canstockphoto16180022 downloaded 3 January 2015I know you’re just itching to hit the ground and get to work on executing your research plan. Before you do, I have a couple of  basics you should know and implement. They just may help you break through your brick wall. I’m talking about transcribing, abstracting, and extracting your findings.

Taking the time to transcribe the documents you find, may help you process what you are seeing and even understand what is not being said. I know when I’ve not transcribed a document, and then gone back and read and transcribed it later, I found things I didn’t remember seeing before.

Trust me, it works!

A transcription is a word-for-word exact copy of a document. You might think that’s what photocopiers or cameras are for. Well, to a point, we still want the copy of the actual document, but while you have the original in your hands (or as close as you can get to the original), that is the time to make your transcription.

Later, you may discover your photocopy or digital copy has sections that are hard to read and you’ll wish you had the original back in your hands. Also, copies are often in black and white, and you won’t be able to tell when there was a different color of ink or see a smudged pencil notation.

Transcription basics include:

  • Your own name and address and the date you created the transcription.
  • Record your citation of the source including where you found it. Do this first so you won’t forget it later!
  • Note that it is a transcription.
  • If the source is a fill-in-the-blank form, you may put the pre-printed words in italics, and bold type the handwritten parts but clearly note your method.
  • Just because the document is handwritten does not mean you have to handwrite your transcription. You may type it.
  • Include superscripts as they are written.
  • Anything you insert that is not found in the document should be in square brackets like this [ ]. Put your commentary of what you think a word is if it’s not easily deciphered inside the square brackets.
  • Note the condition of the document. Is it torn? Is there a crease making it hard to decipher some of the words?
  • Do NOT change an abbreviation or add punctuation. Only write it the way it’s written. This is critical when names are strung together and they might belong to one or several people.
  • Use modern form of letters that are now obsolete.

Sounds easy, right? Don’t be fooled. What’s easy is to accidentally skip a line. It’s tempting to change spelling to something that isn’t there or to add punctuation where we think it should be.

Be diligent and proofread your work to make sure it is exactly the way the document is written.

Here’s three samples from The Board for Certification of Genealogists, “Document Samples.” In each case, you may click on the item and view the document, transcription, and abstract. You may view these by clicking here.

  • 1836 North Carolina Agreement
  • 1864 South Carolina Will
  • 1911 South Carolina Deed

Your challenge for this week is to learn the basics of transcription and practice on a couple of documents you already have on hand.  

I promise your research days are getting closer!