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I have scans of church books from a couple small towns in Bern with entries dating back several centuries. I have some knowledge of German, and have been learning how to decipher the script. I'd be interested in collaborating with any in similar situations to trade techniques, vocabulary, etc.

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I would recommend getting Ernest Thode, German-English Genealogical Dictionary (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1992). It will have lots of terms you will find in the church books that you won't find in a standard German-English Dictionary, or in short German-English word lists (as at

Another great source for occupations you will come across, not all of which are in the above book, is a list on about 35 pages in the Men of Bern series.
I almost bought that last year but was scared off by a review by a native German speaking reviewer which claimed it had many key inaccurate translations and hadn't been proofed by a native language speaker, but I might reconsider. Right now I'm using "German Church Books" and "Genealogical Dates" by Ken Smith, and "Introductory Guide to Swiss Genealogical Research" by Lewis Rohrbach. I met with Lewis Rohrbach last year in Switzerland and got an intro lesson from him when buying copies of the church books from Koppigen and Lotzwil - I think he was the author of the "Men of Bern" series, and I think much of that occupation list is in his Intro book.

as a German familyresearcher I am aware of the translation mistakes that can happen between the language German and English. It can be very frustrating when you discover after years that a word or a occupation are misstranslated. Or you know that you got the missing link but you cant translate it and you got stuck with your research.

Even the German language itself is not easy at all because of regional dialects and the change of the language due to other curcumstances like foreign occupation, impact of a new official language etc.

You also have to be aware that first a old language has to be transcripted and than translated and there we got another interesting thing to go for. Transcription itself is really interesting and there, even as a native German speaker, you can make a lot of mistakes (happen to me). It starts with letters like a, r, n, e just to name a few. Sometimes the handwriting is so bad that you cant read it at all. So you have to compare letter by letter.

What I also learned that every time had its own way of writing letters, official letters, churchbooks etc. So you have
to be aware of this as well...but thats what genealogy makes so intersting to me...
I have been studying a lot of the church records from Ticino and have been able to link many to members of my family tree. I am good at dates and the church ID, then the father and his parents, them the mother and her parents, then the name imposed on the child and then the godparents and then a few church related words. Its a pretty standard format. I guess I don't care so much about every single word.
Well, after over a year of going through Swiss records for the towns of Koppigen and Batterkinden, as well as a German town south of Stuttgart, I am definitely getting better at this. Rick, I did take your advice and ended up finding Ernest Thode's book invaluable.

The Swiss books I've looked at have all had indices for many of the years which has helped enormously (the German books I looked at didn't, and I had to end up constructing marriage and death indexes myself). I found that spending ten minutes of practicing the actual script that is used in a part of a church book (trying to writing out as much of the upper and lowercase alphabet as is found on a few pages) makes the transcription a whole lot more effective. My vocabulary has definitely built up over time - I still have some "causes of death" untranslated, but I've even done reasonably well on my Latin for the German books which happened to be a mix of Latin and German. Multiple birth records for the different children in a family give valuable redundancy for parent information, and I've even been lucky to find a complete town census in one of the books which is great.

A list of surnames from Men of Bern by Lewis Rohrbach provides a great list of possible names, and his catalog of Bernese towns for ordering churchbooks (400 Bern Geminde) provides a good list of possible town names; he also publishes a CD entitled Ortschaften des Kantons Bern which is a great mid-1800s listing of all the towns, and places within towns, populations, etc., for all of Bern, which I've also found to be useful. Unfortunately all the churchbook images in the CDs he sells are black and white only, and so lose some valuable detail; having all the churchbooks for a town on a computer is critical to fast work, but I've also ordered some microfilm at the local Family History Center which has grayscale images with more detail for some of the harder to read records.





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