The National Institute for Genealogical Studies


The National Institute for Genealogical Studies - LEADERS IN ONLINE GENEALOGY EDUCATION

Next Course: Transcribing, Abstracting & Extracting

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Skills Transcribing

By Shannon Bennett, Student

(c) 2014 Gena Philibert-Ortega. Used with permission.

(c) 2014 Gena Philibert-Ortega. Used with permission.

The next required course I am taking for the National Institute is Skills: Transcribing, Abstracting & Extracting. If you have followed my journey so far you might be able to guess what my reaction to this course is going to be.

Of course, it was pure excitement!

Seriously, even though these may be tedious activities to do, and the least fun of all the possible genealogy chores, they are important skills for successful research.

Practice makes perfect, both in the world at large and in genealogy. Every year I can see my skills improve, and I am interested to see how this course will add to my experience. It will hopefully fill any holes that I still have in these three related areas.

After looking through the course table of contents I was excited to see practical exercises. Once again, practice makes perfect and these practical lessons will help with that. Every time I have to read, analyze, and dissect a period handwritten document the sharper my skills are. I kind of hope there are a few unusual ones thrown in there because it is the weird ones that make you really work. Even if they are a record type that I might not personally go try and find it would still be interesting to work through them.

I also looked through the suggested reading list. Thankfully I have all of the books on my shelf already.  I was excited to see Reading Early American Handwriting by Kip Sperry on the list since I just picked it up and have not had the chance to read it yet. Confession time: I have an interest in old handwritten documents. Mr. Sperry’s book was the latest in my collection on books and pamphlets that teach the reader how to understand various hands from different time frames and geographic locations. When I began my genealogy adventure I never knew that one of my odd interests would come in handy down the road.

Needless to say I am excited to get this course started. I hope you will follow along with me and see how it goes. Don’t forget at the end I will have a live chat where you can ask me about the course and hear more about what I learned. Oh, and of course, feel free to comment on any of the posts as we go too!

See you online!


Do you Really Know Transcribing?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Skills Transcribing

By Shannon Bennett, Student

Students in typing class in school. Ashwood Plantations, South Carolina. Library of Congress.

Students in typing class in school. Ashwood Plantations, South Carolina. Library of Congress.


Well, this course didn’t dally around; it jumped straight into the nuts and bolts of creating a good transcription. While several of the courses I previously wrote about did touch on the basics of transcription, Modules 1 and 2 of Skills: Transcribing, Abstracting & Extracting  provides an intense introduction to the process.

Yes, I have already created transcriptions, but as I stated in a prior post, the early ones were bad, in some cases, very bad. Transcriptions are an art form you need to learn and I know I am still developing those skills. Practice makes perfect though, and the more you read handwritten documents the better you get at creating transcriptions.

I particularly liked where the instructor walked us through various ways to use our word processing software, allowing our transcriptions to be more true to form. While several of these tricks I knew about there were several that I didn’t. Or, at least I had never given much thought to it.

For instance, and I feel like a dolt that I didn’t think of this before, you can turn off the spell/grammar checker as well as the auto-capitalization features of your software. The worst part of typing a transcription is the way it will automatically fix “bad” spelling and auto capitalize words on new lines. If you have not created a transcription you may not understand why this would be a problem but I assure you it can be.

Since transcriptions are true to the original copies and to be true to the original you must copy all words the exact way they are spelled, capitalize (or not), and preferably keep to the same line breaks as the original. Fighting your word processor is very frustrating particularly when you read back over what was typed to make sure the computer didn’t fix what it thought were mistakes. Normally I love my spell checker, other times I obviously need to turn it off!

In addition I was happy to see all the suggestions and guides to adding in superscript, subscripts, and other fonts or symbols. I was familiar with most of them, but I felt it was a good reminder for those who are not particularly comfortable with computer software and what they can do. Those functions really are simple steps to make a “true to the original copy” if you know how.

Of course, I loved the practical exercises as well. Yes, you all know that I am odd at times, but I honestly love seeing original (even facsimiles of them) handwritten letters and documents. It makes the past even more real, and it doesn’t matter if they are not part of my family. Seeing the documents drives home the fact that you are looking at a piece of history. History is always cool.

On to the next modules where we will learn about abstraction.

See you online!

The Down-Low on Abstracting

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Skills Transcribing

By Shannon Bennett, Student


Image courtesy of  stockimages/

Image courtesy of stockimages/

This next section, Modules 3 and 4,  of the course Skills: Transcribing, Abstracting & Extracting  was a close-up look at creating an abstract. For those of you who do not know what an abstract is, the instructor defines it as “an abbreviation of the original content in a document.” Simply put, it is the bones of the document with all the superfluous information taken away.

