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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice  by Louise St Denis, Brenda Dougall Merriman and Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Transcription Of Documents

Whenever possible a photocopy of documents or printing from microfilms is certainly the best visual evidence of your information. Unfortunately, sometimes photocopying or printing is simply not possible. Other times, documents can be difficult to read. It may be easier to understand the information contained within the document if a transcription is prepared.

A proper transcription includes all parts of the document. This includes all words from the original document, any notations made in the sides, top or bottom margins, in the body of the document, or on the back.

Here are some basic rules of transcription:

  • Everything should be included exactly as shown in the document. You should not change something just because you believe it to be wrong. Record everything exactly as is. This included names, dates, spelling, capitalization, punctuation, grammar, abbreviations and superscript, etc.
  • Ÿ When obsolete letters are included substitute their modern equivalents.
  • Ÿ Format your transcription in the same manner as the original document whenever possible. This includes the page layout as well as the length of each line.
  • Ÿ Illegible letters, words or passages should be indicated by an underline ___ enclosed within square brackets [___].
  • Ÿ A one- or two-word interpretation that clarifies a difficult or misspelled word is acceptable within the text, in square brackets, but longer notes or comments should be footnoted or placed separately at the end of the transcription.

Most importantly, transcriptions are made to help you, but often transcriptions are also read by others. Therefore, if you are confused by anything in the document and if you make an assumption or ‘guess’ about anything, put it within square brackets. This may help you later when you re-analyze documents after hitting a brick wall.


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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.

  • This page was last modified on 15 April 2014, at 22:31.
  • This page has been accessed 425 times.