The National Institute for Genealogical Studies online courses provide genealogical education on a wide variety of topics for those beginning to research their family history, as well as professional genealogists, and everyone in between. It is worth repeating: all family history researchers, no matter what their level of expertise, should strive to acquire this core skill. We will use it over and over!
As we work to develop our Transcribing Skills, we soon realize there is a learning curve involved. Most of us are familiar with common handwriting styles. We can transcribe modern handwriting with relative ease, except for those who never did develop good penmanship. Before email and texting, we sent handwritten letters – yes, by snail mail! In that time period, we all read cursive and not many people sent typed correspondence – it was all handwritten.
When we began to gather family home sources, we could easily read the handwriting; but as our genealogy research reached further back in time, we had to adjust to various older scripts in documents and correspondence. These can soon become a challenge. It takes effort to decode handwriting – sometimes word by word, and sometimes letter by letter.
Our biggest advantage is PRACTICE. The more we read old handwriting; the more we will become familiar with the letters and grammar used in that time period. The more we transcribe entries from a church register or civil registrations for a specific district; the easier it will become. Repetition helps us to memorize the variations in the letters. But how can we gain this experience?
There are several courses with The Institute where transcription skills are taught and reenforced by assignments. Three highly recommended courses are listed below. Because most of the records we access are handwritten, it is imperative that we develop excellent transcription skills. Transcribing requires patience, perseverance and precision.
Remember our Transcription Definition:
A transcription is a true word-for-word rendering of a document with the original punctuation and spelling (i.e., an exact copy of the original, line by line, sentence by sentence, word by word, and letter by letter). All notes and marks on any page are copied as faithfully as possible in the presented formatting. It includes all spellings, capitalizations and punctuations as it was written. No corrections are made to spelling or capitalization. It includes the whole record—front and back, with all its headings, insertions, endorsements, notations, etc.
How can we practice? First, we need to familiarize ourselves with reading old handwriting.
Transcribing Historic Documents (National Institute) – FamilySearch
The following websites are extremely helpful and provide examples and tutorials.
Colonial American Handwriting – Indian Converts Collection
Script Tutorial – BYU
Palaeography: reading old handwriting 1500-1800 – TNA
Palaeography of Scottish Documents – Scottish Handwriting
Want to dig deeper? Look for transcription projects, especially in the location of your research, or dealing with the handwriting used in that time period. Reviewing familiar records will make it easier to recognize place names and possibly surnames, as well as words relevant to your research. Here are a few projects that may be of interest.
To get your feet wet, the Nova Scotia Archives needs transcribers for the NS Deaths 1970 Registrations. The handwriting should be easy to read and some are typed. The Causes of Death may challenge you. Hint: Google it!
For older handwriting, sign in to the Nova Scotia Archives Transcribe page. The current transcription project: Feature Collection: Easson family 1734-1894.
Another wonderful website to explore is the Smithsonian Digital Volunteers: Transcription Center. Check out their current projects. Be sure to read the section on General Instructions for Transcription.
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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