Reading Foreign Language Obituaries

My third-great grandfather Nicholas Schmitt died on this day in 1876 in Cincinnati Ohio.

His obituary* appeared in the German-language newspaper The Cincinnati Volksfreund:

2015 02-21 Schmitt, Nicolas Volksfreund23Feb1876Transcription: “Todes-Anzeige. Starb am Montag, den 21. Februar 1876, Abends um 11 Uhr, unser innigst geliebter Vater: Nikolaus Schmitt, im Alter von 64 Jahren, geboren in Hellimer, Lothringen. Die Beerdigung findet statt am Donnerstag Morgen um 8 Uhr, vom Trauerhause aus, No. 637 Race Straße, und wird ein feierliches Todtenamt in der St. Johannes Kirche abgehalten werden. Freunde und Verwandte sind ohne besondere Notiz dazu freundlichst eingeladen von den trauernden Hinterbliebenen.”

Translation: “Death notice. Died on Monday February 21st 1876, in the evening at 11 o’clock, our beloved father Nikolaus Schmitt, at the age of 64 years, born in Hellimer, Lorraine. The entombment will take place on Thursday in the morning at 8 o’clock, starting at [the] house of mourning, 637 Race Street, and there will be solemn obsequies at St. John’s Church. Friends and relatives are invited to this without special note by the mourning bereaved.”

Thankfully I had guidance working with this obituary. Since acquiring this treasure, I’ve located a couple others I’ll need to transcribe and translate as well.

It’s time to learn how to do this myself.

Nicolas’ notice of death above is written in Fraktur, a typeface used in newspapers and many documents of German immigrants in America. So the first step would be to compare the letters in the document to the letters on this script tutorial.

Once the letters have been matched and the document transcribed, it’s time to translate the text.

Google translate and other web sites can be helpful translating today’s vocabulary. However, when translating documents from the 19th century, it’s helpful to use a dictionary with 19th century words. This German word list from FamilySearch provides key genealogical terms in English and the German words with the same or similar meanings.

With these tools in hand, I’m ready to tackle the next obituary on my list – the one for Nicolas’ son Emile Schmitt:

1898 11-15 Obit Emile Schmitt WM


*Source: Cincinnati Volksfreund, 23 Feb 1876; Cincinnati Library microfilm, Cincinnati Ohio.

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