German documents

The following documents are primarily from Alois’ time in Germany prior to his emigration, however some letters to or from the U.S. written in German are also included. These documents are often hand-written, and employ an archaic German script. In each case we will note what we have been able to puzzle out, however a great deal remains undeciphered and any assistance is greatly appreciated.

Document file names

At some point in the past a small label was attached to the back of each of these documents, and a number was penciled in. We have maintained the sequencing and order in the presentation and in the file names. This is a departure from the naming scheme in the other document and photograph sections, due basically to the fact that until we began deciphering the text, which nobody has read in over 100 years, we didn’t know what they were.

Notes on German text

Reading text in German documents produced before the mid-20th century can be very challenging. Up until approximately 1941, when the government decreed a change out of necessity, German writing was a bit of a mess, involving at least two, and often as many as four different alphabets. Handwriting was almost always done in Kurrent, a lettering form which evolved in the 16th century from medieval forms of gothic cursive. Printed material usually employed Fraktur, which also evolved from gothic writing. In the early 20th century an easier alternative to Kurrent, called Sütterlin after its inventor, was adopted but isn’t relevant here. In addition to these germanic systems people also used the Latin alphabet, because that’s what everyone else in Europe used, and to some extent Antigua, about which I know almost nothing. To make matters worse it is not uncommon to find writers slipping back and forth between the forms, and even within a single form like Fraktur letters are often decorated and transformed in ways that make them difficult to recognize.

If you care to have a closer look at the documents you may find the following tools useful:

Google translate
Fraktur/Kurrent reference at BYU
FHL German Gothic handwriting guide (PDF)
Beolingus, a DE->EN lookup dictionary with tolerances and suggestions
Yale library fraktur chart

These tools are by no means sufficient to decode the worst of the handwriting in these documents. In some cases it seems the officials almost went out of their way to write illegibly. One technique that can help with stubborn characters is to search for other translations online and review examples to look for close matches. The examples at Ann C. Sherwin’s site have been useful to me.

The documents

Document #1 - Alois Betz's Wanderbuch, 1846

Document #1 – Alois Betz’s Wanderbuch, 1846

In 1846 Alois completed an initial term of apprenticeship and hit the road to serve as many different masters as he could. The work he did for each was recorded in his wanderbuch, which is presented here in full.

Document #3 - Local school final marks, 1845

Document #3 – Local school final marks, 1845

Alois Betz’s “dismissal slip” from the Enkering local school at age 18 in December of 1845. His marks in all categories ranged from exemplary to very good. The schoolmaster has the same surname as the woman Alois eventually married, Josephina Phaller.

Document #4 - Letter of recommendation, 1855

Document #4 – Letter of recommendation, 1855

This is a letter of recommendation written for Alois in Enkering in 1855, as part of the government paperwork he had to complete before being allowed to emigrate. It is signed by several individuals.

Document #5 - Royal Bavarian Army discharge, 1855

Document #5 – Royal Bavarian Army discharge, 1855

This document is Alois’ honorable discharge from the the Royal Bavarian Army, 3rd Chevaliers Regiment Herzog Maximillian. Interestingly it mentions his trade of “Schreiner,” confirming that he was a woodworker and cabinetmaker.

Document #5, back

Document #5, back

There appear to be two separate notes written on the back of the military discharge document. One may be signed by Alois.

Document #6 - Alois Betz's Lehrbrief, 1846

Document #6 – Alois Betz’s Lehrbrief, 1846

Alois Betz’s Lehrbrief, signed in Kipfenberg on April 20, 1846. Printed on 16.5 x 13.5 with only one half used. It documented his time as an apprentice and attested to his passing the tests for entry into the class of journeymen.

Document #7 - Character reference, 1855

Document #7 – Character reference, 1855

A letter of reference written by the district court of Kipfenberg in April of 1855, generally stating that Alois Betz could go to North America as far as the judge was concerned, but that the move would not be considered permanent until proof of naturalization was returned.

Document #8 - Alois's pass to exit Bavaria, 1855

Document #8 – Alois’s pass to exit Bavaria, 1855

Alois Betz’s official pass to leave Bavaria. Much more work to be done on this document, but a partial transcription shows that he had permission to travel from Bremen to Baltimore.

Document #8, back

Document #8, back

The back side of the travel pass has some hand written notes and an official stamp. Only the marked portion has been scanned.

Document #9 - Swiss marriage license, 1851

Document #9 – Neracher-Fischer marriage permit, 1851

This is a local permit to marry, issued to Franz Joseph Neracher and Katherina Fischer by the town council of Wettingen, county Baden, in the Swiss Canton of Aargau, August 24th of 1851. The connection to the Betz family is discussed in the summary.

Document #9, back

Document #9, back

The marriage license is folded such that it presents a form or space for markings on the back. I think the groom’s name is repeated here.

Document #10 - Frankfurt work pass, 1848

Document #10 – Frankfurt work pass, 1848

More translation work to do on this, but it generally appears to be a pass issued to Alois in 1848 allowing him to seek work in Frankfurt as a “Schreiner” or woodworker.

Document #11 - Letter, 1860

Document #11 – Letter, 1860

This is a hand-written letter penned on both sides of an unruled sheet of light green paper. It appears to have been written in Enkering in 1860, and mentions a date of 1859 in the body. The embossed seal at upper left is interesting.

Document #11, back

Document #11, back

The interior two pages of the letter from Enkering, dated 1860.

Document #12 - Letter, 1887

Document #12 – Letter, 1887

This is a hand-written letter penned on both sides of an unruled sheet of manilla. It bears a date of 12/18/1887 and is signed by “Franz Betz.” It also has an embossed seal at upper left reading “Bath.”

Document #12, back

Document #12, back

The interior two pages of the letter dated 12/18/1887.

Document #13 - Letter on stationery, 1867?

Document #13 – Letter on stationery, 1867?

A hand-written letter penned on both sides of a sheet of stationery bearing the design of a rose in the upper left corner. The letter has two pages, each of which are marked on both sides. These two documents are the front and back of page 1. The letter is in extremely fragile condition and no work has been done on it.

Document #13, back

Document #13, back

The back side of the letter on the rose stationery.

Document #14 - Letter on stationery, page 2, 1867?

Document #14 – Letter on stationery, page 2, 1867?

The second page of the hand-written letter on rose stationery which begins in document #13.

Document #14, back

Document #14, back

The back side of the letter in document #14.

Document #15 - Letter, 1860

Document #15 – Letter, 1860

This letter is hand-written on one side, apparently from Enkering, and dated in 1860. No further work has been done yet.

Looking for Louis


5 thoughts on “German documents


  2. Hi, Jim. Thanks for stopping by. Those are some very old documents you have, and it must be quite exciting. The person who translated some of the letters on this site is Carola Meyers. You can feel free to contact her at Good luck!

  3. I have to a german document dated 1881 of may from a very fine stationary n with a red stamp on it? Can I send a picture of it maby u can translate it?

  4. Hi, Patrick. I’m afraid I can’t take on translation work. It’s quite painstaking, although it can be very rewarding if you want to give it a shot. Also, I am not a German speaker and so my translations are at best Google-assisted and amateurish. If you look around you can find people who do this work for a living. I can highly recommend Carola Meyers , who assisted with the documents on this site. Good luck!

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