Cross-cultural research

I have been wondering how professional genealogists solve the language problem I have to leave with. I was born and raised in Moscow, Russia. My parents’ generation is all from Moscow, speak only Russian, and have Russian first names, patronymics, gender-specific endings on some last names, and the rest of the Russian-specific stuff. My grandparents were mostly from western Ukraine and Poland, because the Jews were not allowed to live east of the specifically demarkated line drawn some place in Ukraine. So those ancestors were speaking Yiddish and Polish or Ukrainian, and had appropriate names. Now I live in the US and my daughter’s children will probably speak English only.

Also, some parts of the family lived in the US for longer time. In short, everything is tangled with languages, names, charsets, etc. I don’t have a clear view of how I should properly document what I have. English or Russian? If English, should I translate the names? E.g. should I record Mikhail as Michael? Or Moses, or Moishe? Should I have every document in two languages?

For a while I was keeping things in two distinct databases, English and Russian. But this has proved to be such a pain, since it is increasingly hard to duplicate every single bit of information, and sooner or later the two databases end up being out of sync. But I really want the reports to be readable both for my mom and my daughter! How do other people cope with similar problems?

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  • gladdog

    My situation is a little different but there is still the language problem. I am a granddaughter of Swedish immigrants. I made contact with a distant relative in Sweden who sent me 5 data files in Swedish. There was documentation listing the vol and page number of the town records and dates and names. After I learned a few words such as mother, father, married, spouce etc. i could se a regular pattern develop which helped me understand what was recorded enough to be able to record the names and birth, marriage, religious and death dates into the program.

    I chose to copy and paste into the program using all the accents in the original language. It didn’t seem right to modify the names of the people or places, especially the people who had not immigrated. Those who immigrated generally changed their name in some way. That is how I record them—as they chose to change it—but I make note of the aka name in “Names”. I think it important to keep a note about the original name because that makes it easy to search for more info at a later time.

    After recording the information in Swedish which I do not speak, to help myself or anyone else who may look at this information again, I note key words (mother, married etc) in “comments” with translation or I make a general note about the doc if that seems better. I keep the doc in a data file and copy and paste the relevant sections to the source reference. The file that was sent to me followed a predictable pattern and was not hard to understand after I started looking up the words on the Swedish Schoolnet as many words such as mother, father were used over and over. Another way to handle language might be to modify gramps to let the user add fields that correspond to standard fields but are for translations. Then when making reports you could choose what language you prefer. This might be especially good for someone who is able to give a complete accurate trnslation and everything would be in one database.


  • marting

    Gramps is helping me out a lot with this problem, which I share with you.

    Im a Swede of Swedish and South-American origins, and i am in the lucky position that i have relatives on both my mothers and my fathers side that are very interested in family-research. What i do is that i generate web-reports in spanish, on my fathers side, and in swedish for my mothers side. Filtered to include only the relevant branch.

    I dont translate any names or names of places.
    Comments are all in their respective languages.

    Works great!
    // Martin

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