- Associated Press - Thursday, April 9, 2015

BELLEVILLE, Ill. (AP) - Working in pairs, the fourth-year German students at Belleville East High School had different approaches to the challenging task at hand - translating an obituary from an old-time German newspaper in Belleville into English.

Seniors Colin Creedon and Daniel Jackson chose to translate the old German dialect, known as Fraktur, into German first and then translate the German text they were more familiar with into English.

“We have to translate it and then rearrange it so it makes sense in English,” Colin explained.

In contrast, seniors Meghan Gingrich and Peyton Kaercher chose to translate the old German dialect directly into English.

“Once you know what the words say, it’s really easy,” Peyton said.

The class assignment overseen by teacher Andrew Gaa isn’t just for a grade. It serves a larger purpose and has helped at least one family from California learn more about their ancestry.

Once translated by the German students and proofed by Gaa, obituaries are then posted online by the St. Clair County Genealogical Society.

That’s where Craig Eberhard of San Diego, Calf., found the obituary of his great,-great-grandfather.

Eberhard recently sent an email to Belleville District 201 officials and Gaa thanking them and specifically the two students who translated the obituary - Sam Marek and Scott Williams, Class of 2013.

Eberhard said the “practical project” Gaa has his German students complete is “one to be appreciated and admired. Without that I never would have known that history of my great-great grandfather,” he said.

The obituary of his great-great-grandfather, Eberhard said, allowed him to “connect some of the dots” of his family’s history.

“There was so much information in there,” he said of the obituary. “It gave a little bit of color to my great-great grandfather.”

Eberhard’s great-great-grandfather, Friedrich Pannier, 1832-1893, was a farmer, who came to Belleville in 1866 by way of the German sailing skiff, the Undine. He brought his wife and five children including Eberhard’s great grandfather William was 6 years old at the time. William moved from Belleville to Orange County, California.

Gaa said the German students are providing “a service to people,” who can’t read German and don’t live locally and can’t access the old newspapers on microfilm at the Belleville Public Library.

The in-class assignment to translate the obituaries is challenging for the 19 fourth year students, according to Gaa.

“Old German script is hard to read,” he said.

The students agree.

“The letters that they used are not what they would look like now,” said senior Thomas Carter. “The letters they used back then are obscure.”

Meghan said some of the letters in Fraktur look exactly the same.

“Once you get into the flow of it, it becomes easier,” said senior Madelyne Knipp. “A lot of times I just use the context clues to figure it out.”

The students don’t have to tackle it alone. They work in partners, and Gaa is available to help as well.

“The challenge is translating it and making it sound like good English,” Gaa said. “There’s definitely an art to it.”

Meghan said it’s “really neat” to be involved in a project that could potentially help someone find out more about their ancestors.

“I would like to trace my own ancestry sometime,” she said.

Madelyne said it’s “really cool” to translate the old German obituaries into English. “I like translating this stuff knowing it’s going to help people,” she said.

Senior Adam Lanter said, “I think it’s really cool we are able to help people find their heritage.”

Once the obituaries are translated into English by the students, they type them up and submit them to Gaa for review.

Gaa must ensure the obituaries are entirely accurate since they will be placed online and used to research family history.

“I’m interested in Belleville history so it’s worthwhile for me,” Gaa said.

The German students translate obituaries as an in-class assignment twice a year - one time each semester. “By the second time, it’s much easier for them to do,” Gaa said.

Gaa actually learned about his own family history through this project, which started in fall of 2012.

Thus far, the students are almost through obituaries published in 1898 and will move onto 1899 next.

Diane Walsh with the St. Clair County Genealogical Society said she appreciates the work Gaa and his students put into the project.

“It takes a great deal of effort on their part, particularity his (Gaa), to end up with a final product,” Walsh said. “It’s invaluable to get some of that information out there.”

The most important thing about the German obituaries is they will mention the particular town the immigrant came from, according to Walsh.

“I know people in the genealogical community are very grateful for work people do to bring ancestors to life,” Walsh said, “and that’s what this project is about.”


Source: Belleville News-Democrat, https://bit.ly/1MwJ4Z6


Information from: Belleville News-Democrat, https://www.bnd.com

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