"How did your day go?" asked the beginner.
"Today I sent off letters to Italy, Poland, Finland, and Portugal, how about you?"
"Wow! I just stick with US and British research because I don't know any foreign languages," said the beginner.
"Maybe one day."
"Yeah, maybe one day I'll expand," said the beginner.
As the two parted, the seasoned genealogist snickered, while thinking to himself, I wonder what he'd think if he knew I only know English too!
Most Americans tracing their roots descend from a whole hodgepodge of ethnicities and it would take them their entire lifetimes to try and learn the foreign languages of their ancestors. Luckily, for us, we do not have to learn foreign languages to correspond with Europe - our helpful predecessors have forged a trail through this linguistic jungle.
The Family History Library has produced the following aids that they distribute freely to help genealogists acquire civil and ecclesiastical documents from Europe:
o Czech and Slovak Letter-writing Guide
o Finland Letter-writing Guide
o French Letter-writing Guide
o German Letter-writing Guide
o Italian Letter-writing Guide
o Polish Letter-writing Guide
o Portuguese Letter-writing Guide
o Spanish Letter-writing Guide
These guides may be accessed for free by digging deep into the Family Search Website www.familysearch.org. For a direct link, click http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Search/RG/frameset_rhelps.asp.
Simply piece together the various phrases these guides provide, until you've constructed a fluid request. Impress your friends and give it a go! The people in Europe don't have to know you only speak English and will usually be much happier to reply if you correspond with them in their native tongue.