Don’t speak German – not a problem!

I just love living in the age of technology!

For example, I am to the point in my genealogical research that I need to start looking at German records. Unfortunately, I don’t speak German, despite being half German myself.

I can only blame the time period for my lack of skill with the German language. My mother’s family emigrated from Germany in the mid- to late-1800’s. German was spoken in the home, of course. My mother has told me that whenever her Grandma and Grandpa didn’t want the grandkids to hear what they were talking about, they would switch to German.

Then along came World War I…

My great-grandfather’s younger brother, August Henry Speer, never came home from that war. In fact, they never even found his body. Missing in action…or at least that’s what the telegram said that they sent to my great-great-grandmother.

There is a marble plaque mounted on the wall in a war memorial in France with his name on it.  You can view a website that describes what the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery looks like as it is today in France.

Before the first World War, I had another German member of the family who was a traveling tinsmith. He traveled back and forth between the U.S. and Germany plying his trade along the way to pay for his trips to the U.S. to visit family members. My mother gave me a tin cookie cutter that he made for my great-grandmother.

His travels ended, of course, with the war.

When WWII came along, even my mother, a young child at the time, was drawn into the conflict. She was given strict orders from her parents that whenever she was asked what nationality she was, she was to respond, “I’m an American.”

She was instructed never to tell anyone that she was German-American.

The day finally came when the teacher did ask her what nationality she was. Of course, with a name like ‘Speer,’ it was pretty obvious that mom was German. But even as a little girl, she stuck to her guns. She insisted she was American when the teacher asked the question.

Now, I am sure that my grandparents were afraid of what the U.S. government had done to the Japanese who settled in Hawaii and California. Visions of spending the war years in an internment camp must have haunted their dreams at night. I can’t blame them for leaving their German identity behind and clinging to their new American roots.

But it did mean that I would never have the opportunity to learn how to read, write or speak German.

Note: I do happen to speak some Spanish, but that isn’t much help when you’re trying to read German genealogy records.

However, I did manage to learn the German equivalents of: born, died, married, etc. That helps when you’re deciphering a German tombstone, but not when you’re trying to translate a German website…

And then along comes the Google translation capability!!!!!

With a single mouse click, you can ask Google to translate a web page for you – what an amazing tool!

That capability allowed me to find the following information on a German website recently:


In the weekly paper for the district of Dieburg 02.17.1840 thank some emigrants from the agent Schomerus Rotterdam for their kind treatment and care. The letter is signed by the elected leaders of the emigration:

Georg May America Ohio State
Martin Mischler Heppenheim
Georg May Heppenheim
Johannes May Heppenheim
Martin Bauer Kirschhausen
Mathes Trares Kirschhausen
Friedrich Anthes Kirschhausen
Peter Klein Sonderbach
Adam Hohnadel Erbach
Gerhard Breier Erbach
Ignaz Kämmerer Heppenheim
Wilhelm Koll Heppenheim
Peter Koob Heppenheim

Apparently, it was not uncommon for people to place advertisements and letters in the hometown papers back in Germany – just to let their family, friends and relatives know that they had arrived safely to their destinations in the U.S.

Some of the names above should be familiar to you: May, Trares, Anthes (Antes, Andes), Klein (Kline), Hohnadel….all of these surnames appear in the Knapp family tree. And the following hometowns in Germany should ring a bell with you, too: Heppenheim, Kirschausen and Erbach.

Isn’t it amazing what a little technology can do?

Happy ancestor hunting!

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