m0027Germans have long been a scattered people. Millions of Americans identify their ancestral roots as German. For many, however, their ancestors spoke German but never lived in what constitutes modern Germany. Some “Germans” never even lived is what could be called a German states or territories. From the middle ages on, German-speaking communities have thrived all across Europe, especially in the Eastern countries. Many identified themselves by their language, culture, and customs as German, but may have lived nowhere near modern Germany. The result is many German documents exist across a large geographical area in Europe. German, as a language, was used in written vital records across Europe. Documents were also written in other languages but by German hands; in particular, French and Latin were common.

Learning to read and transcribe these documents can be a stumbling block. The Gothic alphabet alone can be difficult to read, even if you speak fluent German. Fortunately, Roger Minert has taken his more than 20 years of experience and applied it to producing Deciphering Handwriting in German Documents: Analyzing German, Latin, and French in Historical Manuscripts. The original book is considered by many to be the preemptive guide on the subject. This new second edition extends the offerings, and will to serve those with German ancestry.

This book is so much more than a basic treatment of Old German Script or Gothic letters. This book examine the history, the development, the alphabet, and the handwriting of not only the German language, but also Latin and French in German documents. In the author’s own words, he as added the following features to this book, not previously handled by other authors:

  • “a brief but scholarly review of the history of handwriting styles and alphabets in German-speaking regions of Europe
  • the introduction of a computerized, normed set of Gothic alphabet characters
  • the inclusion of examples consisting of illustrations taken from genuine records
  • a methodology for deciphering Latin texts in German source documents
  • a methodology for deciphering French texts in German source documents
  • the introduction of the only modern technology to be applied to the deciphering of words and names in old handwritten German documents — the reverse alphabetical index”

In addition to all this well-defined and unique information, the author facilitate the learning process with over 150, now, 200 illustrations. These documents are used step by step along the path taught in this guide to decipher German handwriting. In many cases, the author has provided a transliteration to a modern typeset face of the sample’s text, a translation into English, and a useful analysis to better understand both the type of document as well as key points in the deciphering of the contents.

The following are new to this second edition:

  • In-depth examinations of the Fraktur, Gothic, and Latin alphabets
  • Extensive techniques for analyzing texts
  • 44 new documents from many subject areas
  • Nearly 200 images from original records
  • A new computer font more closely resembling the handwriting of original documents
  • Lists of genealogical terms in German, Latin, and French (both alphabetical and reverse alphabetical)

The new edition has 271 pages plus another 10 of front matter, totaling 281 pages. The first edition had a total of 192 pages. So – there are an additional 89 pages in the volume, with no upward change in price.

[A full table of contents is listed below]


Deciphering Handwriting in German Documents: Analyzing German, Latin, and French in Vital Records Written in Germany is available from Family Roots Publishing; Item #: M0001, Price: $27.44.


Table of Contents


How to Use this Book

Chapter 1: The Evolution of Handwriting Styles in Germany

  • Introduction
  • Early Handwriting Styles
  • Handwriting Styles after the Middle Ages
  • The Standardization of Handwriting Styles
  • The End of the Gothic Alphabet in Daily Use
  • Determining the Language of the Handwritten Document
  • Notes

Chapter 2: Deciphering German Handwriting in German Documents

  • Introduction
  • The Gothic Handwriting Alphabet
  • Lower Case Gothic Characters
  • Upper Case Gothic Characters

Consonant Clusters and Doubled Consonants

  • Diacritical Marks and Punctuation
  • Crossing the t and Dotting the i
  • Abbreviations
  • Similar and Confusing Characters
  • Numbers and Dates
    • Numerals
    • Days of the Week
    • Months
    • Time of Day
    • Seasons of the Year
    • Cardinal Numbers vs. Ordinal Numbers
    • Feast Dates
    • French Republican Calendar Dates
  • Learning to Write in the Gothic Alphabet
  • German Language Tools
    • German Grammar
    • German Syntax and Word Order
    • German Vocabulary
    • Archaic German Language and Dialect Variants
  • Personal Names
  • Place Names
  • Determining the Type of Record
  • Basic Tactics in Deciphering German Handwriting in Vital Record Entries
    • Extraction
    • Transliteration
    • Translation
  • Additional Tactics in Deciphering German Handwriting in Vital Records
    • Index
    • Chronology
    • Alphabet Sampler
    • Vowel/Consonant Environments
    • Syntactic Analysis
  • Deciphering Sample Vital Record Entries
    • Church Birth/Christening Records
    • Civil Birth Records
    • Church Marriage Records
    • Church Death/Burial Records
    • Civil Death Records
    • Other Types of Records
    • Summary
  • Notes

Chapter 3: Deciphering Latin Handwriting in German Documents

  • Introduction
  • The Latin Alphabet as Used in German Vital Records
  • Abbreviations in Vital Records entries in Latin
  • Numerals
  • Dates
  • Latin Grammar
  • The Elements of a Typical Latin Church Book Entry
    • Column Entries
    • Sentence Entries
    • Paragraph Entries
  • Tactics for Deciphering Latin in Vital Records in German Documents
  • Summary
  • Notes

Chapter 4: Deciphering French Handwriting in German Documents

  • Introduction
  • The Practice of French Record-keeping in Germany
  • Church Vital Records in the French Language
    • Civil Registry Vital Records in the French Language
    • Civil Registry Pre-printed Entry Forms
    • Numerals and Dates
  • The French Republican Calendar
  • French Grammar and Language Tools
    • Gender
    • Number
    • Capitalization
    • Syntax
    • Vocabulary
    • Placement of Adjectives
  • Analyzing French Entries in German Church Records
    • Column-entry Church Records
    • Paragraph-entry Church Records
  • Analyzing French Entries in German Civil Records
    • Paragraph French Entries in German Church Records
    • Pre-printed French Entries in German Civil Records
  • Summary
  • Notes

Chapter 5: Additional Documents of Historical Importance

  • Introduction
  • Autobiography
  • Church Certificate
  • Personal Letter
  • Postcard
  • Telegram
  • Business Letter
  • Employment Identification
  • Recommendation
  • Business License
  • Public Schools
  • Government Family Records
  • Court (Guardianship)
  • Court (Divorce)
  • Court (Name Change)
  • Marriage Contract
  • Military
  • Report of Death in Battle
  • Proof of Military Service
  • Last Will and Testament
  • Citizenship
  • Residential Registration
  • Passenger Lists
  • Emigration Application
  • Passport
  • Trans-Atlantic Travel
  • Church Records
  • Standards for Church Records
  • Church Birth Certificate
  • Church Marriage Certificate
  • Baptismal Entry
  • Confirmation Entries
  • Marriage Entry
  • Death Entry
  • Family Record
  • Membership List
  • Parish Constitution
  • Church Council Minutes
  • Baptismal Entry in Latin


Foreign Language Competence

How to Use a Reverse Alphabetical Index

Annotated Bibliography

  • Works Cited in This Book
  • Additional Works Recommended to Family History Researchers



  1. The Printed Gothic/Fraktur Alphabet
  2. German Genealogical Vocabulary
  3. German Genealogical Vocabulary: Reverse Alphabetical Order
  4. Latin Genealogical Vocabulary
  5. Latin Genealogical Vocabulary: Reverse Alphabetical Order
  6. French Genealogical Vocabulary
  7. French Genealogical Vocabulary: Reverse Alphabetical Order
  8. Common Genealogical Symbols Found in Vital Records in Germany
  9. German Empire Civil Registry Entry Forms (1876–1918)
  10. Computer Translation of Old Church book Entries