Translating genealogy documents

If you are a true American, you must have some interesting ethnic background from at least 4 different countries. If you are a true American, you don’t speak any of your ancestors’ mother tongues, even if your own grandparents made the move to the New World. And, if you are a true American, you search your own family tree for generations back, because those roots are vitally important.

And so was born the niche market of translating genealogy documents. Some of these include illegible marriage certificates from 1872 issued in the church of a remote village in European country that ceased to exist a long time ago. If you’re a bit luckier, you may have to work from scanned newspaper clippings from 1906.

Occasionally I receive such documents from a particular client of mine (of course, based in the U.S.) to translate from Hungarian into English.  Luckily, English to Hungarian assigments come much more often. I say luckily, since such documents are produced nowadays by curious Americans who want to build their family tree, and somehow wish to communicate with remote kins who were left behind in the old country.

One recurring assignment comes from St. Louis, Missouri, from a keen amateur genealogist, who managed to trace back his ancestry to the 15th century, or so he claims. Apparently his family is from Moravia, what is now part of the Czech Republic. Throughout the centuries, his forefathers spread to Poland, Hungary, Austria… and France.  At some point a direct ancestor escaped France and settled in England, which proved to be a springboard for a later generation to emigrate to the United States some time in the early 1800’s.

Now this gentleman in St. Louis used the services of a professional genealogist, and found a few hundred people around the world with the same family name. He produced a nice CD-ROM with a captivating family story, had it translated into a dozen or so languages, including Hungarian, and he’s asking for current family photos to be included in future editions.

From a translator’s point of view, such documents offer a rare multilingual challenge. For this particular client I had to correct the spelling of some Czech, Polish and other European place names.  I even had to correct the dates of some historical events, which may have been overlooked by the researching genealogist.

All in all, translating such documents is a welcome retreat from technically monotonous manuals and GUI strings 🙂

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Discovering the world, step by step, word by word
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