My Path to Certification – Issue No. 3

Since bringing home so many land deeds last week, I began the task of transcribing them. Out of seventy plus deeds, nine are completed. While doing this is important for the sake of my research (for my comprehension), transcribing the deeds serves a secondary purpose as well. For the Board of Certified Genealogists’ portfolio, items 3 and 4 (Document Work) consist of transcribing and abstracting a document, as well as constructing a research question, analysis, and formulating a research plan. There are no limitations on what type of document one chooses to transcribe and abstract, but two of the most common types of documents are wills and land deeds. The first time one transcribes a document should not be for the portfolio. Practice is required!

I consider myself a fairly competent transcriber, especially after deciphering my grandparents’ handwriting over the course of the WWII project. But transcribing wills and deeds requires an additional set of skills. Because these are legal documents, having a familiarity with legal terms is a must. Learning to recognize unfamiliar terms in a clerk’s chicken scratch can be difficult. Even though I have only transcribed nine deeds so far, I am very familiar with the terms “hereditaments” and “appurtenances” at this point. After a while the boilerplate language becomes predictable and easier to transcribe. Again, this is where I stress practice!

The Genealogy Standards address transcriptions in a couple of places. Standard 32: Transcribing, Abstracting, and Quoting Principles goes into great detail as to what is expected in a transcription, including “…when quoting and transcribing, genealogists render wording, spelling, numbering, abbreviations, superscripts, and similar features exactly as they appear in the original.” Doing this can be difficult with auto correct in a word processing program. Most of us cringe at misspelled words, phonetic challenges, and inconsistent spellings. However, when doing a transcription, it is vitally important to keep everything the same. I am reminded of the song from the second act of Hamilton when Angelica frets over the placement of a comma in one of Alexander’s letters because it changes the meaning of the phrase. This is why we must retain accuracy in transcriptions. For example, an incorrectly placed comma may create two children in a will when there is only one. (John, William vs. John William)

The book Professional Genealogy edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills has a chapter on transcribing and abstracting documents. Chapter 16 provides a variety of examples and forms, including wills, land deeds, and estate inventories. I highly recommend this chapter for anyone attempting transcriptions or abstracts. In fact, the book lays open on the floor by my desk as I work on my transcriptions.

Until next week! Sadly my summer vacation is almost over as I must return to the classroom very, very soon. August 1st—my self-imposed date for mailing in my preliminary application form to the Board for Certification of Genealogists is rapidly approaching as well!

Things I do in my spare time…I knit. I am almost done with a sweater for this fall. I should have it completed by next week.

My newest, soon-to-be finished, sweater, 2017

©2017 Deborah Sweeney
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8 thoughts on “My Path to Certification – Issue No. 3

  1. davidmadison1942

    “After a while the boilerplate language becomes predictable and easier to transcribe.” Same with my diaries. Even thought it is my own handwriting, I find that the often-repeated terms and phrases are easy to grasp even when the writing is sloppy.

    “exactly as they appear in the original.” Doing this can be difficult with auto correct in a word processing program.” Oh so true. In my diaries I follow the rule that I have to leave the substandard grammar and bad spelling AS IS. That’s what I wrote, that’s what I have to transcribe, 😦

    “In fact, the book lays open on the floor by my desk as I work on my transcriptions.” 🙂 🙂 🙂

  2. Jill Morelli

    Deborah, great post. I would like to see a post that instead of focusing on the transcription/abstraction portion of the Document Work, that you focus on the analysis. Of the 10 rubrics for the Document Work only 2 are about the transcription and 2 are about the abstract…the other six focus on the analysis.

    1. Deborah Sweeney Post author

      Hi Jill,

      I’ll get to it eventually! And I will keep that in mind for a future post. Thank you for reminding me about the rubrics.

      We will see if I can keep this weekly posting once school starts and I start doing so heavy lifting on the portfolio work.


    1. Deborah Sweeney Post author

      Thank you! I only have forty rounds to go on the second sleeve. 😁 I want to get it done so I can finish two other projects and start a new sweater for myself…

      1. thegenealogygirl

        I have never knitted, I don’t think I’d be any good – carpal tunnel. So I am extra impressed when someone is so skilled at knitting. Is this sweater not for you?

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