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Transcribing Sources

Transcribed records are very important to genealogists. We have access to literally millions of images of records on-line. But we still depend on transcription to effectively search for and share records. However, when we transcribe, it's helpful to do so with some uniformity and guidelines. Hence these templates and rules that I have developed for myself. I hope they are helpful to you as well. Please send me comments.


Transcription Templates

Over time, I have developed some guidelines and styles for transcription (listed below). However, I have found that usually I just need to use one of several templates for transcription for common sources and add them to the the "Actual Text" fields of genealogical programs. Sample templates are attached at the end of the page to access the samples. These sample are formatted for easy reading online. I don't recommend using them for transcription. Instead download all of them in the zip file. These will work better for you and include US Census from 1840 to 1930, SSDI, WWI Draft Cards (Types A, B, C), WWI Army Enlistment Records, and several other Texas and Oklahoma records types.

Here is what the SSDI record transcription template looks like. It is simply a list of the fields you can expect to find. It's ready for you to fill in the data that you read from the record:

[Name:] [SSN:] [Last Residence:] [Born:] [Died:] [State (Year) SSN Issued:]

Note that the sample files above have line breaks in them to help display the text file as provided. I don't (intentionally) include line fields (except where I want a blank line) in the zipped files or the files that I actually use because my genealogical program and text editor does word wrapping to fit the screen or printed page. Location of the line breaks changes as you enter in more information.

I am happy to upload other transcriptions templates as they are sent to me.


Examples of How to Use Templates
 I use these templates by first opening up one of the templates from a directory with "notepad++" in a small window in front of my big window showing the document to transcribe (asuming I'm working with an electronic image or scan). Then I move from field to field carefully examinging the soruce document. When I'm done, I copy the whole thing into the "actual text" section of the citation in my genealogy database program (PAFWIZ). I also attach the image of the citation, and then start copying the source to as many places in my database as needs the citation, filling in extracted data along the way.
 
Here is a simple example of a SSDI record. I have included two templates since difference on-line sources of the SSDI provide different fields.

[Name:] Luceil A. Martin [SSN:] 454-40-1542 [Last Residence:] 78022 George West, Live Oak, Texas, United States of America [Born:] 29 Sep 1907 [Died:] 30 Nov 2002 [State (Year) SSN Issued:] Texas (Before 1951)


This text above is just how the source will show up in reports if you use annotated reports with actual text of sources.

The census templates are a bit more complex in that they have several lines in them for people. I transcribe my census records in family groups to keep the vital information in context. The first person line in the census template has the fields that were typically found for that year filled in for the head of household. (This varies from record to record so you have to be flexible in transcribing.) The second group of lines is typical for a wife. The third group of lines is typical for a child. You will want to cut and past as needed. It is often helpful to fill in the data common to the children before copying.

Below is an example of a census record transcribed with the template. This comes directly from my PAFWIZ Citation field "Actual Text:"

TWELFTH CENSUS OF THE UNITED STATES / SCHEDULE No. 1. -- POPULATION.

[State] Texas [County] Live Oak [Township or other division of county] Precinct No 6 [Name of incorporated City, town or village] [Ward of city] [Supervisor's District No.] 13 [Enumeration District No.] 67 [Sheet No.] 9A [Enumerated by me on the] 19th [day of June, 1900.] {signed} Matt G. Shipp [, Enumerator.]

[Dwelling Order] 142 [Family Order] 142

[Name] Blackmon Anthony [Relation] Head [Color or race] W [Sex] M [Date of Birth] [Month] {blank} [Year] 1833 [Age at last birthday] 67 [Marital Status] M [Number of years married] 43 [Birthplace] Texas [Father's Birthplace] Un [Mother's Birthplace] Un [Occupation] Farmer [Number of months unemployed] 3 [Can Read] yes [Can Write] yes [Can speak Engligh] yes [Own or Rent] O [Mortgaged or Clear?] M [Farm or house] F [Number of farm schedule] 43

