Transcribing Documents

You are so happy you located from a distant cousin a journal written by your great grandfather. You have taken time to carefully read every word, sometimes guessing what a certain word might be due to the handwriting used in 1890. The question is “Now what?”

The next step to be completed by all family history researchers is to completely and accurately transcribe handwritten documents. The purpose of such a task pays off in the long run. First it will be easier to read by you again and anyone else later. Next you will find you can be more careful in understanding what has been written. It is so easy to overlook a specific phrase of word which could be of some importance to knowing more about that ancestor. Then when you share this document, a copy of the original can be provided along with the transcription.

Some ideas as you do the transcription is first to make it just like the original, use the same words and phrases (even if different terms are used now-a-days) as in the document with the same paragraphs. Copy the way the words were spelled even if they were misspelled.

Of course some words or phrases will need some explanation, if so, use brackets. If a word or words are undecipherable, note it with comments like [unreadable] framed in a bracket. One way which will help to do any lengthy transcription using a computer, is to scan an image of the document, one page at a time. Number them in the file title. Then have the scanned image document on your monitor screen and make it fill one-half of the screen (top or bottom). Use the ‘Restore Down’ button on the upper right of the image to achieve this. Do the same with the word processor blank page you will be typing to transcribe. This way you can read, go a few lines at a time, zoom in if need be to see each word. This method does really work.

Remember if you do an ‘extract’ you are making a true and complete copy of a document; a letter, family Bible (BMD listings – most important to do any of these), journal, record and diary. If you also do an ‘abstract’ that is a summary of key points in that document and it needs to be noted as such.

Check your filing cabinet for any documents handwritten that really should have an transcription done soon. At the end of the transcription, place you full name and date the transcription was completed. You will be glad you have this completed.

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