Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Hooray for Google Translate!

It isn’t perfect, but Google Translate is helping me understand my Polish heritage.

My genealogy focus in on heritage rather than merely on lineage. I want to know how and where my ancestors lived.  Google Earth has let me see the locations of my ancestral villages and Street View has let me drive through them as they are today.  That’s the easy part,

The hard part is getting an understanding of these villages as they were in the 19th century. I’m doing this by reading gazetteers from that time. There are two of them.  This post looks at entries for Grabow nad Prosna, the village of my Schipp ancestors in Poland.

Meyers Gazetteer of the German Empire (commonly called Meyers Orts) includes Prussian Poland where my ancestors lived.  See below for links to online access. It is in two volumes. The fifth edition was published in 1915. The descriptions of small towns and villages are generally brief, but include population broken down by religion, businesses, and facilities such as mail, railroad and telegraph. Here’s the entry for Grabow nad Prosna.  It is a three-pronged challenge

You can see that it is printed in old German Script. Deciphering the script is the first challenge.  Once the script is decoded, the second challenge is the abbreviations.  Fortunately there is an abbreviation table online. See link below. The third challenge is the actual translation. I do not speak German. With the combination of a good German/English dictionary and Google Translate, I get some understanding of this town.

Among other things Meyers Orts tells me that there was a dairy, a sawmill, and a railroad station that served both passenger and freight customers and had a telegraph. There was one Protestant church and 2 Catholic churches.

Słownik Geograficzny Kólestwa Polskiego i innych krajów słowiańskich
 (Geographical Dictionary) is a gazetteer of Poland “and other Slavic countries” published in 15 volumes.  It is available online as are guides to its use. See links below.  Despite the complexity of the Polish language, this is easier because it is printed in a normal font – I can recognize the alphabet. But this one also has the challenges of abbreviations and a language I don’t speak.  The edition I find online was published beginning in 1880 – it took a few years to complete all 15 volumes.

The advantage of this gazetteer is that there is more information in each entry.

This is just a very small portion of the entry in Slownik Geograficzny for Grabow nad Prosna.

It describes the city of Grabow on the Prosna river as being in a lush fertile valley. It says that the residents were engaged in agriculture, cattle breeding, and smuggling in spite of vigilant border guards.

The smuggling part sparks my imagination. Were my ancestors law abiding farmers or did they make a little extra income on the side???

Grabow had a doctor and a pharmacy. It had once had iron smelters and a Franciscan monastery.

The entry for Grabow nad Prosna is quite extensive and includes some significant points of history going back to the year 1264.


There are some words that I’ve not been able to translate either using a Polish/English or Google Translate.  That’s OK because I’m not looking for a verbatim translation, I just want to get a sense of what the village was like in that time.

Google Translate is more than adequate and is so very much easier than looking up every word in a dictionary.  Hooray for Google Translate.

If you know of other sites for gazetteers that may be relevant, please leave a comment with a link.


Meyers Orts
Family Search
            Note: this version is searchable.
The Hathi Trust

Slownik Geograficzny
Polish Roots – this is the easiest site for those of us who don’t speak Polish. There is a link to an excellent guide to using this resource. The “How to Use” document on this site gives detailed instructions for using the dictionary.  The first link to an online version takes you to the University of Warsaw site which is in Polish. If you use the Chrome browser it will give you the option to translate. There is a list of abbreviations beginning on page 13 of Volume 1.  This list is crucial for reading the entries.
WARNING: The pages of the dictionary are in Java Script which is not supported by Chrome. I had to revert to Internet Explorer to see the pages.