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Deciphering Handwriting in German
Reviewed by Paul R. Lipinski

Documents, by Roger P. Minert, published by GRT Publications, Woods Cross, Utah, 2001

Since my research takes me to the Prussian partition of Poland, primarily the area southwest of Bydgoszcz, many of the records I deal with are written in German. Consequently, I am always looking for books to help metranslate German records. I ran across this book in the Allen County Library on a trip to Fort Wayne, Indiana last year.

One of the first and possibly hardest challenges that any translator faces is deciphering the handwriting. Once this is done, then translating from one language to your own is relatively easy. This book by Roger Minert addresses that first problem.

The first chapter discusses and gives examples of the different styles of handwriting. The second goes into considerable detail in deciphering German handwriting in documents. It covers the Gothic handwriting alphabet, German language tools, numbers and dates, tactics in deciphering German handwriting, and gives sample vital record entries. Chapters three and four cover the same topics but for Latin and French. It turns out both of these languages are used in German documents. While I have run across Latin in German documents I have not had to deal with French.

If you are able to decipher the first characters of a word, any dictionary will help in identifying possibilities. What do you do if you are only able to decipher the last characters of a word? This book gives one of the best aids that I have ever found. It is the reverse alphabet index. The reverse index gives you possible words when all you know are the end characters. The reverse index is given three ways, German alphabet printed text, Fraktur alphabet printed text, and SUtterlin alphabet printed text that is very close to the handwritten text found in many documents. The reverse index tables are done in German, Latin, and French. This reverse alphabetical index is a modern technology applied to deciphering words and names in handwritten German documents.

Deciphering Handwriting in German Documents is an excellent translation tool. With over 150 illustrations, examples, and tables, it should prove helpful to the novice or experienced genealogist-translator.

[This review is reprinted, with permission, from the April 2002 issue of the News-letter of the Polish Genealogical Society of California.

Dictionary of Jewish Names from the Kingdom of Poland, A
Reviewed by William F. Hoffman, PGSA Fall 1996 Bulletin

By Alexander Beider. Avotaynu, Inc., P. 0. Box 900, Teaneck, NJ 07666. 570+xxxvii pages. ISBN 0-9626373-9-4.

At $69.50 (+ $4.50 postage and handling), this book is one people won't buy unless they're fairly certain it's worth the money. If its subject interests you, this book is worth the money! Anyone with a real desire to learn more about the origin of Jewish surnames in the Kingdom of Poland will find it a monumental work.

As in his previous book on Russian Jewish surnames, Beider worked with hard data-names from lists of voters, yizkor books for various communities, civil records, etc. from the Kingdom of Poland-so he could base his analyses on facts, not hypotheses. This approach must have involved an enormous amount of work; but Beider was aided by a historical fact: most Polish Jews took surnames after the partitioning of Poland, i. e., during the last two centuries, the time covered by extant documents. So it is feasible to trace many of their names back to a specific time and place of origin. Beidcr takes full advantage of this fact, and that's the chief merit of the book.

Descendants of Polish Christians will ask, of course, if the book is useful for them. It is still a good source of etymologies, and will often prove relevant; but Beider would be the first to point out that, to some extent, Polish Christians fall outside the scope of the data he relied on. That makes his conclusions less reliably applicable to their names. Most Polish Christians had established surnames at least a century (often several centuries) before Polish Jews did, so their names' origins often predate surviving records, and tracing them may be impossible. The circumstances behind a Jew's bearing a particular surname could, and often did, differ from those that led non-Jews to bear the same name! Thus Beider's derivations may apply also to non-Jewish surnames, but there's more room for uncertainty.

For those interested in Polish Jews' surnames, this is a splendid work. For non-Jews it is somewhat less useful, but still impressive and educational.

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