How to Get a Job in the Twenty-first Century: Tips and Tricks From a Nineteenth Century Man

Like many translators and interpreters, I have found myself recently sending out many resumes to various agencies. I will admit that promoting myself is not my strong point. Like many present day job applicants, I find myself wondering what would make me stand out from the crowd. Why should someone hire me, as opposed to the ten other people applying for the same job? What can only I bring to the table? And how on earth can I possibly write a decent cover letter?

In the midst of a recent spree of such job applications, I found myself thinking about a series of letters in German that I translated a few years ago. The letters dated from 1853-1868, and pertained to the activities of a young, brilliant man named Carl [Karl] Neumann, a master of the art of self-promotion, who successfully applied for the position of Prussian Consul to the Dominican Republic. Carl served in that capacity until 1868, when the consulate ceased to belong to Prussia, and instead became the consulate of the North German Confederation, and in 1871, the German Consulate.[1]

I know that most people would not think that the experiences of a man who lived two hundred years ago could have any relevance in today’s world. We might have heard that our great-grandfather was a tailor. We often don’t think about the training he must have needed to get that job, or even how he decided to become a tailor.

One of the joys of being a genealogy translator is learning about the backgrounds of the people in the documents. This allows us to then put their lives into the context of world history. From conversations and materials provided to me by my client (who also granted me permission to write about this), I learned that Carl was born likely between 1817 and 1819 to Carl Neumann and his wife, Amalie [née Morstadt], who were both actors.[2] The Neumann family lived in Karlsruhe.[3] However, instead of following his parents’ footsteps into the theater, Carl decided instead to become a merchant. According to a memoir written in 1894 by his sister, Louise, Countess Schönfeld Neumann, he partnered with another German and established himself as a merchant in Puerto Plata, which until the formation of the Dominican Republic in 1844 was still part of Haiti, then known as Hispaniola (Saint-Domingue in French). Carl achieved fortune and success, and spent a lot of time traveling all around the country for business-related purposes.[4] In addition to the Dominican Republic, he also spent a considerable amount of time in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.[5]

Carl Neumann arrived in Hispaniola during a very turbulent period. The island had first been colonized by Spain in 1492, and for a time became an important part of Spain’s empire owing to its abundance of natural resources. However, in 1795, due to losses from wars, Spain ceded the eastern two thirds of the island to France. From about 1795-1844, the island experienced a slave revolt that resulted in the overthrow of French rule. This slave revolt in Haiti, the western side of the island also spilled over into the Dominican side. The Haitians evicted the French army, but were repelled by the British and the Dominicans. The Dominicans briefly reunited with Spain from 1809-1821. They then became independent, but were subsequently overrun and occupied by the Haitians for twenty-two years. In 1844, the Dominican Republic came into being, with its capital in Santo Domingo, but was ruled for the next fifty-five years by military strongmen such as Pedro Santana and Buenaventura Báez, who were more interested in selling out to foreign and commercial interests than in promoting democracy in the country.[6]

Carl Neumann, who saw an opportunity, was clearly aware of Báez’s interests. After gathering his references, Carl sent the following letter to Prussian Prime Minister (and Foreign Minister) Otto von Manteuffel in support of his application to be granted the title of Prussian Consul to the Dominican Republic:

[Santo Domingo]                                2 May, 1853

Dear Prime Minister!

Dear Sir and Minister!

Your Excellency!

The extraordinary efforts of the Royal Prussian Government in recent times to further expand its overseas trade links in order to open up more products to the manifold manufactories of the country encourage me to turn my attention to a young nation whose future is already represented in the most beautiful shape, and whose products are worthy of an exchange of Prussian industry objects. I am talking here about the former Spanish part of the island of St. Domingo, which, under the name “Dominican Republic,” and with no capable president or appropriate institutions, is blossoming rapidly.

The products that the country supplies consist mainly of tobacco in leaves, mostly in cigar manufacturing, and in mahogany wood: The products that the country supplies consist mainly of tobacco leaves, mostly in cigar manufacturing, and in mahogany wood: from the former, you can assume an annual average yield of 45-50 thousand containers. The latter will be in grams. In one year, 3 to 4 million square feet are handed over to foreign trade.

Apart from these main items, the usual way to export, are dried skins, yellow wax, all kinds of carpenters, dyes, and shipbuilding wood of various resins, naturally in smaller quantities than the above-mentioned products.

The following flags are used for exporting St. Domingo’s products:

Hamburg and Bremen: almost the entire tobacco crop, some mahogany wax and wood dye.

