Essential Skills for Transcribing

Following are some of my notes from the lecture “Essential Skills for Transcribing and Abstracting,” presented by Linda Woodward Geiger at FGS.

  • Information should be collected efficiently, accurately, and dispassionately.
  • The source is scrupulously acknowledged.  Put the citation on the front of documents, not the back, and add to metadata of digital copies.
  • Photocopies, printouts, scans, etc. should always include the entire record of item of interest.  This will avoid confusion in the future.

Essential Basics

In order to transcribe and abstract, one must be able to:

  • Decipher handwriting
  • Understand the type and purpose of the document


  • Transcribe exactly as written (turn off auto-correct on word processor).
  • Exceptions: Replace obsolete letter forms with their modern equivalents. Examples:
    • The long-tail S that looks like an F.  Replace with S.
    • Thorn –  – this is not ye; it’s “the.”  The thorn symbol with a superscript m, becomes “them” and with a superscript t, becomes “that.”
    • The double s, looks like a lower-case fs.  It should be replaced with ss.
  • Short notations (one or two words) by the transcriber should be placed in square brackets.  Longer remarks go in footnotes or endnotes.
  • If there are no commas between given names, don’t assume it is one person; it could be two people.
  • When making the transcription, number the lines and transcribe line by line.  Also do hard returns (in other words, the lines should be same on the transcription as on the original).
  1. ~~~~~~~~~
  2. ~~~~~~~~~
  3. ~~~~~~~~~
  4. ~~~~~~~~~
  • When publishing transcriptions, remove the line numbers and run paragraphs together in normal format.

This was an excellent class and I took five pages of notes; the information above is merely the highlights.

Source:  Geiger, Linda W.  “Essential Skills for Transcribing and Abstracting.” Lecture presented at the annual conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, Knoxville, Tenn., 20 August 2010.

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