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Much has been written about spelling in records. The researcher needs to pay much less attention to spelling in the earliest records, since many times, the person was illiterate and the name was spelled phonetically by the writer (e.g., the minister). If it sounds similar, write it down.
Another hint, when looking up names in an index, don't just look at those pages, but also look at other pages in the same time frame. Many times, the transcription that you're reading has errors (did you ever translate old German names?). So look at the adjacent pages for people with a similar last name, but the same first name. (i.e., looking for Theodore and Veronica Conrad and find Theodore and Veronica Bonrad on the next page - write it down!).
The German vowels and vowel combinations vary wildly. A few rules (other than these basics, get a book on German including pronunciation):
- pronounce the second letter with ie and ei. (you may find these letters reversed in English tax records compared with German church records though).
- no silent vowels
- eu is pronounced like oy in boy
- d, t and th are largely interchangeable (there is no 'th' sound like in 'the' in the German language!)
- g and k are often interchangeable (e.g., Klock and Glock, Kramer and Gramer)
- an umlauted vowel (2 dots above) is often written as the vowel followed by an 'e'. The umlauts are dropped in many early typed copies of records.
Last names often exist in records in two forms, English and German. The translation could depend on either the meaning (Schmidt to Smith, Heuman to Hayman) or the phonetic translation (Conrath to Conrad or Coonrodt). The people generally either changed the spelling to match the way they wanted it pronounced or they changed the pronunciation and kept the traditional form. In most cases that I've seen, the correct number of syllables is correct. That is, they didn't tend to leave off major parts of long last names, despite occasional wishful thinking by researchers.