Tuesday, February 15, 2011

FamilySearch.org and the Importance of Transcription

At the Sunday, February 13, meeting of the SFBAJGS, Margery Bell of the Oakland Regional Family History Center talked about FamilySearch.org in the past, present, and future.  She gave an overview of some of the site's history, demonstrated tools that are currently available, and talked a little about what is anticipated for the future.

FamilySearch.org is in a state of transition.  Several different sites, including the old site and some beta sites, are being combined into one super-site.  The site has free educational resources, historical records, and family trees.  There is already a wealth of information available, and more is being added daily.  Some of the ideas for the future are linking documentation to individuals in order to substantiate facts, and the capability of uploading scans of personal documents and photos of family artifacts to share them with other researchers.  It is exciting to have so much available, and for free!  You should check back on a regular basis to see what has been added and what changes have been implemented.

Most genealogists are probably familiar with FamilySearch.org's massive ongoing project to transcribe and put online the LDS church's vast collection of microfilmed records.  (Personal rant:  The church calls this indexing, but the volunteers aren't actually creating indices.  They are *transcribing* information from records, and those transcriptions are compiled by programmers into searchable databases, which are the indices.)  Thinking about the church's transcription project reminded me of other items that should be transcribed.

The importance of transcription goes beyond public records of the types that have been microfilmed by the church.  Families often have historical items -- diaries, letters, family bibles.  Those items should be transcribed also, and the transcriptions shared with family members, at least.  Having only one copy of something increases the risk of losing the information.  Old paper is suspectible to ink bleeding, ink fading, and paper dissolution.  Items can be lost or stolen.  Fire and water can damage precious items.  Even if you still have the item, the paper in a diary can become so fragile that you can no longer turn the pages, or the ink can fade so that you cannot read it.

Monday night I was watching Antiques Roadshow.  One of the items appraised was a signal book used by the guest's great-great-grandfather during the U.S. Civil War.  This was the signal man's handwritten notes of the orders he was given and to whom he sent the information.  Pages were dated 1863; there were orders that had come from General U.S. Grant.  The appraiser, Rafael Eledge, said he had never actually seen a signal book in the 20 years he has been working with Civil War artifacts.  But that book is probably just sitting in a drawer in its owner's home again, the information locked inside it.

I wrote to Antiques Roadshow once through their Web form after a similar appraisal of paper items.  I asked why they didn't encourage the appraisers to suggest to guests that they transcribe the written information so that it can be shared, not only by family members but by scholars and researchers.  Not surprisingly, I received an autosponder e-mail:  "Thank you for your inquiry.  Many questions can be answered by visiting our FAQ page.  Blah blah blah."  So much for that idea, I thought.  But then a day or two later, an actual person from AR sent a message telling me what a great idea it was and that he was going to pass it on to a producer.  Unfortunately, nothing seems to have come of it, because I have not once seen an appraiser say anything about transcribing.

What family artifacts do you have that you haven't transcribed?

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