Luxembourg.

Hermann’s mother, Catharine Genot, had her roots in Luxembourg, which makes for a fun bit of research. Her birth record, due to changing borders, is actually in French:

The birth record of Catherine Genot, both in Luxembourg on 5 April 1839.

The layout is similar, which makes for (somewhat) easier research. I cannot read French or German, but I can pick out names and dates.

The Luxembourg records I have found listed both the mother and the father, which is (obviously) very handy when researching family history!

The birth record of Catherine’s father Francois, born in 1802.


So my tips for researching in a language you do not read or speak:

  1. Look for familiar words. Names are probably the easiest to pick out.
  2. Focus on typed words. In these Luxembourg records, the registrar is simply filling in a form, so it helps to focus on words that you can clearly read (and maybe pop into Google translate).
  3. DO NOT rely on Google translate for the whole record, however. It will commonly translate strange things. One or two words, yes, but not the whole document.
  4. Ask for help! I am always surprised how much someone can remember from a language they only studied in high school.

That’s all for this week! Not too much, but I am looking forward to next week’s prompt: military!

If you are interested, you can find the rest of my 52 Ancestors posts my clicking the tag at the top of the post.

Until next time,





One Reply to “52 Ancestors: Another Language”

  1. Great tips! It’s amazing how we can rely on something like Google translate for words here and there. I certainly wouldn’t have imagined it in my early years. Our ancestors would be astounded. Someone else wrote that their ancestors were stranded in a train station in Chicago for two days because they didn’t know enough English. (True? I don’t know.)

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