Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tuesday's Tip - Preparing a language reference sheet

Preparation is always important in research, but even more so if you are planning to look at documents in a language you do not speak or read well. Before visiting a library or archive, it is important to know what kinds of resources are available. In what format are the documents? Are you going to be looking at data in forms (such as censuses and many vital records) or data in paragraphs (such as letters, wills and many earlier marriage records). The format will affect how you prepare. If you are looking at data in paragraph form, you may need to master some grammar. If you are looking at data in forms, you will have an easier time and might only need a dictionary.

Once you have an idea of what records are available, you should make a reference sheet that will help you navigate and find relevant documents. Ask yourself the following questions:
  1. What type of information might I find in these documents? (family relations, date of birth, place of birth, etc.)
  2. What words will I need to know to get this information? (words for months, numbers, basic prepositions, kinship terms, etc.)
List these words and find the equivalents in your target language using a dictionary. This way you will save time and not have to constantly flip through a dictionary.

For example, if you are visiting a cemetery, you will want to find out the names of the months, the words for husband, wife, son and daughter, the words for "born" and "died" and how to make possessives (see here and here), because these are all commonly found on tombstones. Make sure that if you find something you don't understand you take note and add it to your reference sheet for next time.

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