Transcribe Old Documents

As you gather the vital records, letters, diaries and journals there are a couple things you should do.  If you have the scanning equipment, do a scan of the complete document and label the image. Keep those in a computer folder for the family lineage it belongs to. You will find you want to refer back to information on that document several times and being on the computer makes it very easy. If an image is scanned in jpeg format, then using the right-click and ’properties’ you add information (names, dates, location) relating to the image. Doing the scanning also provides a backup incase the original is damaged.

One area overlooked is doing a transcription of a handwritten document such as a Will, letters, deed, journal, diary, receipts, property descriptions, etc. Here you would type out what is contained in the original document. You must include everything, including any errors you find. An easy method is to use the phrase ‘sic’ and place it in a bracket after the error.  This is the notice that you see an error and you didn’t type something by mistake. For example if the wrong state was listed for where a family lived, you still type out what was written; Maryland [sic] comes after it. You can place a correction, if you are sure of your information, in another bracket next to it or in a different color.  Corrections can also be placed at the end of the transcription.

An ancestor’s grammar or spelling skills might have been lacking.  Again type it just like they had it and place the [sic] and a correction in another bracket. You will want to keep it just like the original writer wrote the piece.

You will need patience to type up some of the vintage documents. The handwriting methods have varied over the decades, especially from the 18th and 19th century.  If you are having problems making out a word or letter, look for it in another section of the document and you might be able to figure it out. If it is scanned, you can enlarge it to read it easier.

Taking the time to type out a document, letter or journal will actually provide you with additional insight to what is written, because you are now looking at each word. Do one document a month and it will be quite a collection in no time.

The handwritten receipt pictured above was from 1789 involving the sale of a wagon to Jacob Bixsler [sic] [Bixler].

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