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Heraldry and Genealogy:


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-      Table of Contents –


General Strategies for Translating Text

Working with

German Text

Working with

Scandanavian Text

Translating other European Languages

About This Webpage


During your research of a coat-of-arms or the foreign roots of your family tree your search has turned up an online book at one of the popular websites listed above.  Your initial strategy is to plug the surname, location into the search box and hope that you may find a page with some worthwhile information.  If you are successful you are greeted with a foreign language text that you cannot fathom.  What will you do now??

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General Strategies for Translating and

Understanding Foreign Language Text

Cut and Paste Into a Translation Program

Translations via  Contextual Clues

Translating at

 “Google Books”

Cut and Paste Into a Translation Program


 Books at

“Internet Archive”

Translating Words not in Plain Text

Translating Terms Used in Heraldry

Tranlating an entire webpage or document 

Cut and Paste Into a Translation Program:

This is the easiest of methods to obtain the information you are looking for.  We recommend Google Translator but there are several other good programs on the internet.  We also recommend that if you are going to be translating on a periodic or regular basis that you add a link button from the translation program to either your desktop or browser toolbar.  All of the strategies described below conclude with cutting and pasting the text to a translation program.  To ensure a high level of accuracy we recommend that after pasting the foreign text into the translation program go back and compare it with the original words from the source material.  At this point you should be looking to ensure not only spelling but diacritical marks, (function is in your word processing program), and character spacing have been fully replicated.  After the text has been translated there may still be words that were not translated.  We recommend you attempt to develop contextual clues that may provide you with a better translation, (see Translations Via Contextual Clues).

Translations via Contextual Clues:

With regard to German translations we’ve had some success using Wikipedia.  At the German Wikipedia Search Page plug the word you need to translate into the search box, click on “Full Text.”  This will find all of the articles that include the word you are looking for and in some cases a word that denotes a similar concept.  For example, the word “getheilte” shows that word “shared” as a similar concept.  As this doesn’t seem to fit into our translation we scroll down the page where we find several articles where getheilte” means “divided” as in the partitioning of a shield.  Thus we now have an acceptable translation of the word.  We recommend you try this method with other Wikipedia languages.  Links to the various foreign language Wikipedias are located in the left column at the Homepage.

Translating Google Books:

Any genealogical or heraldic research will eventually take you Google Books.  As such we recommend that you install a Google Toolbar to your browser webpage to include their translation functions.  To do this go into Language tools and settings and make the appropriate choices for your needs.  After this your Google Book searches should translate automatically when you choose the “plain text” option in the drop down menu at the top right of the book page.  Now you can cut and paste the text.  In some cases the aforementioned option will not create plain text for some of the page if this is the case see Translating Words Not in Plain Text.

Translating Books at Internet Archive:

     Another significant repository for online foreign language books is The Internet Archive's Digital Books Collections.  After you’ve located and identified the desired text via the search tool go to the left column and click on the “Full Text” option.  Then utilize your browser’s word search tool by keying “Ctr+F”.  Type the keyword into the find box, next or down.  Upon locating the desired text cut and paste to your translation program.

Translating Words not in Plain Text:

The procedure we use for translating text into a word processing format such requires some special tools and can be time consuming but generally the results are worthwhile.  To accomplish this we recommend that you install a program such as the free version of Snipping Tool from Microsoft.  After you snip an image of the desired text you will want to scan the text with OCR software (usually part of your printer software) to create and editable text file.  We prefer to open the text image in Adobe Elements, save as a PDF file, and convert to a “Rich Text File.”  If you utilize this method you will have to purchase the Adobe software as well as a subscription to Adobe Export PDF.  After the text file is converted you can make corrections manually to insure that the replicated text file matches the text in the original image.  Then cut and paste to a translator program, and follow-up with the techniques described in the Contextual Clues section.

Translating Terms Used in Heraldry:

The vocabulary as utilized in the blazoning of a coat-of-arms is specialized and not usually found within a regular translation program, or dictionary.  Although various sources will provide some general terms applicable to the ordinaries and sub-ordinaries we’ve found that the most comprehensive source for translating heraldic terminology is the International Illustrated Glossary at Heraldic.orgIn the translation function you can enter a word like chevron and find it in any of six languages.  In addition if you choose the sub-string function you will also obtain the following translations for: chevrons in counter-point;  chevrons interlaced; chevronel; chevron in base; chevron with a chief over all; and chevronny. There is also a corresponding atlas with illustrations of all the terms.

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Working with German Text

Old German

Gothic Typeface

Specialized German Terminology

Addition Resources

A discussion about the basics of translating foreign text is located above on this webpage. If you’ve followed those strategies hopefully you are well on your way to translating German written in the Roman alphabet we are familiar with.

