Transcribe Your Genealogy-Related Documents

The following teaser is from an excellent article by Julie Miller, CG, printed in the January 16, 2010 edition of the Broomfield Enterprise.

I was recently helping a friend who had reached a brick wall in her genealogy research. As we reviewed her research, I noticed she had numerous copies of wills and deeds. When I asked for the transcriptions of the documents, she told me she had not transcribed any of them.

In genealogy, a transcription is an exact copy of a record. That means everything is exactly as it is the original — spelling, punctuation, abbreviations and format. A transcription is often confused with an abstract, which is a summary of the important points in a document, and an extract, which is an exact copy of selected parts of a document.

Why transcribe a record? Transcribing is the foundation of a thorough and accurate analysis. Transcribing a document furthers your understanding of that document and its purpose. When transcribing, you will catch those little details that can go undetected when just reading a document. It is harder to miss something when writing it down.

In the course of research it is usually necessary to refer back to a document many times. Often you will not look at a document for months or years. Because old documents are typically hard to read, this can be very time consuming. If the document has been transcribed, it makes reading that document easier and saves time.

Deeds, wills, probates and pension files are just a few of the types of documents that should be transcribed. Before beginning the transcription, read the document several times. Reading will give a general sense of the document. Usually the handwriting, unfamiliar words and light lettering will become clearer after several readings.

For more guidance on how to transcribe, go to “The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual; Chapter 16 of Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers and Librarians,” Elizabeth Shown Mills, editor; and the National Genealogical Society`s online course, “Transcribing, Extracting, and Abstracting Genealogical Records” (ngsgenealogy.org/cs/transcribing)…

Read the full article by Julie Miller, CG.

Author: Leland Meitzler

Leland K. Meitzler founded Heritage Quest in 1985, and has worked as Managing Editor of both Heritage Quest Magazine and The Genealogical Helper. He currently operates Family Roots Publishing Company (www.FamilyRootsPublishing.com), writes daily at GenealogyBlog.com, writes the weekly Genealogy Newsline, conducts the annual Salt Lake Christmas Tour to the Family History Library, and speaks nationally, having given over 2000 lectures since 1983.

2 thoughts on “Transcribe Your Genealogy-Related Documents”

  1. Great advice, in the beginning I was wasting so much time going back and trying to read original documents for details. When I finally decided to transcribe the original documents I noticed a ton of helpful details! Thanks for the great resources!

  2. As a volunteer for the Texas State Library and Archives in Austin, TX, I transcribe documents used as supplementary material and illustrations for the library’s extensive web exhibits on its holdings:
    http://www.tsl.state.tx.us/exhibits/. Nearly every document I transcribe has people’s names in it, and I often think of future genealogists shouting EUREKA as a web search engine reveals an ancestor’s participation in some aspect–hidden until now–of Texas history. It has thrilled me beyond words when my own forbears have popped up during this work.

    As a genealogist, you may have developed the particular skills needed to read and transcribe old documents. Indeed, you may have even found that you enjoy the exercise. If so, why not volunteer some time in your own locale to this worthy labor? I’m betting you’ll find it richly rewarding.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *