Wednesday, November 25

Translating Family Papers and Records

The story is told of one of the early machine translation systems that was asked to translate the phrase The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak from English, into Russian, and then back into English again.  When the final results appeared, the computer came up with The wine is good, but the meat is rotten.

Online computer translations have gotten better since then, and can generally handle The spirit is willing test.  I often use Google Translate to help out with foreign language websites, as I did with my French Revolution post.  Still, machine translation will only get you so far.  My post on Arab genealogy, where I Google-translated some book titles, led to some pretty strange results.

The Eiffel Tower at the Paris Exposition of 1900

Sometimes, you just need a human translator to help you work through grandpa's birth records from the old country, or a letter in your family files in Hebrew, or Estonian, or wherever it is your family's roots have led.

A full-fledged translation service can be a big expense, but happily, there are some kind folks out there who will translate reasonable-sized passages (usually no more than a few paragraphs) at no charge.  Here are a few good ones.
  • Freelang.  Email a translator directly, with a polite request for some help, and they will usually oblige.
  • Cucumis.  A free human translation system based on points.  You can earn points if you translate something for someone else.  But even if you're a one-language moron (like me), you still get points to use just for signing up.
  • Linguanaut.  Click on Free Translation to get started, and they'll put you in touch with a translator.
  • WikiTranslation.  Simply enter the text to have translated, the from and to languages, and hopefully, a kind and resourceful human being will soon do your bidding (thanks to commenter Bob for pointing this one out).

Isn't the internet grand?

Visit the main page of Free Genealogy Tools for more, umm, free genealogical tools.

And don't forget to also check for your family history at and These are subscription databases, but they are among the most powerful research tools available for looking into family roots.


Moroccan Arabic said...

The machine translation story is funny! Google translator still makes this kind of mistakes.

Bob said...

I would like to suggest another tool:

You may request a free human translation up to 1000 characters. No sign-up required.

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