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Macht So! Why Learning The Mother Tongue is The Key to Family History Nirvana

Posted by Pam Velazquez on August 30, 2013 in Ancestry.com Site

This article is written by our very own Ancestry.com family historian, Michelle Ercanbrack.

“Ercanbrack? Hmm, sounds German, right?”

Actually, it’s a very Anglicized, butchered form of a formerly German surname. Family legend states that the original German name was “Erchenbrecht” or “Erkenbrecht” and that two brothers by that name came to the American colonies. Over time, one family migrated into the Great Lakes area, and the other settled on the East Coast. The Easterners became Engelbright, the Midwesterners Ercanbrack.

Odds are your surname has endured similar brutality if it’s been transplanted from one language to another. But in order to separate the fact from the fiction, in name spelling and family lore, your family history sleuthing will eventually lead you to a brave new world—or at least a different country. It will take puzzle pieces from here and there to get a complete picture of your immigrant ancestors.

Because my husband and I have German roots, I decided to squeeze a semester of German into my last year of college.  I didn’t want to let a fascinating trail go cold because of a language barrier, so my plan was to get a basic understanding of the language. I could then sift through records myself.

As I learned German pronunciation, grammar, and geography, for the first time I felt confident enough to search for German family history records myself. I found similarities in records and language patterns in Dutch and French—two other languages my research had run into. I felt better prepared to handle German-to-English name variations. In-depth study of German culture and history gave me added insight to factors that prompted my ancestors’ emigration.

And ultimately I saw how learning another language could help me discover my family history beyond my original purpose of just being able to read German records.  The nuances of personality, humor, and cultural context are often lost when translated into another language.

Learning the language of my ancestors helped me immerse myself in the research, and made me crave that level of engagement on a greater scale. I started planning a European travel itinerary in my head early on; I wanted to connect with the history, culture, food, and people that share my blood.

While my German course instilled a deeper hunger to connect with my heritage, there is so much more to be gained by continued study of the language. I didn’t want my dreams of transcribing records and travelling to native home towns to wilt. A basic understanding of the language, armed with a dictionary or two, was a step in the right direction, but one semester just wasn’t enough, and I wasn’t sure how to continue that education outside the classroom.

Languages are an amazing tool, so Ancestry.com has partnered with Rosetta Stone® for the perfect solution.  The Rosetta Stone® approach was a convenient way to extend my German learning at my own pace, from the comfort of home. And the interactive software makes learning easy, effective, and fun.  And for September only, Rosetta Stone is giving Ancestry members an exclusive offer, up to 40% off Rosetta Stone’s downloadable or online courses to learn the language of your choice.  Take the plunge today!

Continuing my language education will help me become a more self-sufficient family historian, act as a spring-board into learning other languages, and put me on course to fulfill my lifelong dream of researching my family, in their native voice and language, in the land of my native heritage.  Now, you can get started exploring the language of your ancestors with this special offer from Ancestry.com and Rosetta Stone.

 

7 comments

Comments
1 AnaAugust 30, 2013 at 8:21 pm

Rosetta stone is very good, but 35% is pretty common for their discount offers. Not really *exciting* news. And many genealogy pages also have language helps for words you’ll run into, spelling problems, pronunciation… if one really wants to learn the language of their forebears for the specific purpose of genealogy, there are cheaper options than Rosetta Stone. I’ve used their software for 10 languages, but not for the sole purpose of research. That would be quite an expense!

2 Basta!August 30, 2013 at 9:42 pm

Partner marketing under the guise of genealogy help is pretty low, even for Ancestry.com

When do we start seeing the pop-up ads for this “special” offer?

3 MonikaAugust 31, 2013 at 9:42 am

Instead of “partnering up” with other companies, why don’t you work on not having your program be as slow as mollases on the weekends because of all the additional people that visit your site on the weekends.

4 SherryAugust 31, 2013 at 10:21 am

I have to agree with Monika. Ancestry’s time needs to be focused on making the sight as functional as possible before branching out into other areas. At present, I cannot access anything on Family Trees unless I would like to start a new one. That is great for the newbies, doesn’t do diddly squat for those of us who are ALREADY paying customers. As usual, when I have TIME to work on Ancestry, it is almost completely nonfunctional.

5 TCSeptember 4, 2013 at 11:35 am

A lesson I got decades ago from Marilyn Wellauer when she showed me that learning the language gets you farther.

Thanks Ancestry ! Taking up another language and trying to learn more than just the words necessary to skim through old church books, records, etc is a very good idea, and one that long time professional genealogists DO do.

6 Cheryl CSeptember 8, 2013 at 10:36 pm

This article speaks the truth to be sure! I found all this out the hard way regarding German surnames. My ancestors came from West Prussia, a former German province from the 1770′s – WWI. My great-great grandfather and one of his nephews retained the original spelling from the old Prussian birth & christening records. His other brothers & cousins who floated over here changed their last names 5 different ways. Do you have any idea how long it took for me to track them down? Ok…that’s a redundant question to say the least. But I eventually prevailed.

[...] Macht So! Why Learning The Mother Tongue is The Key to Family … [...]

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