Transcriptions are key to recording every piece of information in a genealogical document. Transcribing Skills are crucial for accurate analysis and therefore, our students at The National Institute for Genealogical Studies are introduced to these concepts in our basic level courses. It is imperative for all researchers to acquire this core skill.
In last week’s post, we looked at making a Census Extraction, which is an exact copy “extracted” from the census page(s). Pre-printed forms help to ensure we do not miss any information and check each column to gather every clue the census entry can give us. This week, we are going to look at making an Abstraction.
An Abstraction is an abbreviation of the original content in a document. It removes all the legal jargon or “boilerplate” language, but ensures that all relevant details within the document are kept. Mary Campbell Bell in Professional Genealogy sums it up this way: “Abstracts are summaries that record all important detail from a whole document.”
General Rules for Abstracting
- Begin all abstracts with a source citation.
- DO NOT change any wording or tense.
- DO NOT change any punctuation (do not add or remove).
- DO NOT correct or alter the spelling of words. Keep the spelling true to the document, including names and places.
- Take your time to work through the whole record to ensure you have not missed any information.
In art, an abstract painting may look nothing like the original model; however, an abstract in genealogy is very precise, leaving no relevant detail out. They do not replace an actual transcription – that is always the first task. Once a complete transcription of a document is completed, make a working copy and start crossing out the extra words until you have just the details.
Save your working copy and make a duplicate copy. Then delete all of the words you have crossed out. Reread what remains. Does it make sense? Compare it to your working copy. Is there something you should have kept? Do you need to trim it down further? Continue until your abstract only contains the relevant details. A quick summary of the original document.
An Abstract can be in several forms. It may be a list, perhaps in point form; or displayed as a table or chart; or written as a narrative in paragraph form. It does not contain any corrections to the original information; nothing is added, even if it is known by the transcriber. No analysis is included in the abstract. It should be a summary of the original, nothing more. Anyone reading the abstract should instantly see what was contained in that document. If more clarification is needed for analysis, then the full transcription can be consulted for context and further examination.
For more details, consider registering for our Basic Level course: Skills: Transcribing, Abstracting & Extracting to develop your Transcribing Skills. The examples and practical assignments will guide you through the process of learning the necessary tools to unlock your older documents, as you practice your new skills. Our Advanced Level course: Palaeography: Reading & Understanding Historical Documents will challenge you to master not only the handwriting you will encounter in historical documents, but provides numerous assignments and practical exercises in the workbook for understanding the content, especially the archaic terms used. These two courses are applicable to every aspect of genealogical research, and are compulsory for every Certificate package that we offer. They are highly recommended.
Remember – Abstractions are summaries of the relevant genealogical information found in a document. They are short and concise, and include all of the information, making it easily accessible at a glance.
As researchers, we have found that there are many skills we need to employ in order to achieve success in our future research projects. Transcription Tuesday will share guidelines and practical suggestions to help our readers to develop the skills for making effective transcriptions, abstracts, and extractions.
Transcription Tuesday previous blog post
Transcription Tuesday Index
These three core courses demonstrate Transcription principles. They are offered monthly, beginning on the first Monday of every month: Register today!
Methodology-Part 2: Organizing and Skill-Building (Basic Level)
Skills: Transcribing, Abstracting & Extracting (Basic Level)
Palaeography: Reading & Understanding Historical Documents (Advanced)—————————————————-
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