Our students at The National Institute for Genealogical Studies are encouraged to access original documents whenever possible. These are usually either fully handwritten, or have handwritten entries on forms. It is advised to transcribe all of documents we gather for our research projects.
As we continue to explore developing our Transcribing Skills, we will discover the value of spending the time necessary to transcribe our original documents, especially those that are hard to decipher. All family history researchers, no matter what their level of expertise, should strive to acquire these core research skills. See below for links to our courses designed to equip our students with this vital ability.
When we search original records, we will encounter many different styles of handwriting, even when they are using the same script of a certain time period. Just as today, we all have our own handwriting styles. We tend to always make certain letters in the same way, but for other letters it may vary, even depending on the word we are writing, or where the letter is positioned in that word. In the same way that other people become accustom to reading our handwriting, we begin to recognize the handwriting styles of those clerks and census enumerators in the documents we are accessing. Specific characteristics show up on the same page or for the entries for a district, like in civil registrations or church records. We can easily tell when the entries are made by a different person.
Today’s Transcription Tip is the use of Transcription Cheat Sheets. As you find letter variations written in documents, cut and paste them to a document. Create an Alphabet Checklist and use it to “break the code” and transcribe the words, even those with unfamiliar letters. Here is an example on FamilySearch that you can print out for future reference. If you are looking for help with transcribing documents from a different language, check out FamilySearch resources here. They also have lists of common words used in documents. You will begin to recognize these as you become more familiar with the records.
When searching census records, civil registrations or church registers, you will be looking for specific names and surnames. In the same way, you can make a Name Cheat Sheet with all of the variations you have discovered.
Be sure to check for spelling variations and take note of misspellings of the names and surnames. Entries may have been written phonetically, or just as it “sounded” when spoken with a heavy accent to someone who spoke a totally different language. Keep a typed list of variations, but a cheat sheet with the images may prove to be useful when transcribing. Look for signatures as well.
Fully transcribe all of your documents. The more familiar you become with the letters, the easier it will be to decipher the words. Then the next time you pull it out, it will be written out clearly for quick reference or further analysis.
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 shares 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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