Posted by: Christine | May 3, 2012

Do You Transcribe?

I have now produced a CD of the transcription of Newbold upon Avon parish registers. A fellow member of Rugby Family History Group is now inspecting it, so no doubt there will be a few alterations to be made. But while I have a bit of spare time I thought I would reveal a bit about how we go about our transcribing.

First of all, why transcribe at all? Isn’t all this information available on the Internet? All you have to do is click a button and there it is? Some information is there, but not all and despite modern advances some never will be. And how do you find it, if it is in some old handwriting, on a mouse-nibbled, water-stained piece of parchment? Someone has to transcribe it.

Genealogists all over the world are busy transcribing and indexing documents. Are you? If not, why not? One reason people give for not transcribing is they do not live in the area that their ancestors came from. Do you travel to that Record Office to look at the original or rely on someone in that area to transcribe the documents you want? What about the person interested in documents in your area? Who will transcribe their ancestor’s records? You do.

You might say that you can’t read the handwriting. Eventually you will come across some document that you need to read (and of course you should never rely on an index, but always check the original). How will you read it? Employ someone to do it for you? Well I suppose professionals have to make their money somewhere, but wouldn’t you rather spend the money on a few more certificates?

So how do we, the members of Rugby Family History Group, go about the job? We have transcribed local Monumental Inscriptions and then moved on to the Census. Our group was part of a team who transcribed the 1851 census for Warwickshire and then the local 1881 data for the LDS project. We then did the 1841, 1861 and 1871 censuses for our area (Rugby Registration District), but our latest job has been the local Parish Registers. We have done the town of Rugby and the villages of Dunchurch, Hillmorton and Bilton. As previously mentioned, we have just completed Newbold upon Avon and are working on Harborough Magna.

To start with, having decided which parish to do next, we get the permission of Warwickshire County Record Office. We need this to enable us to borrow a copy of the registers from the LDS. Originally this was on microfilm, but latterly we have received the images on a CD.

A Page from Newbold upon Avon Parish Register

Transcribing takes place at our monthly Project Meetings. The pages to be transcribed are printed out and a blank transcription sheet provided for each one. These are handed out and then filled in with a transcription of the original entries: In capitals, so it can be read. In pencil, so it can be corrected – if needed. We also transcribe the entry exactly as written – keeping the original (mis) spellings and abbreviations. How can you know what the original person writing the entry meant?

The transcription Sheet (with corrections) for the same page

At the end of the evening all the sheets are collected and then checked (if the handwriting has been difficult) and passed on to the typists. These typists, all volunteers working at home, transfer the entries into standardised MS Excel files. For entries such as post 1813 baptisms or burials it is straightforward. For older registers the exact entry is typed and then the names extracted and put in individual columns.

The same information after computer entry.

The entries are now checked. Pairs of volunteers meet for a couple of hours every week, to compare the original entry with the computer file. This acts as a double-check on the transcription of difficult entries (which sometimes leads to violent arguments), and a check on the typing.

When we have finished the whole parish, all these files are turned into a form that can be easily read. This is what I have spent the last couple of weeks doing.

Checking that everything has been transcribed (I had to type in another 900 entries for a part of Newbold that had been missed)

Checking that all the columns had been filled in.

Checking dates were in the right format. etc, etc.

Since by this time I had gone through this register numerous times, I felt intimately acquainted with the families, so could recognise when names had been mistranscribed. This is an advantage of transcribing a whole local parish register – you know the local names and the result will be more accurate. Next time you find something on some website, ask yourself: Who transcribed this? Why? And how expert were they?

Once that was done I had to extract the relevant columns to produce the “transcription” of the register and then again to produce the alphabetical index. (Eventually another index will be produced for findmypast, to put on their website).

All this is then put together with an introduction and turned into a PDF file. This is then burnt onto a CD, with the original Excel files. The label and jewel case insert are printed and the whole lot put together to be sold.

The final transcription in PDF format

The payments we get from this, and the commission from findmypast, then goes to pay for more blank CDs, paper, pencils etc, and the whole thing starts again. But now anybody, anywhere in the world, who has ancestors in Newbold upon Avon, can find the Baptism, Marriage or Burial they need for their research. For details of our CDs see here  

So, to return to my original question – Do You Transcribe? If you don’t belong to a family history society that transcribes their local documents, there are other options. Visit  FreeReg   and see if there is a project for your County of interest or look for Online Parish Clerks . Perhaps you have access to a document that you think other researchers might be interested in, transcribe it and publish it yourself, on a Blog or Website. Don’t forget to ask for permission if the copyright belongs to someone else.

If you feel you don’t have enough experience, The TNA has a very good online course on reading old documents  

Above all, have a go. It will help with your own research, you will learn a lot and you might even enjoy it! And after all, if you don’t do it, who will?

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