England:          A very significant quantity of all mahogany production and some wood dye.

France:            Also significant traffic in mahogany, wax, and dye.

America:         Increased grasp of export business with tobacco, mahogany wax, and wood dyes.

Spain:              Mahogany wax and wood dyes.

Italy:                Some tobacco, mahogany wax, skins, and wood dyes.

There is no doubt now, that after the border disputes caused by the intervention of England, France, and America, the black neighboring state, Haiti has set a goal: it must significantly increase production mainly of tobacco.

Not only would guaranteed peace and security give a new impulse to every line of business, but in my opinion, the Dominican government’s long-cherished wish to lead the immigration of Europeans to the island could now be implemented, and the immeasurable land wars, whose proverbial proliferation and climate literally leaves nothing to be desired, would now be put to use.

The Dominican government would grant every relief, to immigrants, favors colonization, and would surely side with and give preference to Prussian operations in Central America.

I am speaking precisely from personal experience, since I have spent a long time in Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

The geographical importance of the land between Cuba and Puerto Rico, with good ports in the east and west, dominating the main road to Central America and the south, will be relatively proportionate, as the ship canal through Nicaragua and the iron route across the Strait of Panama, that is, the linking of the two seas becomes closer to completion. A continued interest would be the discovery of the lands on the east coast, with large copper mines and coal deposits.

England was the first to grasp the importance of these circumstances, and appointed a General Consul for St. Domingo, while the neighboring state of Haiti, whose trade with Great Britain is much more important, has only a mere Consul, was the first to formally recognize the country, and immediately concluded a trade agreement which was incredibly advantageous for its shipping industry, as French and American diplomatic agents go every now and again to negotiate trade agreements. Hamburg just appointed a consul, and I hear that Bremen will follow in its sister city’s footsteps.

In my opinion it would therefore be important in commercial terms for Prussia, as the most important German great power, to have a representative in Santo Domingo, and I will feel honored if Your Excellency feels inclined to give me the position of consul.

Having settled in that country and lived there for 12 years, I have such an understanding of people and things, that through business relations between the two countries, I may expect some right to succeed in obtaining new outlets and substantial advantages for Prussian manufacturing.

Prussia is currently buying the products of our country indirectly from Hamburg and Bremen.

I am not unfamiliar with the duties of a consul, since my deceased associate was for a number of years in charge of the consular affairs of a small German power, Saxony Coburg, and despite the subordinate position of this power many citizens of other German states were able to provide important services.

I most earnestly submit this idea to Your Excellency, who, with your deep understanding, will decide precisely whether a political or commercial alliance between the two countries is desirable and remain

Puerto Plata

1 January 1853                                    Your Excellency’s most humble servant

                                                               Charles Neumann

So how did Carl succeed in getting the job in 1853, and how can this help translators get clients in 2024? Essentially, Carl did in 1853 what Corinne McKay in the present day advises translators do; namely, to market yourself as the expert in the field.[7] Carl definitely did his homework. His job application letter clearly indicates that he knew what the competition was doing, and that he figured out how to make himself indispensable to the Prussian government.

Carl not only did his due diligence on the situation in the Dominican Republic, but, as evidenced by the letters above and below, he made himself indispensable to Prussia, got referrals from colleagues, and did the nineteenth century equivalent of networking. This letter is one of several letters of recommendation detailing Carl’s contacts, and appears to have established his credibility within the Prussian government.

Jan. 15 ’52 [Possible initials]

Article 6001                                             [Possible initials]                                              [Possible initials]

2 May 1853

Dear Prime Minister!

Dear Minister!-

I am dutifully authorized to submit all attachments for the application of the businessman Charles Neumann to be appointed Prussian Consul to Porto-Plata, in San Domingo, and, with regard to the job applicant’s ability, respectability, and personal circumstances, to approve.

You see here a native Prussian who comes from a family that has been known and respected since time immemorial.  As head of the Neumann=Bothe et Compagnie, the applicant has the best reputation for success and the best companies. In Bremen:  Johann Lange’s son’s Wittwe und Compagnie, and Dransfeld und Cordes. In Hamburg: Münchmeyer, Nolting und Reimers, and Schütte und Compagnie. I hear that these are not the only ones who are prepared to provide complete and recommendatory information about the applicant. I respectfully leave the decision to employ to your discretion, your Excellency.

