Childhood and School Years
I grew up in a small town called Haselünne in the Northwest of Germany. In our region, many people speak Low German in addition to Standard High German. Growing up, I always admired children that were raised bilingual because I did not recognize that Low German was a distinct language (although there are still debates about its status). So, I made it my mission to learn foreign languages from an early age. It started with English in 5th grade, then French was added to my curriculum in 7th grade, and in 11th grade, I picked up Latin.
Ties to the United States
When I was 17 years old, I went on my first trip to the United States. The country has always fascinated me because some of my ancestors had immigrated to the USA in the 1920s and 1950s. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to meet my relatives overseas and get to know the American way of life. Of course, a three-week vacation in the States was not sufficient to teach me everything there was to learn about the country and culture. Therefore, I decided to take some time off after high school and become an au pair for a year. I ended up living with a first-generation family of German immigrants in the suburbs of Washington D.C. Not only did I get to take care of five wonderful children, but my time with them was also really interesting because I was able to get an insight into what it meant to be a first- and second-generation immigrant in the USA. When the time had come to decide whether I wanted to stay longer, the decision wasn’t too difficult. I chose to stay for one more year and moved in with an American family in New Jersey. This way, I had the chance to experience what life was like for people that were deeply rooted in America. Apart from immersing myself in the American culture, I was able to improve and expand my English skills significantly.
Apprenticeship, Work, and University
After returning to Germany, I immediately started my apprenticeship to become a foreign language assistant for English, French, and Spanish at a school in Bremerhaven. Its harbor used to be one of the most popular starting points for many European immigrants to the United States. The city is also home to one of Germany’s best museums about emigration – the German Emigration Center (Deutsches Auswandererhaus). Somehow it seemed like I was destined to be doing my apprenticeship in the very place where my ancestors had started their journey decades ago.
Once I had successfully finished my apprenticeship in Bremerhaven, I found a job in Bremen. One of my tasks was to translate brochures, leaflets, and other material from German into English and vice versa. This is how I developed a passionate interest in translation. I mustered all my courage, quit my secure and well-paying job, and started university studies in translation. For this, I had to move all the way from Bremen to Germersheim in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate.
Translation Career and Genealogy
As part of my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in translation at the University of Mainz in Germersheim, I did an internship at Anja Jones Translation in Newquay, UK. This internship allowed me to acquire some firsthand experience in translation and see what it is like to be a professional translator. Since the company was quite satisfied with my translation skills, they asked me to continue working for them from Germany. Of course, I was honored by their trust in my abilities and thankful for the opportunity, and that’s how I became a freelance translator.
I first got into genealogy when my relatives from the US asked me to translate a few German letters from the 1920s and 1930s. As an aspiring translator, I naturally agreed to do so. However, when the letters arrived and I opened the envelope, I realized that I had no idea what they said. The letters were written in a strange script, and I was frustrated because I couldn’t decipher the handwriting. For this reason, I committed to teaching myself how to read the Old German Script. It took quite a while to unravel these unknown characters that barely anyone in Germany can still read and write today. But with a lot of hard work and discipline, I eventually succeeded and was able to transcribe and translate the old letters. Thus, I made the encrypted information accessible to my relatives in the USA. This project brought our family a lot closer.
Since this work was so rewarding for me, I decided to specialize in this field and make my transcription and translation skills available to others struggling with the Old German Script. It is wonderful to help people get closer to their roots and learn more about their family’s history. I could not have chosen a more fulfilling profession!