Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sunday Search: Translation Please!

While conducting searches on different family members there is a variety of information that comes up usually requiring a lot of sorting, deciphering of handwriting, and frustration when the document that really piques my interest is in another language. More often than not I am at least able to figure things out not because I am fluent in multiple languages (I haven’t even mastered one) but because I know the basic format of what I am looking at. This hasn’t always been the case but after you have been doing the same kind of research for a while you generally know what information goes where largely based on where you find the name you are looking for in the document.

Early on in my research, these were pure moments of frustration that usually had me clicking on the ignore button before giving the document half of a chance to reveal itself. Now I find myself revisiting the branches on my tree and sorting through those forgotten hints so that I can again sort through them to see if anything is relevant to my family tree. I guess you could say that this is the curse of the world explorer membership on

However, this is only on instance where the language barrier can prove difficult or just flat out frustrating. While Google translate and similar programs are wonderful tools they are generally only reliable when it is strait text on a website. Add in the calligraphy element as well as the fact that most of these documents are in PDF or some other unsearchable file format and there is little that Google can do to assist. And I actually ran into this issue when researching my great grandfathers World War One unit.

When looking for information on the Motor Transportation Corps on the internet there is actually a limited amount of information that can be found as it pertains to the WWI incarnation of those units. When digging even further and specifying Unit 301, there is even less information available. After exhausting the limited resources that populated the first few search pages, I came across a PDF document of an account from one of the locals in France… you guessed it, the document is in French. Unfortunately, I understand very little of this language anymore having forgotten nearly all that I was taught in school and Google translate refused to assist in this matter.

Thankfully it is a typed account and a common language. Older documents found in dusty books are proving to be much more difficult. However, many are in the formats of which I am familiar and have provided me with a wealth of knowledge that has been added to my ever expanding genealogical database. But, and I will leave you with this thought, it would be nice to have the ability to instantly translate the material and I encourage researchers to know at least one other language and have a network of researchers who know a variety of other languages as well. You never know when your knowledge or theirs will benefit your research.