Transcriptions are a regular part of our research projects, and the key to recording every piece of information in a genealogical document. Transcribing Skills are only honed by consistent practice – studying and transcribing a specific collection of documents gives opportunity to become familiar with the handwriting of a certain time period, and in particular, a specific clerk or registrar. The National Institute for Genealogical Studies provides opportunity for developing these skills through course assignments based on a wide variety of documents, including record groups from various countries.
As we are researching, we encounter many handwriting scripts, as well as individual styles. Take your time when studying a document. Look beyond just your entry of interest. Review the whole document. Check the same letters in other words on the same page. If the heading is difficult to read, browse the previous pages, as well as the following pages to see if you can find a clearer entry. By studying these entries, you will become familiar with the handwriting.
Some entries are written in beautiful script, with wonderful flourishes, making them a pleasure to browse. Others we struggle to decipher. Isabella may stump some transcribers for a while, but eventually, we conquer the challenge. Signatures can present another dilemma to transcribe, as they often are stylized and do not always match the rest of the handwriting on the document. Try to study several signatures to verify. Finding the signature for your ancestor is a good way to confirm your document belongs to the same person. It can even be used to distinguish between two or more individuals with the same name. Be sure to save those signatures for future use. Vital records are good for comparing similar names and places, and also individual letters as the same person is recording several entries for that location.
As our research takes us farther back into earlier records, the handwriting can become more difficult. American Colonial Town Records are a treasure trove of information, but it takes time to be comfortable enough to transcribe the original documents. Some entries are simply one line as the marriage record of Ezra Perry & Elizabeth Burge in 1651 (1); or the death record for Rebecca Perry in 1738 (2). The 1729/30 will of Ezra Perry (3) will take patience to transcribe, but is good practice. Creating a simple cheat sheet with the alphabet used often proves to be very helpful. A full transcription will save time in the future as the will is abstracted and analyzed.
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. Once familiar, you will become more efficient with deciphering these wonderful colonial documents.
If you are just beginning to transcribe your historical documents, 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 ancestors’ documents, as you practice your new skills. 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 as necessary foundational courses for every family researcher.
Remember – there are no shortcuts. Transcription Skills are only learned by practicing. Becoming familiar with the handwriting of the time period you are researching – it will be a valuable asset. Take the time to develop your skills and become an experienced transcriber. You will be glad you did.
(1) Births, 1803-1843 Deaths, 1803-1843 Intentions of Marriages 2nd Marriages, 1813-1837;Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, U.S., Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Marriage for Ezra Perry & Elizabeth Burge, 12 Feb 1651, Sandwich, Massachusetts : accessed 21 Nov 2021
(2) Births, Marriages, Deaths Earmarks 1671-1815; Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, U.S., Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Death record for Rebecca Perry, widow of Ezra Perry, died April 16th 1738, Sandwich, Massachusetts : accessed 21 Nov 2021
(3) Probate Records, 1686-1894; Author: Massachusetts. Probate Court (Barnstable County); Probate Place: Barnstable, Massachusetts (Probate Records, Vol 4-5, 1721-1741); Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1635-1991[database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Will for Ezra Perry Senr of Sandwich, Barnstable, Massachusetts : accessed 21 Nov 2021
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)
Visit our website for a complete list of online courses offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. Check our Course Calendar here.
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