Friday, January 17, 2014

Clues from an Orphan Book Record

Yesterday I posted about Czech Orphan books. I posted an example of an entry from an orphan book and said I would post a transcription later.

Instead of a word-for-word transcription, which is really time consuming, I decided instead to walk you through the actual process of deciphering the words and figuring out the document from the overall context.

I love languages. I especially love deducing meaning from a word's context. I am exceptionally good at this in an oral-aural setting. I think one of the main reasons I love deciphering old German handwriting in Czech genealogy documents has to do with the same concept. You have to use many different clues, including context, to figure out meaning from a text.

You just can't let yourself get hung up on missing a few words or letters. If you do, it will take too long, and you will get frustrated and give up.

Carl Linert said if he doesn't understand a word, he leaves it, and looks at it the next day. This is excellent advice.

So, here we go.

Here is the document.


The first step is to figure out what some of these headings mean.
"Nahmen der Erblasser und datum des todesfalles."
Erblasser = deceased
Todesfalles = date of death - I think.
Gestorben = died
So, clearly this first column is about somebody who died. When we remember that this is in the context of an orphan book, we can guess that this might be the name of a parent. Presumably the orphan didn't die. If the child is an orphan, their parents are dead. Therefore, this first column is probably listing information about a parent.

In the next column, we also see the word tochter.
tochter = daughter
I think this column is about the orphan herself, the daughter of the deceased. The one who became an orphan.

When you are reading old German writing, watch out for the little " marks at the end of a line. This usually means "-" or in other words, "this word is cut off in the middle and continues on the next line." Sometimes the " marks look like a period. But usually registers like this have very little punctuation, so you can guess it is a " instead of a period. Also, be aware that sometimes there appear to be spaces in the middle of a word that are not really supposed to be there. In this case, the word is verlassabhandlung.

See how it is cut in two pieces, verlassab - handlung.
Verlassabhandlung = something about leaving or reading a testament, a will, memoir, or in other words, a document that had something to do with the guardianship of her child. I think it has something to do with the date that her daughter Rosalia had a new guardian assigned. Maybe she didn't actually leave a will, and it was just the Letters of Administration that were read, or left. Anyway, I'm not sure exactly.

When you find a letter that you can't decipher, look at the other letters written with the same hand. Often times you can figure out what letter it is by comparing it to the other letters you already know. Remember, it's the stroke direction that counts more than the shape of the letter itself. Sometimes the letters come out looking funky. But they are usually made with the same stroke. It can be extremely helpful to trace the way you think the stroke of the person's pen went when they wrote the word.
Here I figured out that the first letter to this word was "d" by comparing it to another "d" in the document.
"Anmerkung: diese pest wurde auf tag 115 übertragen."
"Note: this plague was transmitted [on] day 115."

Now, I still have no idea what "day 115" means. Is it 115 days into this lady's illness? Is it referring to some kind of calendar day, perhaps a different numbering system altogether? Or maybe I'm reading it wrong and it should actually be 1/5, not 115. I don't know, but I'm moving on because if I don't, I will lose patience with the project. Just keep going!

I would continue this process until I felt like I had a pretty good overall feel for the meaning of the document, even if there were words and ideas missing or that I just really didn't know or understand. Then, I would try again, working from the top. The more you work with a document, the more you understand its nuances. You begin to see things that you didn't at first because you were probably experiencing some kind of information overload at first.
For example, here I noticed the words 18 jahre alt, or "18 years old." 

So, this Rosalia Schima was an older orphan. Perhaps she married soon thereafter? Or maybe she died? She did not die young, as so many did. Knowing her age gives you some ideas for which records would be the most helpful to look at.

1 comment:

  1. Todesfalles = "death fall" = bereavement, fatality. "datum des Todesfalles" = date the death occurred.
    I read the last sentence as "diese Post wurde auf Tag 1/5 übertragen," or this account was transferred on 1 May. That interpretation makes sense when you compare it to the other dates. I don't actually see the o in Post but think that it must be one since the other interpretation (Pest/plague) makes no sense.
    The second column reads "Nahmen der Pupillen," names of the pupils (i.e. the minors).
    Gestorben Ao 844 means "Died in the year 1844"

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