Potsdam, 22 April 1853                                          Your most obedient and respectful servant

Waisenstrasse 46                                                               L. Schneider

6650 Cost Article 9815                                          11, 138         Royal Privy Counselor

Consulate outside of Europe

Getting good referrals and testimonials can also be a powerful marketing tool for twenty-first century translators and interpreters, since endorsements from others, be they clients or colleagues, can provide the necessary credibility to our businesses.[8] Attending events such as conferences can also be helpful, since this gives us a chance to meet other colleagues and grow our businesses. Just as Carl’s colleagues provided referrals that ultimately helped him get the job, we translators and interpreters today often do the same for our colleagues. Although, some of what is written in this particular letter of recommendation is a bit outdated (coming from a distinguished Prussian family was probably more important in the nineteenth century), we do still need to have people who can provide the necessary referrals, and testify as to our skills and strong work ethic.

So what happened next? Well I do not think any of us will likely get a job acceptance letter quite like this one. Most of us will have to content ourselves with a mere email. But for the history lovers out there, here is one for the books:

Appointment for the merchant Carl Neumann as consul to Puerto Plata

[Illegible] [Signature] [Signature, possibly M. Uhh.]

We, Friedrich Wilhelm by the grace of God King of Prussia, etc. do hereby declare and add:, that, having found it convenient to appoint a consul in Porto Plata, we have chosen and accepted there in grace Carl Neumann, a merchant who is acclaimed for his knowledge of business and other good qualities.

We do so also with this and by virtue of this, as it is shown, and to promote the expansion of trade in our states, and to have the possibility of doing everything we find necessary to do, or so that our subjects, especially our Prussian ones, who do trade and shipping, demand his assistance,  and might wish to approach him with diligence, honesty and willingness, may be accepted with all diligence and offered our protection, should they not be unworthy of it, and should they be honest, skillful We do so also with this and by virtue of this, as it is shown, and to promote the expansion of our and diligent in their royal Prussian and due manner. Therefore, we place our most gracious trust in him.

By the way, we hereby commandeer all and everyone who is completely unaware, to recognize the merchant, C. Neumann, as our Consul in Porto Plata, to consider what he will do in such a capacity, to grant him all the help and support necessary for the exercise of his office, and to also grant him all the freedoms, privileges and prerogatives which the consuls of other friendly powers there enjoy, whereas we shall not fail to reciprocate this at every opportunity.

We have executed the patent most personably, and have provided our royal seal.

Thus done and given in


ad contrasignandum

[Signatures, initials, numbers, possible date]

[Signatures, initials, numbers, possible date]

I hope my readers have enjoyed following Carl’s journey, and have realized that strategies used in the nineteenth century can be put to use in the twenty-first. Despite the fact that many people are no longer taught to write in Kurrentschrift, skills such as due diligence and knowing how to make yourself indispensable to potential clients have never gone out of fashion. I realize that Kurrentschrift is not easy to read, but I am enclosing a key in case you would like to try your hand at reading the originals.[9]

More information on learning to read Kurrentschrift can be found here.

Happy reading!

[1] Letter to Carl Neumann, 16 March 1869, files 64VS-66 RS-files 89 VS and RS, Carl Neumann 1853-1868; Geheimes Staatsarchive Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin, Germany.

[2] Edwin Rafael Espinal Hernandez, “Alemanes en Puerto Plata en el Siglo XIX (7 de 10), Istituto Dominicano de Genealogía Inc.,  areito, (https:// ; viewed 20 April 2024).

[3] Mary-Jane Roth (Alexandria, Virginia,), conversation between Nina Gafni and Mary-Jane Roth, September 2019. Mary-Jane’s husband is a descendant of Carl Neumann.

[4] Helen Bettelheim-Gabillon, Louise Neumann Schönfeld, Amalie Haizinger Gräfin Louise Schönfeld Neumann: biographische Blätter, (Wien: C. Konegen, E Stülpnagel, 1906), p. 178; digital images HathiTrust (https:// : viewed 21 April 2024).

[5] Carl Neumann, „Euer Exzellenz,“ letter, 2 May 1883, files 64VS-66 RS-files 89 VS and RS, Carl Neumann 1853-1868; Geheimes Staatsarchive Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin, Germany.

[6] Howard J. Wiarda,  “History of the Dominican Republic,” Britannica ( : viewed 21 April 2024).

[7] Corinne McKay, “Finding Your First Translation Clients: Three Ideas,” 23 November 2016, Training for Translators ( : viewed 22 April, 2024).

[8] “Asking for Referrals or Testimonials,” Marketing Tips for Translators ( : viewed 22 April 2024).

[9] “Kurrentschrift Key,” Germanology Unlocked ( : viewed 4/24/2024).