Text in the Old German Gothic or Fraktur Typeface

     For those of us with an interest in German heraldry and genealogy we will also need to decipher Old German documents.  To do this you must be willing examine and translate the letters from Old German (Fraktur) to English before utilizing your favorite translation software program.  We have located a a free online OCR (Optical Character Recognition) service at  This software  is effective in analyzing German and Danish - Fraktur text in any image file that you upload, and then convert the text from the image into text that you can easily edit on your computer.

…..We have found this chart useful in comparing our Roman letters with their equivalents in Old German type.  In order to ascertain the various nuances of each letter we strongly suggest that you use the zoom feature on your browser.

     There are some strategies that will help you recognize Gothic letters. For example: (1) note which letters extend below the line of writing and which extend above. Some letters extend both above and below. Some letters extend neither above nor below, such as the letter a; (2) learning key German heraldry and genealogical terms will also help with your translation. Keep a list of those terms that have been successfully translated; (3) when a letter cannot be identified in a document, look for the same letter or word in another part of the document. It may be clearer, or the context may make it easier to figure out;

Alphabet (Old German Gothic Typeface).jpg

(4) look for an index. Indexes to German records were often made much later than the original documents and may include the names in a style of handwriting which is easier to read; (5) the translation feature at Google Books can assist with translating Old German text.  The degree with which Google Books can automatically translate Old German to English before any other treatments is poor at best but at a level that one may be able to acertain whether the passage is worth exploring in further detail with the alphabet comparison list above. 

      In conclusion, we recommend that you read over Handwriting Guide: German Gothic.  This is an excellent resource guide from the Family History Library.  It covers old German type and handwriting and includes a chart showing Roman type, German type, and German script.  With practice you will learn to recognize Gothic letters.  By studying particular letters, you will be able to read the Gothic handwriting much more accurate and timely manner.

Translating Specialized German Terminology

In most situations the terms used to describe German coats-of-arms are too specialized for accurate translation by online programs such as Google Translate.  This is also true for genealogical terminology.  As such we suggest that you create “word lists” that are specific to the focus of your research.  During our research we have created, located, or modified the following listings that will assist you with translating such German words:

·         English-German Glossary of Heraldic Terms

·         German-English Glossary of Heraldic Terms

·         Glossary of German Terms – About the Bearer of Arms

·         International Glossary of GERMAN Heraldic Terms

·         Siebmacher’s Armorial - Heraldry Terminology

Addition Resources for Translating German Text

·          Word List of German Numbers

·          Alphabet (Old German Gothic Typeface)

·          Alphabet Chart (Various typeface and handwriting styles)

·          Handwriting Guide: German Gothic

·          German Word List of Genealogy Terms

·         Beolingus (German Dictionary)

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Translating other European Languages

In most situations the terms used to describe European coats-of-arms are too specialized for accurate translation by online programs such as Google Translate.  This is also true for genealogical terminology.  As such we suggest that you create “word lists” that are specific to the focus of your research.  During our research we have created, located, or modified the following listings that will assist you with translating text in other European languages:

Heraldic and Genealogical Terminology

General Resources


Breton heraldic dictionary


Croatia Language and Languages


Czech Republic Genealogical Word List


Danish Word List


International Glossary of DUTCH Heraldic Terms

Netherlands Language and Languages

Dutch heraldic dictionary 


International Glossary of ENGLISH Heraldic Terms

English heraldic dictionary 

Illustrated atlas of French and English heraldic terms


Finnish heraldic dictionary‎ 

Finnish Genealogical Word List


International Glossary of FRENCH Heraldic Terms

France Language and Languages

French Wordlist

French heraldic dictionary 

Illustrated atlas of French and English heraldic terms


Hungary Genealogical Word List

Hungarian heraldic dictionary


International Glossary of ITALIAN Heraldic Terms

Italian Genealogical Word List

Italy Language and Languages


Latin Genealogical Word List


Lithuanian heraldic dictionary


Norwegian Word List


Poland Genealogical Word List

Poland Language and Languages

Polish heraldic dictionary


Portuguese Genealogical Word List


Russian Genealogical Word List


Slovakia Genealogical Word List


International Glossary of SPANISH Heraldic Terms

Spanish Genealogical Word List

Spanish heraldic dictionary



Swedish Genealogical Word List

General Resources for Translating Foreign Text

·         Tips for Translating Foreign Language Texts

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About This Webpage


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-- This webpage was last updated on --

30 December 2016

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Diggin for Roots (2 shovels)