Search This Blog


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Oh my... is that how a transcription works?!

I am not sure which I prefer: being totally wrong about something or only being partially wrong.  It may be one of those hard to answer questions. Being totally wrong is embarrassing, but at least you can start over and try again from scratch. On the other hand, being only partially wrong can be more work since you need to relearn the task and sort through what to remember and what to get rid of.

Recently I was reading up on how to do transcriptions. I was pretty confident that I knew the basics, in fact, I have several items on this blog and my computer that I have transcribed.  As with any historical field I knew that I needed to type everything exactly as I found it.  There was no room for interpretations, substitutions, or modern conclusions. So far so good, right? However, I found  it was not nearly enough.

I am now considering going through nearly 40 documents in my files and recreating the transcripts of these documents.   They are not 100% wrong, which is what makes it painful.  If I am going to leave good records for my ancestors, and prove my mettle as a genealogist I need to take the steps now to correct these mistakes.  Besides, practice makes perfect, right?  Even if it is 40+ times in short succession.

Below are a few of things that I found interesting in reading about transcripts.  In most cases they are also things I need to correct. These are in no particular order but a check list for my notes.  Plus, I thought you might have some input for me too.

Reproducing diacritical marks is critical. I left out a lot of these thinking that they were not important as the letters.  Now I know they may have specific meanings and leaving them out could change the word.

I need to use the square brackets more and not the parenthesis with italic words inside to denote a question mark or comment from me.  The usage of square brackets, I have to admit, has always eluded me. I mean, they are on the keyboard who really uses them and why?

The “y” used in “ye olde” is actually a “th” sound and called a thorn.  I knew that the “ff” was “F” and that the long “f” is actually an “s” but the thorn was a new one to me.

The word “jurat” had been plaguing me in several documents.  Yes, I should use Google more.  I learned that when it is written next to a witness's name it means that the witness verified the document was authentic before signing.  One more reason I need to get Black’s law dictionary. Plus I need it to help understand the law lingo I have come across in the past, and will most likely see more of it in the future.

For style, I did find it intriguing to learn of the two major camps on naming styles.  One uses all caps for names while the other does not.  I have come across both styles, and frankly while it is easier to spot names with the all caps I find it annoying.  Mainly because I can’t tell what the actual name is supposed to be.  An example from Chapter 16 of Professional Genealogy shows that when the surname DEVILLE is written in all caps you don’t know whether it was DeVille or Deville.  The text points out that by changing the point value for the typeset you can eliminate this confusion by making lowercase letters smaller caps. To me if it was not in caps in the original it should not be in caps in the transcript.  Perhaps, just perhaps, in personal notes you use for yourself but not for something you put in print for others.  Do you think I am off base on this?

One of the more embarrassing things I learned, because I really should have known this, is that [sic] is a transcribers notation meaning the previous anomaly shows in the original document. I had this general idea that it referred to something being not totally right in the document, but silly me never really delved into what it actually meant.  Well, that is now rectified and will be used more often.

Finally, for some reason I never thought about making an abstract of the transcription.  Why I don’t know, but I will be making abstracts after I fix my transcriptions.  Mainly because I think having the abstract to work with will be so much easier than working off the full transcription if I just need to see it as a reference.

Like I said lots of little things that I only gave a cursory glance to in the past or which took me completely by surprise.  So, if you know anyone out there who thinks “they know it all” or that they don’t periodically need to do some reading, shy away from them slowly, very slowly, and then throw them a book.

If you want to read further on the subject, here are some links to recent articles about transcribing and abstracting:

By Kimberly Powell, Guide
By Michelle Goodrum,  IDG

By Paula Stuart-Warren, Paula's Genealogical Eclectica 


  1. I knew about some of these, but not all of them. The "ye olde" is the most surprising. Thanks for the tips.

    1. That one got me too. I like to do calligraphy and have studied various hands from many time periods. This was something that I had not come across in nearly 6 years of reading. Now I want to investigate this further.

  2. Have to remember to turn off all the auto correct features in word before transcribing a document. I made a transcription template so I wouldn't have to remember each time.

    You may have to type out your transcription, print it, add in marks you cannot re-create with your computer then scan the document back in. Which, unless your using OCR or something like it renders the document unsearchable. *sigh*

    Don't forget that "p" is often in place of the double "s" as in my maiden name: Cassity is often rendered Capity.

    1. Yes, auto correct has been my downfall on a couple of the transcripts I made in the past. I like the idea of a template!

      I knew about the "p" from research. What looks like a "p" sometimes is actually a long arm "s" and a lower case "s" written together. So there are a couple different ways it could be written.