How Genealogical Translation is Connecting People to Their Pasts?

Genealogical translation

Family Treasures

Several years ago, an elderly gentleman approached me with two documents that were very important to him. One was a biographical article about his late father, who was a well-respected rabbi in his community; and the other was an article written by his father, telling about the life of his grandfather in Romania, also an important rabbi. Both articles were in Hebrew, and the gentleman was unable to read them. He wanted me to translate them into English.

The Hebrew was archaic, with many obscure abbreviations, and it made for extremely grueling work. But seeing the joy it gave that man when I delivered the translation made it worth every minute. Those translations are now family treasures.

Technology Makes Genealogy More Accessible than Ever Before

British writer Anthony Burgess is quoted as saying, “To remember where you come from is part of where you’re going.” Throughout the ages, people have placed great importance on remembering their ancestors—their stories, wisdom, and rituals—and passing them on to their own children. Our ancestors are part of who we are.

Holding memories for multiple generations can be very difficult, however, especially for families that have migrated over the centuries due to war, persecution, famine, natural disasters, or the search for opportunity. But in the last few centuries, governments and communities have been careful to keep records of their citizens. People wishing to search for evidence and information about the identities and lives of their ancestors can do so by searching these archives.

In the past, people who were interested in tracing their families’ origins faced an extremely daunting task. They would have to search town records and national archives manually, spending hours, days, even months poring over old catalogues and sifting through old files. Genealogy enthusiasts with roots in other countries had to travel to distant archives, hiring local guides and translators to help them find the records they were searching for. All this was very time-consuming and sometimes prohibitively expensive.

With the development of technology, however, this has been changing. Archives all over the world have been digitizing their records and catalogues, and opening them up to the public, posting the files online. Now you can access archives from Spain to the former Soviet Union at the click of a mouse.

Genealogical Translators Breach the One Remaining Barrier

Of course, for those with roots in a foreign land, there is still one problem: language. Names might be easy to identify in foreign records, but only if they are written in a familiar alphabet. And any other important information may be completely inaccessible to the researcher due to the language barrier.

Fortunately, technology has also given us easier access to a solution: genealogical translators.

Genealogical translation is a growing field that has many advantages for translators and their clients. Thanks to the Internet, translators can be found easily and don’t have to be local, and documents can be scanned and e-mailed. Satisfied clients are likely to remain loyal and to return for additional translations.

A Challenging but Rewarding Field

There are some challenges for translators, too. When the text is handwritten, the act of deciphering the script (a field known as paleography) can be very difficult. Some particularly illegible scripts, such as those of 14th-15th century Spanish documents, can require the skills of a seasoned expert. Scribes often used abbreviations to save energy, space on the page, and ink. And even very clear scripts may contain words or phrases that are archaic, which even a native speaker of the modern language may not understand. Spelling and grammar were a lot less consistent in the past, with certain letters being used interchangeably, and this can make it difficult to identify names as well as words. Translators must be familiar with all these linguistic quirks to deliver a good translation.

Genealogical translators help connect families to their pasts and learn more about where they come from. I know I, for one, found this extremely rewarding.

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