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HISTORICALLY CY-FAIR – Breaking the Code of Old German Letters

| March 1, 2016

This is an example of the translation process. The green words are the German translation and the red to English.

This is an example of the translation process. The green words are the German translation and the red to English.

Minnie to (Mother) Emilie Willmann 1907-08-20

A letter to Emilie Willmann from her daughter Minnie in 1907.

 

 

 

Within the Kleb Woods Nature Preserve historical farm collection are many letters written by Kleb family members in the early 20th century. Both the Klebs and most in-laws were of German descent, and many of the letters are written in German script. The script they wrote was not the German we know today but in essence the dialects of 26 independent city-states that existed in the area of today’s Germany. In one municipality, what appeared to be an “s” might be an “h” in another region, or an “f” or “v” in others. So when one starts trying to read an old letter, the first trick is discovering which letter is which. Additionally, a family member brought a writing style to Texas from Germany in 1846 and passed it from generation to generation in the family.

By 1900, a German-Texan who wrote this script had never been schooled in proper German spelling and spoke English, or rather Texan, as often as German. Because technology added many inventions between 1846 and 1920, these letter writers had no idea what a proper German word was for things like cars or garages. Their solution was to phonetically spell cars and then referred to garages as “car houses.” Many branded products had no German name so they spelled out an English brand-name product with German phonics. With all of these factors, it is no surprise that even someone with a Ph.D. in German language finds it all but impossible to translate old letters. It is a job for a dedicated person who likes to solve puzzles and who is also fluent in German and English. Kleb Woods Nature Preserve was fortunate to find such a volunteer who labored several years to learn the secrets and translate about 100 German letters for the park. The letters tell a story of family life, daily trials and tribulations, and the way of life on a farm in the Cypress community.

An exhibit about these old letters will be at the Juergen Store in Cypress Top Historic Park during March. If you would like to learn more about old German letters, Texas or Cypress history, please visit Commissioner Steve Radack’s Cypress Top Historic Park at 26026 Old Hempstead Highway. The park is open daily from dawn to 7 p.m. The museum buildings are open on Tuesdays from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. To arrange a special tour please contact the park at cypresstop@pct3.com or 281-357-5324.

The park is home to the Cypress Historical Society. They are housed in the “California Poppy” yellow train depot in the back of the park; hours are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. They have genealogy and historical information for the greater Cypress area. Contact them at cypresshistsociety@att.net or 281-758-0083.

Contact Fred Collins at fcndc@juno.com with any questions or comments on this article.

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