Following the Paper Trail
For those with ancestors in non-English-speaking countries, one barrier to research can be reading documents. Even those in English-speaking countries may find records written in Latin that can hamper them. Americans can face records of ethnic churches and other organizations here that employed the native tongue of the members. There is a great resource that has been around for quite some time to help researchers with these records.
Published by Avotaynu, Following the Paper Trail: A Multilingual Translation Guide by Jonathan D. Shea and William F. Hoffman first appeared in 1994. It contains more than 200 pages of valuable assistance for reading and translating non-English documents. Thirteen Germanic (German and Swedish), Romance (French, Italian, Latin, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish), Slavic (Czech, Polish, and Russian), and other (Hungarian and Lithuanian) languages are represented.
The discussion of each language starts with the alphabet for that language. The alphabet is shown in Roman (or printed) and cursive forms from A to Z (or Zed). Letters with diacriticals appear. There may be other assistance as well. For example, the German alphabet includes Fraktur versions of the letters, and the Russian alphabet includes English phonetic equivalents of the letters.
Each section also includes a list of vocabulary terms. These are words that appear in records that are commonly used in genealogical research and their English equivalents. You will also find a list of first names, and their English translations.
But one of the best features of the book comes in the sample documents. For each language, you will find examples of all types of records you may come across in your research. From civil vital records and church records to ship records, passports, and other immigration records, a wide variety of information is presented.
Images of the records are accompanied by an analysis of the record and translation of the significant words. These samples are critical to learning how to use records. What better way to learn than by seeing original records analyzed and transcribed to you can understand them?
It says a lot that an eighteen-year-old book is still in print. You can buy Following the Paper Trail directly from Avotaynu, or from Amazon.com and a number of other online retailers. Through the years, I have found this book very helpful in working with records in unfamiliar records.