I am trying to perform some research in the Pennsylvania area and have run into a couple of instances where I encountered German and English transitions or just pure German; specifically in tombstones and Newspaper that are in German and then later transition to English.

For example in the 1850 Berks County is still producing a German newspaper as well as I found in a local cemeteries where I believe someone is a transition of German looking tombstones near English ones implying it may be the same family.

For example German "Sausser" and English "Souser"

My specific questions:

  1. Was there a particular period where German went out of 'style' in Central Pennsylvania and families transitioned to English or was there some sort of mandate to do so?
  2. Is there any online guide for best general guidance on translation of similar records, such as something I can use as a guide to take pronunciation of the day so I can use as a guide to tell how "Sausser" or "Sauser" or "Souser" or "Sous zu" (with an accent?) were pronounced and if they same map to the English "Souser" consistently as well as script utilized at the time (i.e. like the 'f' looking 's' in the link above)? I did find this reference dictionary but it does not cover pronunciation.
  3. Should all 'public records' (not Church records) from this period be in English, or were public records from this period in German. If public records were in German, is there any separate German based archives may be a resource but may not yet online or translated yet that would have records of pre-1840 Pennsylvania and I could be referenced to?
  • 1
    It's okay to ask these as three separate questions -- and you might get more answers that way.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 16:24

1 Answer 1


Q1 - Since Germans continued to immigrate to Pennsylvania, there were always fresh German-speakers to add more German-language records (especially church records), and to keep the language alive for the US-born descendants of German immigrants through social contacts. This continued through the 20th century.

There was a particular break during World War I, where speaking German was discouraged for patriotic and other reasons. Language assimilation also resulted from more inter-marriage with English-speakers. The transition time-frame probably varies between regions and, of course, between families.

Q2 - The recent question "Learning German scripts (handwriting and printing) used in 19th century records" has a partial answer. (The "f" in your question is the "long s," which is used in Gothic fonts - the f has a little horizontal stroke on the right side). For pronunciation, paste the text into Google Translate and use the speaker icon below the text box for the words to be read aloud. This pronunciation will be in Standard High German, but German dialects and English-influenced dialects are diverse.

Q3 - See Wikipedia's Official language status (excerpt quoted below) for more on the attempts to make English the official language of the USA and the status of other languages. Although not legislated federally, various states (but not Pennsylvania) have implemented English-first or English-only laws.

Contrary to belief, the state of Pennsylvania was never officially bilingual. The state has a history of Pennsylvania Dutch German language communities that goes back to the 1650s. There were attempts to recognize German in Pennsylvania in the 18th and 19th centuries due to the prevalence of German speakers in the state. This situation prevailed until the 1950s in some rural areas.

I would expect that official record types, regardless of language, would be archived together. Originating level of government or court should be the determining factor.


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