[Name] {Difficult to read} Permelia [Relation] Wife [Color or race] W [Sex] F [Date of Birth] [Month] Un [Year] Un [Age at last birthday] Un [Marital Status] M [Number of years married] 43 [Mother of how many children] 10 [Number of children living] 6 [Birthplace] Alabama [Father's Birthplace] Tennessee [Mother's Birthplace] Un [Can Read] yes [Can Write] yes [Can speak Engligh] yes

[Name] William D [Relation] Son [Color or race] W [Sex] M [Date of Birth] [Month] Sep [Year] 1871 [Age at last birthday] 28 [Marital Status] S [Birthplace] Texas [Father's Birthplace] Texas [Mother's Birthplace] Alabama [Occupation] Farm Laborer [Can Read] yes [Can Write] yes [Can speak Engligh] yes

[Name] Francis R [Relation] Daughter [Color or race] W [Sex] F [Date of Birth] [Month] Apr [Year] 1881 [Age at last birthday] 19 [Marital Status] S [Birthplace] Texas [Father's Birthplace] Texas [Mother's Birthplace] Alabama [Can Read] yes [Can Write] yes [Can speak Engligh] yes

[Name] Mary E [Relation] Daughter [Color or race] W [Sex] F [Date of Birth] [Month] Jan [Year] 1884 [Age at last birthday] 16 [Marital Status] S [Birthplace] Texas [Father's Birthplace] Texas [Mother's Birthplace] [Months attended school] 4 [Can Read] yes [Can Write] yes [Can speak Engligh] yes

My Transcription Guidelines

I have developed the following transcription style and templates for my genealogical work. I have searched for standards on transcription without finding any. Perhaps you can let me know of those you may find.

  1. It is tempting to skip data that isn't interesting to you. This is OK to a point, but always transcribe information about all siblings from a source equally, even if you're not interested in some of them. (This is the golden rule of genealogy -- do for others as you would have them do for us. This single thing will return great dividends to you when a cousin with better sources than you contacts you because they found your transcription!)
  2. Always transcribe the document title, dates, witnesses, and all other information needed to understand the historical context of the document. Don't just transcribe the information you're after without the historical context.
  3. Indicate any seals, signatures, etc. These are very important parts of the historical context. (See more later in styles for my suggestion on how to do this.)
  4. Transcribe faithfully... errors, misspellings, and all. Don't fix names, dates, etc. That's something you'll do and explain in your database but no in the transcription. The transcription is forever... you'll likely change your mind about what data is right or wrong over the course of your research.
  5. Make all editorial comments in a way that it easy to tell it's your's and not from the document. Keep these to a minimum . It is sometimes useful to transcribe information that was struck out or added. It is often useful to indicate that something was very difficult to make out. It is useful to indicate that a word is cut off by a missing or blocked portion. (See more later in styles for my suggestion on how to do this.)
  6. Write the transcription in such a way that it will survive being converted to GEDCOM, uploaded, downloaded, and imported again. Don't use special typefaces, special symbols, column alignment, etc. (See more in styles for my suggestion on how to do this.)
  7. Many documents we transcribe are forms or tables with some fields left blank. Don't transcribe the blank fields unless it is especially important to indicate it is blank. (See more in styles for my suggestion on how to do this.)

My Transcription Style

I have developed the following "style" in transcription and tried to follow it in my templates. Other styles will suffice. These are not critical items, especially if you follow the guideline and always attach original source to transcriptions. 

  • I use [] to indicate preprinted form information, like [Name] [Date] etc.
  • I repeat table headings for each extracted line of a table like a census. Therefore there is no dependence on alignment or on other lines of the transcription that might get lost.
  • I don't put anything in my transcription (heading or "blank") for information that is blank in a form or table. Occasionally I make exceptions, adding an editorial explanation such as "[Father's Birthplace] {left blank}".
  • As in the above example, I use {} to indicate editorial remarks, like {marked through} {hard to read} {rest missing because of page tear} {signed} {sealed with date} etc. I have also used parenthesis in some transcriptions but I think {} is much better because this is not used in many documents at all.
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