The instructor provided tips throughout the module to help you with your abstractions. One that I particularly liked was to count the names from the document and make sure you have the same number of names in your final abstract. Names, dates, places, and other pertinent information should not be deleted. At times you will need to quote large sections from the document, like with a land record.  Sometimes it can be a bit challenging to figure out what is important and what is not, until you get the hang of it.

Part of me thinks this is where practice makes perfect. In this course, you will get a lot of practice from a variety of sources. Module 4 was only practice. I have said it before, abstractions and transcriptions are a bit of an art form, which once again comes with lots and lots of practice. How many of you have letters or documents that need this treatment?  Bet your house is full of practice items just waiting for you.

I was pretty comfortable with abstraction before I came to this course. However, I know many of my classmates were not. If you take this course I highly encourage you to borrow or purchase the suggested texts. They are great resources for you to have on your genealogy bookshelf if you can get them. Also, and most importantly, they give additional examples, explanations, and a different point of view. I could tell the instructor had read all of the suggested reading materials, and that she thought the students should too.

For your reference, the suggested texts are:

BCG Standards Manual

Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers and Librarians Chapter 16 edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills

Reading Early American Handwriting by Kip Sperry

Researchers Guide to American Genealogy, Chapters 2 and 20 by Val Greenwood

Check them out and prepare to take the course. You won’t regret it.

On to the final modules of the course.


See you online!



This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Skills Transcribing

By Shannon Bennett, Student


Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

In modules 5 and 6 of Skills: Transcribing, Abstracting & Extracting we learned about extractions.  It is a similar concept to an abstraction but not exactly the same. Trust me, I am sure you have used them both, but you may not have realized the distinction between the two.

Similar to an abstraction, an extraction looks at only a specific part of the document you are reading.  Items that would get an extraction, instead of an abstraction, would be census records, lists, inventories, manifests, and so on.  For those examples you extract the information for specific people or items that you are researching. There is no need to have (at that moment) the entire document abstracted or transcribed.

To be honest, I never knew there was another type of abstraction. I use extractions frequently in my family research. They are very, very handy when processing multiple census records, bible records, or various family items. Having the pertinent information at hand, without the chaos of a whole transcription of abstraction, has helped me correlate and analyze data easier.

Besides learning about extractions we also were given more, lots more, practice. Once again, and you are probably tired of hearing this, practice is awesome!  I loved looking at records which I normally wouldn’t come across. My ancestors have been in the US for centuries so what I think of as common records are probably unique to others, and vice versa. Looking at unfamiliar record sets keeps you fresh and on your toes since you can’t just assume you know what it’s telling you.

Honestly, that is probably the best way to learn about these skills too.  We should all try to practice more with unfamiliar documents to hone our skills and push ourselves. If not overseas records, how about helping out a friend by looking at their records? Each family unit has to have a unique record or two hiding somewhere.

Last week of the course and I have more practice to do, of course, before I take the exam. Wish me luck and I will see you online!

Join us for Skills: Transcribing, Abstracting & Extracting

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Skills Transcribing
(c) 2014 Shannon Bennett. Used with permission.

(c) 2014 Shannon Bennett. Used with permission.

Whew!  I made it through Skills: Transcribing, Abstracting, & Extracting.  I know those of you who took the course with me where worried about making it through, but we all did it!  Now, I don’t say that to frighten anyone else away from this course. It is hard if you don’t have prior exposure to the subject matter. Heck, there were times when I sat shaking my head and I have read all the books and had prior experience. It’s just, well, practice makes perfect!

For me, the key to getting through all the transcriptions, abstractions, and extractions was patience. I took my time, read the document through a couple times, made a game plan, and then did it. Most of all I was thorough with everything. I didn’t just type everything up, throw my hands in the air, and thank the heavens that I was done. Seriously, it was a more a marathon run than a sprint.

However, learning these skills now, rather than later, in my opinion will make me a more successful researcher. These are among the fundamental skills everyone in this field needs to know. Even if you are only doing this for you and your family, you will still need to know how to copy information correctly. Your work may one day be the only copy of that document in existence. So, with that in mind, we should all strive to make our work our best.

I hope you will join me for the chat about the Skills: Transcribing, Abstracting & Extracting course. We will be holding it on Tuesday, September 2nd at 1:00pm EDT.  Bring questions or just come and listen. To join us follow this link.

See you online!

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