From what I’ve seen many people associate old German script with “Sütterlin” but that’s just a part of it. Depending on time and area you’ll have to deal with old German script in many forms, not to mention the illegible chicken scratch some people call “individual handwriting”…
Old German scripts: Kurrent type
One of the old German scripts is “Kurrent” which is based on late medieval cursive writing. There is no such thing as “the” Kurrent script as the script style developed and changed over time, depending on what the script was used for. “Kurrent” was mainly used until the first part of the 20th century.
Old German scripts: Sütterlin type
In 1911 a German graphic artist (Ludwig Sütterlin) was commissioned to create a modern handwriting script. This was characterized by simpler letters and vertical strokes, easier for kids to learn and write. “Sütterlin” was introduced in Prussia schools in 1915, slowly replacing the similar Kurrent script until in 1935 it officially became the only German script taught in schools. Actually Sütterlin is just a variation of the older Kurrent script.
Becoming the official school script at school in 1935 probably is why “Sütterlin” often is associated with the Nazi-time which is not quite correct. In 1941 the Nazi Party banned typefaces like Fraktur and Sütterlin. Why? They claimed them to be “Jewish”, what a complete
bulls…, erm, mumakil dung heap… Those scripts were then replaced by the Latin-type “normal German handwriting” (Deutsche Normalschrift) and “Antiqua” or the likes.
Old German scripts: Fraktur type
Fraktur is a calligraphic version of the Latin alphabet and other blackletter typefaces derived from this version. It was mainly used for print, and that’s probably where you will face Fraktur letters. You’ll often find blackletter fonts such as “Schwabacher” and “Normalfraktur” both of which came in several variations as well. Fraktur was banned by the Nazis in 1941 along with the Sütterlin and Kurrent script.
Interesting fact: Waaaaay before the beginning of modern age other European countries started to print documents and books in the more modern “Antiqua” font. German countries clung to the Fraktur fonts for much longer. But not completely… In those documents the German words often were printed in Fraktur while “foreign (based) words” (in Latin, French, English, etc.) were printed in Antiqua – within the same sentence.
A lot of the official texts were interspersed with French and Latin legal terms. Those documents and books looked quite interesting as you can see in the example above. This was a 1768 decree (repeating another decree of 1763) by the Archbishop of Cologne (“Erz=Bischof zu Cölln”), Maximilian Friderich, pertaining espousals and marriages by military persons. Apparently his officers hadn’t behaved as virtuous and honorable as he had hoped (and decreed)…
Below you’ll find a few Kurrent and Fraktur fonts for comparison. They are provided free of charge (CC 0) by Peter Wiegel. He has even more on his website, not only old German fonts but others as well. I can only recommend his site.
Do you still have old handwritten documents from one or more of your ancestors? Aside from the individual handwriting… can you tell whether they used Kurrent, Suetterlin or another more modern handwriting? If you need a helping hand with a few words, don’t hesitate to contact me.