Sunday, April 20, 2008

Transcribing Letters

I'm seeking input from others who have transcribed family letters -- how exact were you in your transcription? Below is a sample paragraph from a letter from my great-grandfather, Melvin Van Every to his daughter, Myrtle. It contains some great information on his brother George, but there are several grammatical issues:

There are several logical sentences in that paragraph, though only one period at the end. Melvin will often not use upper case letters to start a sentence. Usually it is possible to tell where one thought ends and another begins, but there are times where there is some confusion. The 'and' written vertically is very common in his letters, and I've seen it in one of his granddaughter's letters to my mother as well. I don't know where he learned it as I have been unable to find references to it online. For conserving space the traditional ampersand is much easier to use, especially the version that resembles a plus-sign.

I lean towards adding the capitalization and creating the sentence breaks, where I feel they should be, especially since I am putting links to the images next to the transcription on the family website, and as I've mentioned before, it utilizes wiki software, so if anyone in the future feels I've transcribed it incorrectly, they can make the necessary changes.

However, I have come up with a shorthand method of indicating the vertical 'and' so I can differentiate between that usage, and when he will occasionally write it 'normally'. I've been using &d, but the frequency of its appearance makes it quite noticeable. I've been maintaining spelling errors, even the ones that make me cringe.

My general feeling is that if someone wants to see exactly how it was written, the original scans will be there, but the transcription is to convey the content so that it is easily readable, while also maintaining as much of the writing style, and it's that balance which is troubling me.


Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

This is a huge question for me right now and I'll be interested in the answers you receive. In the past I've transcribed exactly as they were written but I haven't done very many.

Anonymous said...


What a task you have undertaken and what a help you are to others. I am in great admiration of you and your genealogical pursuits.

Your, mom.

Terry Thornton said...

JOHN, I vote transcribe and edit for meaning --- but make it clear if one wishes to see the exact wording that the image is available. Meaning is more important, in my opinion, than remaining true to the original in all is gory. Some transcribers combine the editorial changes and insertions within brackets but I'd rather read a "clean" copy and then look to the image for exactness. You are to be commended for your transcription effort. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

I always follow a misspelled word with [sic] to indicate that the misspelling was not on the part of the transcriber. Alternatively, if you are certain of the intent, follow it by [sic: correction]. For example,

Corporal Cirus is our laiason [sic: liaison] to General Fitzpatric.

I've got over 900 letters to transcribe ... After about 100, I'm starting to get the hang of it. Good luck, Shelley