I held in my hand…

A book of poetry today. It was written by my great-great Uncle, prior to his arrival here in the states. It is archived in the National Archives, yet it is 100% in German. I also found out that the majority of my recent ancestors (read, last 300 years- yes, that’s recent for my family) were Doctors, Lawyers, Dancers, Concert Pianists, and all those same ancestors were also poets. I’ve often wondered what side of my family my talents come from, and I’m finding that I am a definite sum of my parts. The warrior comes from my mum’s side. The artist/philosopher/teacher comes from my father’s side. I said that this coming decade was going to be a celebration of who I am, and this little piece of my history I have just learned has given me the last piece of what makes me.

I can’t even begin to describe how it felt to be contacting my ancestor across the veil through his own words. And finding out, that he too, is linked to me. He passed through the veil on November 1, 1905. 21 years after this book was admitted to the National Archives for publication.

I was going to give you all a sample, however, I’m still trying to figure out the old type-script.


  1. very very neat

    this is so cool. how weere you made aware of the existence of these documents?

    i had a similar experience when my father handed me a family history that i had not known of, and a subsequent visit to the cabin that that part of the family had built in the 18th-19th century. the feeling of connection i mean.

    no poets in my family however. a dr. some alchoholics, a nurse, farmers, and of course the one legged sea-demons.


    1. Re: very very neat

      I’ve known about it, the family joke is that we were kicked out of Prussia, because the Kaiser didn’t like what my great-grandfather wrote in his book of poetry. Little did we know it was his uncle that did it. My Aunt has had custody of the book, and I think that’s why it’s in such bad shape (she has a habit for not being terribly good with upkeep). Our guess is that my uncle harassed her enough that she finally co-operated. We don’t like that Aunt much, she’s a bottom-feeder.


      1. Re: very very neat

        in the history i mentioned, one of the original german ancestors was booked to sail for the colonies in the 18th century. his boat sailed without him and took all his stuff with it. to get additional passage, he had to sell two of his kids into slavery (indentured i guess).

        interesting shit.


  2. oh! now that is wicked cool!
    cannot wait to read it!

    and celebrate away…i waited 40 years and it was too long. you go, warrior woman.


  3. Hi Lara,

    I suspect by “type-script” you mean Fraktur type. I find the easiest way to learn to read it is to install a Fraktur font on your machine, highlight some known English text in a word processor, and change the font to Fraktur. The difficulty reading it is compounded by German not being one’s native tongue.

    Gerhard Helzel has two free versions of some historical Fraktur types on his site. Mars-Fraktur is a typical book and newspaper type. Koch-Fraktur is designed by (the great) Rudolf Koch and is more expressionist. The Mars Fraktur is likely closest to what your book is printed in. You can download them from his main font page.


    You can download them, unzip them and install them on your Mac by double-clicking on the OpenType files and clicking “Install.” (OS X 10.3 or later)

    The lowercase is fairly readable if you are conscientious of the long s (looks like an uncrossed f) and the nearly unrecognizable k and the unusual z. Once you know those three, and keep in mind the fi, ff, fl, si, ssi, ss, sch, ch, ck, ll and tz ligatures, you should be able to read the lowercase with no problem. The long s is generally used for all lowercase s’s except at the ends of words and the ends of certain syllables.

    That leaves the uppercase. There are many pairs of uppercase Fraktur letters that are easily confused: A & U; B & V; D & O; C & E; F, I & J; (often I & J are identical) K & R; L & T. Some designs differentiate them more than others. The best thing is just to have the font installed and type out each ambiguous pair as well as a whole run of ABCD…Z in uppercase, stare at them for a while and figure out what the differences are. It’s much easier in that context.

    Good luck deciphering it! Turn-of-the-century German poetry is cool. I must show you my Arno Holz book sometime. He’s never been translated into English. (It would probably ruin it anyway.) Helzel also sells two or three Kurrent fonts, which are the slanted counterpart to English copperplate script and almost impossible for most non-Germans and many Germans to read. You can download a compressed PDF of his whole catalog here:


    He has 250 old blackletter designs, so chances are your book’s exact font is in there somewhere. His fonts use a nonstandard encoding with normal s mapped to + or backslash or what have you. That’s in order to work with some older applications. I am working on programs that will automate Fraktur typesetting using the latest Unicode fonts and applications.


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